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While working as a Wall Street executive with over a decade of corporate experience in financial services, Ayman Mukerji (Silver ‘21) had reached significant success and satisfaction through her career, but still felt that there was room for something more.
“I was creative in my job, but there was something missing, and I didn’t know what it was,” she recalls of her time working at a major financial institution.
What had been missing for Mukerji became clear after she lived through a life-changing and traumatic experience. In the aftermath of personal tragedy, she began practicing daily meditation and, within a few short months, had started noticing improvements in her worldview and productivity. She felt the desire to teach others about the practice that had positively influenced her life.
In 2014, Mukerji left her corporate career to study Psychology and Neuroscience at NYU. She was then referred to the Child Study Center within NYU Langone Health's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, where she was hired as a neuroimmunology researcher. While working as a researcher, she was called to teach the medical students and physicians about meditation.
Though demand for stress-relief techniques was high amongst the frontline caregivers, the act of meditation proved difficult for them to commit to on a regular basis. Insight into the reasoning behind this was revealed when Mukerji conducted a customer interview of 100 doctors across North America to find out what was preventing them from engaging with existing meditation resources. The most common themes: healthcare professionals didn’t have time to sit down to meditate, and many of them viewed meditation itself as “too spiritual.”
Through further research, Mukerji realized the magnitude of widespread burnout in the healthcare profession, with 40-50% of physicians and nurses leaving their jobs at hospitals, she reports. Compassion fatigue, or stress and exhaustion caused by frequent exposure to traumatized people, was rampant among caregivers.
Mukerji recognized that convincing more healthcare workers to practice mindfulness would require giving them a practical and evidence-based approach to implement into their busy lives. With this knowledge, she began working on a solution.
“Entrepreneurship is not something I planned,” Mukerji said. “It was an effect of me wanting to do something that followed the direction of where my gut was telling me to go, which was burnout and stress prevention.”
Jīvikā (meaning “livelihood,” or a “way of living” in Sanskrit) is a hybrid product that deconstructs mindfulness down into 30-second micro-habits to make staying present and reducing anxiety less time-consuming. Designed with frontline healthcare workers in mind, it aims to demystify the concept of meditation while making it easier to integrate grounding techniques into everyday life.
After enrolling at the Silver School of Social Work, Mukerji began looking into entrepreneurship resources at NYU to explore how to productize her business concept. Jīvikā went on to gain momentum and mentorship through participation in the Startup Bootcamp, Summer Launchpad, Max Stenbeck Venture Equity Program, and Female Founders Fellowship, as well as the NYU Berkley Center’s Designpreneurs Hackathon.
Today, Mukerji and a team of designers, developers, and shareholders lead Jīvikā for a growing roster of 39 clients, all gained through word-of-mouth. The startup will soon begin beta testing its app with a small customer segment.
Looking ahead, Mukerji says she is focused on growing out the features of Jīvikā’s app, with potential for integration with wearable devices, biometrics, and predictive technology. Plans to widen the startup’s audience scope are also on the table, as seven of Jīvikā’s current clients are non-medical organizations.
“If our product works for doctors and nurses who are critically burned out, it has passed the acid test to go to the general population," Mukerji said. "And we definitely see that happening.”
While being a founder, researcher, and mother of young children each qualify as a full-time job on their own, Mukerji is incredibly doing all three at once. When asked what advice she’d give to other entrepreneurs starting out, she underlines the importance of setting an intention to balance your life — and, of course, giving yourself grace.
“Pushing yourself constantly for indefinite periods of time can become ineffective and unproductive. Robots are supposed to work like that, not humans,” Mukerji said. “We need time to rest, digest, sprint, and repeat. Otherwise, working on your dreams can start to feel like a chore. There will be phases of running for weeks at a time, but find the time to rest after that.”