We spoke with the creator of Anja Health, a company founded by Kathryn Cross that helps mothers and families bank umbilical cord blood stem cells for their children. Her younger brother Andrew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a near-drowning accident when he was 1 years old. Her parents didn’t freeze his stem cells at birth, and since he was mixed-race, it made it nearly impossible to find a match later on. Because of their inability to get a match, she knew she wanted to bring more awareness to this opportunity.
Kathryn grew up in Los Angeles, California. Both of her parents were involved in healthcare, so she always knew that she wanted to have a similar career. She always loved entrepreneurship, and used to work at a consultancy helping startups. Kathryn came up with the idea of Anja Health, named after her brother Andrew, after he passed away from pneumonia and cerebral palsy complications. This was a very difficult time for her family, and it motivated her even more to go into healthcare so that she could do something that could’ve helped him. There has been a lot of research proving that using your own umbilical cord blood stem cells can improve motor and social skills, so her goal is to shine a light on how important it is to freeze your umbilical cord, because it can be difficult to find a match later on.
“In a perfect world, everyone can consider their stem cells with an ailment and wouldn’t have to face the consequences of rejection.”
One of the most rewarding moments since launching her company Anja Health has been the outreach from parents and customers with kind words about their service, kit, brand, and how they conduct business overall. In fact, Kathryn has a digital folder where she keeps screenshots of all the kind messages she has gotten. One particular moment that came to mind during her interview was a mom who had birth complications and couldn’t use her child’s umbilical cord for stem cell processing.
“She called me crying because she was upset that she couldn’t use our kit. It made me realize how much value I could bring to people.”
A challenge that she’s faced mainly involved how to fundraise and build a business. Most of her prior entrepreneurship experience was geared towards Gen Z consumers, so moving into healthcare was definitely a big change. Her old job had more of a cookie cutter structure, with continuous clients and employees staffed on specific projects.
“Building a business like this one is a very different ball game, you really have to piece together all these different stakeholders and you’re constantly trying to think of ways to innovate and grow.”
There have been a lot of growing pains along the way according to Katherine, who continues to learn and read about building a business.
Throughout her career, Kathryn has made it a priority to lead with empathy. She knows how important it is to try to understand her clients’ point of view, especially at such a vulnerable time in their lives. Mothers are putting their trust into Anja Health to care for the health of their child, so being super empathetic has been very important for her.
Kathryn has received a lot of support from her mom. She’s always admired the way she loved her brother unconditionally, even through moments of prejudice. She loved Andrew regardless and has strong values, so she cas continued to take that with her through her life.
When we asked if she had any advice for her younger self when first starting out her business, she mentioned how she always thought other people were better or more accomplished than her at the beginning. She’d put them on a pedestal, and sometimes ended up feeling that they were taking advantage of her or asking a lot of her. Nowadays, she views herself as an equal to everyone and tries to be aware of what’s happening so she’s not doing more than she is
“You should never frame anything as though you’re at the mercy of someone else,” she said.
It can be especially hard, particularly in the STEM field, to avoid prejudice and sexism. Her advice to other girls facing adversity was to be aware of sexism and different prejudices, but to try not to let yourself fall into a victim mentality. Instead, be strong and overcome it.
“Kris Jenner once said that if someone tells you no, you’re talking to the wrong person, so whether you encounter someone who is either really mean or prejudiced, you’re just talking to the wrong person and you can find your way around them.”
Her message to the AYG community was to encourage anyone you know who is pregnant to look into umbilical cord blood stem cells.
“You really only have one chance and it can really open up the health care possibilities. There’s no evidence demonstrating deterioration of cord blood, and so far it seems like it can be stored for essentially a lifetime.”
Kathryn’s personal connection with her brother Andrew shows how important this cause is to her, as her business continues to improve the lives of families and children around the world.