Ladder works is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower more than one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features our interplanetary journalist Spiffy’s interviews with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi people! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary reporter from planet Earth, back with a new guest – Justin Ayars. Justin, founder and CEO of equalityMD, is committed to making a difference in the world. Let’s see how he does it!

Nice : Thank you so much for talking with me, Justin. What challenge are you meeting with equalMD?

justin: Glad to be here, Spiffy! In 2016, the National Institutes of Health (the US agency for medical research) classified the LGBTQ+ community (approximately 40 million Americans) as a “population with health disparities”. This means that the LGBTQ+ community has suffered historic discrimination, suffers from unique health issues, and lacks adequate access to health care. My company, equalMD, is elevating the LGBTQ+ community through a telehealth platform that has a network of culturally competent providers who provide inclusive and personalized care.

Nice : It looks fantastic! What was your motivation behind this?

justin: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have experienced discrimination when seeking medical care. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I was a healthcare litigator where I saw systemic inequities in the American healthcare system. The pandemic has made matters 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 equalMD in 2020, I’ve really been building it my whole life.

Nice : Can you share more details on how the company contributes to a fairer world?

justin: Our telehealth platform puts humanity back in healthcare. Every provider in our network must complete LGBTQ+ cultural competency training so they know how to create safe spaces where patients can be authentic themselves. Our proprietary matching algorithm prioritizes each individual’s personal identities and unique life experiences. Patients choose providers they like and book appointments at their convenience. At equalMD, patients are the superheroes of their own healthcare stories.

Nice : I like this! Tell me more. Is there a recent milestone or initiative that you would like 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 healthcare professionals. This non-profit organization 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 supplier portfolio so that we can effectively serve the LGBTQ+ community where they are.

Nice : I ask every entrepreneur I meet about the failures they’ve encountered along the way and what they’ve learned from them. What can you tell me?

justin: I failed to know my audience when fundraising. My first investor presentations were too informative, boring and boring. Investor presentations must balance data with emotion. I made my presentation more conversational, used relevant material, and delivered each presentation with heart. I came across as genuine, informed and sincere. While it will always be difficult to find investors, I know that my story and the mission of equalityMD are now unforgettable. Failures can be life’s best lessons, if you’re willing to learn.

Nice : Absolutely! And it looks like that’s exactly what you did. Now, what did you unexpectedly learn from someone recently?

justin: My dog, Rosy, suffers from painful osteoarthritis. Our walks are shorter and she doesn’t jump anymore, but she’s still my best friend. One day this winter, I was lying in bed feeling depressed because things were not going as planned at equalMD. Rosy suddenly jumped up next to me, looked into my eyes, and licked my cheek. Without words, she said, “I love you and I believe in you. We snuggled up and then I carried her to my home office. We had a job!

Nice : Rosy looks like a sweetheart! We’re almost done here. Is there anything else you would like to say to our audience today?

justin: For years, I have cultivated and nurtured relationships with people from diverse backgrounds in various industries. Every time I make a new connection I ask what they are doing and see if I or someone I know may be able to offer some help. I never ask for anything. I just want to hear their stories and let them know that, like Rosy, I support them. That’s how I’ve built a huge network full of people who support me and equalityMD. If you give first, people will want to be part of your story.

Nice : Wise words! Thanks for talking with me, Justin—it was an honor!

Justin Ayars is a former history teacher and litigator turned serial entrepreneur. He has the mind of a philosopher, the heart of a poet, and the mind of a spaceship captain. In everything he does, curiosity is his true North Star. (Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website June 23, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy artwork by Shreyas Navarre. For the Ladderworks Digital Curriculum to help children in K-3 advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy’s Corner here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.