Victoria Juste, MSW ’24, is one of four winners of NYU’s 2022 Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas Competition for her venture Melanated Mom & Pop Box, which came to her as a result of her Interpersonal Psychotherapy class at Silver with Dr. Reji Mathew. She received a $1,000 prize and has been invited to compete in the Network Round of the competition with the chance to win $10,000 in additional prize money to further develop her idea.
A care gift box product for Black expectant parents, Victoria said “Melanated Mom & Pop Box includes products and resources that support the expectant family through each trimester – including the fourth trimester, postpartum – with the overall goal to support in reducing the rates of maternal mortality that has been seen across the nation. Whether this gift is provided by a family member, friend, a partner, or themselves, expectant family members are provided the tools needed to ensure they feel 100% supported in the process of bringing life into this world.”
It was a video Dr. Mathew shared with her class about an everyday person who saw a mental health challenge in his community and created a coffee shop to destigmatize and fund mental health services that sparked the idea of Melanated Mom & Pop Box in Victoria’s mind. “Dr. Mathew inspired us to create the coffee shops, products, and services of the world that would transform communities. That's when this idea came to me.”
Herself the mother of a nearly one-year-old, Victoria said she found out she was pregnant at almost the same time she was preparing to begin her journey into NYU Silver’s MSW program in May 2021. “My partner, Ainsworth, and I were ecstatic and over the moon. I delivered a healthy baby girl named Elsie on January 25, 2022 and it was a beautiful experience becoming a mom!” However, Victoria recounted she was unable to secure insurance in the first three months of her pregnancy because she was shifting jobs, and then faced challenges with the medical system that made her “greatly fear, along with my mother, whether I was going to make it out of my birthing experience alive.”
Her own experience fuels Victoria’s commitment to providing resources to Black expectant parents. “I’m passionate about creating these boxes because they are something I wished I had received while pregnant. They provide real-time tools and resources and are essentially love letters to Black expectant mothers to let them know their lives matter.”
Amidst her challenges with the insurance and healthcare systems, Victoria reported having a much more positive experience at NYU Silver. “Continuing graduate school, working full time, and having a baby was not easy,” Victoria said, “but I felt supported by NYU faculty and my MSW Academic Advisor Hosanah Bryan as well as my family and my doula care team in this journey.”
The Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas Competition is designed to provide students with early-stage ideas to compete for cash prizes. The winners at the Campus Round move on to the Network Round. Participating students also gain access to the LaunchPad program on their campus to learn startup skills and get support in developing their ventures. As an NYU student, Victoria participated through NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, which facilitates and celebrates entrepreneurship campus-wide, supporting students, faculty, and researchers creating scalable solutions to meaningful problems.