05 Mar 2021

Get to Know Anise Health, a Social Enterprise Track New Venture Competition Team


With the New Venture Competition (NVC) finale right around the corner (tune in March 30 at 6:00 pm), learn more about team Anise Health, a culturally-competent, digital mental health and wellbeing platform for ethnic minorities. We asked Nisha Desa (MBA 2021) about her entrepreneurial journey and NVC experience.

Team Members: Alice Zhang (MBA 2021), CEO; Nisha Desai (MBA 2021), COO

What inspired you to start your company?

Nisha Desa: While I was in college at The University of Pennsylvania, there was a major mental health crisis—14 students and an administrator committed suicide, the majority of whom were minorities. While coping with this trauma myself, I realized that our mental health system desperately needed change, specifically to better address the needs of underserved communities. This translated to me seeking out career opportunities in behavioral health, and I luckily got to work on developing a behavioral health product during the summer after RC year. As Asian Americans ourselves, we decided to use our passion and experience to break the overwhelming stigma in our own community and to build a customized mental health platform that is built for minorities, by minorities.

How has the Rock Center or Social Enterprise Initiative helped with your entrepreneurial journey? Are there any other HBS resources that you have been using?

ND: We owe a huge thanks to the Rock Center for helping us get our idea off the ground. The Rock Accelerator (RA) paired us with a coach experienced in healthcare who has helped us think through problem validation, customer discovery, go-to-market strategy, pricing strategy, organizational dynamics, fundraising, and so much more! Every three weeks we meet with our cohort of other RA teams, who have served as a community to bounce ideas off of and to solicit help and encouragement from. In addition to RA, we’ve utilized the Harvard i-lab Venture Program for fundraising needs, networking, and workshops, and the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project for legal advice.

How have you been preparing for the competition?

ND: A few different things: 1) tying up the loose ends of our strategic vision and business model by conducting additional primary and secondary research; 2) getting advice from our advisor on the strength of our pitch; and 3) practicing our pitch with close friends and family to make sure we’re ready and confident on the big day!

What part of the NVC journey has been the most helpful for your team?

ND: NVC has helped us very clearly define all elements of our business model. Before, we had loose thoughts on our strategic vision, and writing it down on paper, pressure testing every assumption, and digging into the weeds has helped us to make important decisions more efficiently. Similarly, figuring out how to tell our story in the most compelling, but also concise, way has been extremely challenging but equally rewarding.

How did you go about creating your competition pitch? Do you have any advice for someone looking to create a pitch?

ND: We leveraged every resource we had access to through our involvement in RA and the i-lab to begin putting together our pitch deck. We attended workshops where we heard from other successful entrepreneurs on how to best structure a deck, and were able to later tap into those networks. Once we had initial guidance, we took a stab at putting together our first draft. We’ve come a VERY long way since then with the help of our RA coach and cohort—we’ve presented, refined, and iterated the content and our script several times over the past few months. We received many different tips, such as limiting text on each page, tailoring our pitch to our audience, starting with an attention-grabbing story, etc. Our advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and practice, practice, practice!

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

ND: Just do it! If you feel like you have an idea you’re passionate about, don’t overthink all the potential hurdles and risks that may come your way. The best way to overcome them is to simply dive in and work the kinks out as they arise. I’ve learned so much by getting in the weeds with Anise Health this past year and am so thankful that Alice and I pushed each other to give the idea a try. Otherwise, you could easily spend years just waiting for the right time and opportunity.

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