Justin Ayars: Building An Inclusive, Personalized LGBTQIA+ Telehealth Platform
Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a new guest - Justin Ayars. Justin, the founder and CEO of equalityMD, is committed to making a difference in the world. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Thanks a million for talking with me, Justin. What challenge are you addressing through equalityMD?
Justin: Glad to be here, Spiffy! In 2016, the National Institutes of Health (America’s medical research agency) classified the LGBTQ+ community (about 40 million Americans) as a “health disparity population.” This means the LGBTQ+ community has endured historic discrimination, suffers from unique health concerns, and lacks adequate access to healthcare. My company, equalityMD, elevates the LGBTQ+ community through a telehealth platform that has a network of culturally competent providers who deliver inclusive, personalized care.
Spiffy: That sounds fantastic! What was your motivation behind it?
Justin: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve experienced discrimination when seeking medical care. Before becoming an entrepreneur, I was a healthcare trial lawyer where I saw systemic inequities in America’s healthcare system. The pandemic made things worse causing many LGBTQ+ people to suffer in silence. I realized that my personal and professional experiences gave me the unique opportunity to develop a lasting solution. Although I created equalityMD in 2020, I’d really been building it my entire life.
Spiffy: Can you share more details about how the company is aiding in a more equitable world?
Justin: Our telehealth platform puts humanity back into healthcare. Every provider in our network must undergo LGBTQ+ cultural competency training so they know how to create safe spaces where patients can be their authentic selves. Our proprietary matching algorithm prioritizes every individual’s personal identities and unique life experiences. Patients hand-pick providers they like and schedule appointments at their convenience. At equalityMD, patients are the superheroes of their own healthcare stories.
Spiffy: I love that! Tell me more. Is there a recent milestone or initiative you want our readers to know about?
Justin: Thanks, Spiffy! We’ve created an exclusive partnership with OutCare Health, a national LGBTQ+ cultural competency training organization for medical professionals. This nonprofit has a network of 3,500 providers, 1 million patients, and several multinational corporations. Their founder, clinical psychiatrist Dr. Dustin Nowaskie, is our Chief Medical Officer. This partnership will help us enter new markets and develop a diverse provider portfolio so we can effectively serve the LGBTQ+ community where they are.
Spiffy: I ask all entrepreneurs I meet about the failures they have encountered along the way and what they learned from them. What can you tell me?
Justin: I failed to know my audience when fundraising. My early presentations to investors were too informative, dull, and boring. Pitches to investors must balance data with emotion. I made my presentation more conversational, used relatable material, and delivered each pitch with heart. I came across as authentic, informed, and sincere. While securing investors will always be challenging, I know that my story and equalityMD’s mission are now unforgettable. Failures can be life’s best lessons, if you’re willing to learn.
Spiffy: Absolutely! And sounds like you’ve done just that. Now, what is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Justin: My dog, Rosy, suffers from painful arthritis. Our walks are shorter and she’s not jumping any more, but she’s still my best friend. One day this winter I was lying in bed feeling depressed because things weren’t going as planned at equalityMD. Rosy unexpectedly jumped up next to me, looked in my eyes, and licked my cheek. Without words, she’d said, “I love you and I believe in you.” We snuggled and then I carried her down to my home office. We had work to do!
Spiffy: Rosy sounds like a sweetheart! We’re almost done here. Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience today?
Justin: For years, I’ve cultivated and nurtured relationships with people from diverse backgrounds across various industries. Every time I make a new connection, I ask what they’re doing and see if I or someone I know may be able to offer help. I never ask for anything. I simply want to hear their stories and let them know that, like Rosy, I support them. This is how I’ve built a vast network filled with people who support me and equalityMD. If you give first, people will want to become a part of your story.
Spiffy: Wise words! Thanks for speaking with me, Justin—it’s been an honor!
Justin Ayars is a former history teacher and trial lawyer turned serial entrepreneur. He has the mind of a philosopher, the heart of a poet, and the spirit of a starship captain. In all that he does, curiosity is his true North Star. (Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 23, 2022.)© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.