Nichele Nivens, MBA/MS ’24, Plans Startup to Help Expectant Moms

By: Sherrie Negrea
Nichele Nivens standing at the top of a hill with trees and shrubs, a valley, and hills in the background.

Nichele Nivens, MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership class of 2024, at the top of Libe Slope, Cornell University, Ithaca, summer 2022 (photo by Edgard El Chaar)

For the past year, Nichele Nivens, MD, has become a master at juggling: She is working as a supervising physician for a healthcare network in New York, taking classes for her Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business — and carrying a high-risk pregnancy.

What has helped her get through the stress of expecting her second child while caring for her one-year-old son is her doula, a trained professional who supports women during and after their pregnancies.

“Having a loving family, great boss, and supportive partner doesn’t guarantee the specialized emotional, social and physical support one may require; they’re not trained for that,” she says.

To help more women experience the support a doula can offer, Nivens is developing a startup called Mom Majesty that she hopes to launch this summer. Using a phone app and web platform, the startup will connect pregnant persons with doulas in cities across the country.

One of her motivations to create the startup is the increasing maternal mortality rate in the United States, which she knows about firsthand. When Nivens was a teenager, her cousin died during pregnancy because she was not told that her ultrasound report revealed her fetus was lodged in her fallopian tubes. Her cousin found out when she was rushed to the hospital by her husband, and subsequently died.

“If she had had an advocate, someone who was familiar with red-flag obstetric signs and symptoms, that person could have bridged the gap in communication,” Nivens says.

Leveraging resources at Cornell

Nivens developed her startup by drawing on resources at the SC Johnson College. In 2023, she participated in the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator (JSSA), a 10-week program that helped her grow her startup while taking workshops, attending networking events and consulting with healthcare entrepreneur and investor Julie Eagle ’89, who is also an entrepreneur in residence at the Johnson School and a JSSA mentor.

Nivens’s JSSA experience enabled her to create a framework for Mom Majesty and target the clientele it aims to serve. “The program was able to help me shape the idea and my effort in one area, as opposed to trying to do everything,” she says.

After completing JSSA, Nivens decided her startup would serve disenfranchised pregnant persons seeking care. She notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented the high maternal mortality rate in the United States, with Black persons more than twice as likely to die during pregnancy than their white counterparts, even in high socioeconomic groups.

Two women standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a window with water and tall buildings in the background.
Nichele Nivens with Professor Vrinda Kadiyali at the Tata Innovation Center, Cornell Tech, spring 2023 (photo by Shital Sharma)

Her coursework for her MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership also enabled Nivens to develop skills to address medical and business issues related to her startup and her work. “It’s impacted every facet of my life,” she says.

Dr. Geraldine McGinty, the E. Darracott Vaughan, Jr., M.D. Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine, says Nivens stood out in her classes in several ways. “Her input in class was always thoughtful and she communicated her values and goals clearly and with leadership presence,” she says.

Another professor, Vrinda Kadiyali, the Nicholas H. Noyes Professor of Management, adds that Nivens showed a “real desire to use business strategy for doing good. She is a natural leader of people.”

Advancing her medical career

After graduating from the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, CUNY School of Medicine, and the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Nivens began her career teaching resident physicians in the South Bronx. In 2018, she started her current position in urgent care. In addition to providing direct patient care, she is an assistant professor at a medical school and supervises physicians at a large network of urgent care clinics in the New York Metro area.

two women wearing masks looking down at images on an X-ray machine.
Nichele Nivens reviewing X-ray images with a colleague, spring 2022

“I love the fact that we’re able to bridge the gap in patients’ most vulnerable time,” she says. “When patients have no idea where to turn, they come to urgent care. That’s a golden specialty.”

During the pandemic, Nivens was on the front line at one of the epicenters of Covid-19, seeing up to 90 patients a day. It was while watching the pandemic spiral across the world that she decided she wanted to earn an MBA.

“Global press briefings underscored the imperative for healthcare providers to be stakeholders in medical decision-making by mastering the language of business,” she says.

For Nivens, there was one key lesson from the pandemic: the need for coordinated disaster planning, not just in individual healthcare facilities, but across the globe. She has pursued her interest in international healthcare at the SC Johnson College by joining the Emerging Markets Institute as a fellow and chairing a cohort of fellows in healthcare leadership.

After graduating this May, Nivens hopes to broaden her work in urgent care and become involved in four areas: strategy, venture capital, artificial intelligence, and informatics. “I want to increase my role in these areas because I think these are the domains that can positively impact healthcare,” she says.

a woman standing at a podium in front of a window with Sage Hall in the background.
Nichele Nivens speaking to classmates about the importance of teamwork during the MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership residential week, Statler Hall, summer 2023 (photo by Gallop Franklin)