With one in six people worldwide experiencing infertility, fertility services are in high demand. But accessing these services can be tricky; many in the U.S. struggle to find the help they need, due to high costs, lack of insurance coverage and misconceptions about medical services.
Two Northwestern alums are working to change that.
Blair Matthews ’22 JD and Giuliana Zaccardelli ’22 MD, MBA are co-founders of Zuri Fertility, an app that provides streamlined assistance for those looking to expand their family. Zuri Fertility serves as a personalized digital fertility clinic, with educational resources, a menstrual and ovulation tracker, access to at-home fertility testing and referrals for specialized treatment options at nearby brick-and-mortar fertility clinics. The app also connects users with a support team to help them along their journey: medical providers such as therapists, dieticians, fertility experts and other providers, who can order tests and prescribe medication, as well as financial counselors, who can help patients understand their insurance coverage and seek out more affordable care options.
Trying to get pregnant when struggling with fertility “is a marathon, not a sprint,” Matthews says. “This is something that’s going to take time, and I think people expect things to happen overnight.”
Matthews speaks from experience. He and his wife, Jasmine, a physician assistant, struggled to get pregnant for more than a year before finally tapping into Jasmine’s professional network to ask for help. “But if you don’t have a medical provider in your family, how are you going to find these answers?” he asks.
That’s where Zuri Fertility steps in. Users answer a questionnaire to identify potential factors contributing to infertility, such as hormone levels or genetics. Zuri Fertility then sends a panel of tests directly to patients from a CLIA-certified lab — a lab that adheres to the federal standards set by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) for human health-related tests. The test results are processed in a CLIA-certified lab as well.
That’s important, Zaccardelli says, “because doctors and providers can look at any result from any CLIA-certified lab and trust that it’s accurate, unlike a lot of the home test kits from our competitors.”
During her hospital rotations as a medical student, Zaccardelli worked at Northwestern Medicine’s Center for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, where she saw patient after patient come in with results from a direct-to-consumer home fertility test, only to find out that their time and money had been wasted. “There’s just so much misinformation out there,” Zaccardelli says. “The doctor would say, ‘I am so sorry that you spent $500 on this, but this is not medically valid or appropriate, and so we have to do another set of tests.’”
By contrast, Zaccardelli says Zuri Fertility adheres to American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines to make sure patients are receiving trustworthy, medically accurate support. And because the app provides medical care through its telehealth services, all patient information stored on the app is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, unlike many menstrual tracking apps.
Matthews and Zaccardelli met in NUvention: Medical, a Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation course that brings students from different disciplines together to solve a medical problem. When Matthews shared his story and idea, it resonated with Zaccardelli’s clinical experiences. They co-founded Zuri Fertility with the goal of making patients’ fertility journey simpler, less stressful, less expensive and more joyful.
“The name Zuri is a play on nzuri in Swahili, which means ‘beautiful,’” says Matthews, who studied abroad in Zanzibar during his undergrad years at Howard University. “That’s what we want everyone to have: a beautiful experience.”
In 2022 Zuri Fertility won second place in its category and placed third overall in Northwestern’s VentureCat competition, a collaborative program supported by the Farley Center, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center, the Kellogg School of Management and The Garage. Zuri Fertility also won the audience favorite category. And this summer, Matthews and Zaccardelli completed the startup accelerator program Techstars New York City powered by J.P. Morgan, during which they gathered feedback from beta testers and polished the app’s features. Matthews also was accepted into the Black Ambition network, a startup accelerator created by Pharrell Williams.
The Zuri Fertility app will launch later this year.