10 to Watch for 2012

Meg Wirth

Founder, Maternova


Global Health/Social Enterprise

"Maternova hits the sweet spot of all of the Knowledge Economy priorities: we live and breathe life sciences, design, technology. That’s exactly where we fit."

In this country, the dangers of childbirth are thought of as a problem of the past, but in much of the rest of the world, giving birth is still one of the biggest threats to a woman’s life. Many times this problem persists not because potentially life-saving devices and treatments don’t exist – many do, and some of them are surprisingly simple – but that awareness of and access to them is so limited.

That’s where Meg Wirth and her company, Maternova, come in. Her aim is to increase global access and awareness of tools and treatments that can save mothers and newborns. Maternova is an online marketplace and source of information for innovations and technologies specific to birthing; her customers are governments and nonprofits working in the field. “It’s the first time this niche has been addressed,” she points out.

Wirth explains, for instance, that so many births happen at night, and in underdeveloped countries, doctors and midwives are doing deliveries, even C-sections, in the dark – a problem easily remedied by simple, compact solar headlamps. “People don’t know these exist,” she says, “and they don’t know they’re affordable.”

Clearly, she has found a viable market. It’s no longer just health organizations coming to her for access to innovations – conversely, makers of new devices and treatments are now approaching her to broker their products. The goal is for her startup to become profitable in the next two years. That kind of growth will enable her to create jobs for some of the college students she now takes on as interns.

Maternova is proving that one small startup operating out of an incubator space in Olneyville can make a worldwide impact. Wirth believes businesses like hers can place Providence on the world stage of innovation and social enterprise. “It’s important to us to be a model for other social ventures and not just create jobs here,” she notes. “We can supply intellectual capital and talent to problems that are more global.”

30-Second Bio:

• Originally hails from Baltimore, MD.

• Did her undergrad in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard and grad in International Development at Princeton.

• Has lived in New York City, Hong Kong and Jakarta, Indonesia

• Has worked in global public health, with a focus on research and policy, for the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation and John Snow, Inc., a healthcare consultancy.

• Did her undergrad in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard and grad in International

• Twitter handle: @maternova

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