Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Maura McInerney-Rowley (MBA ‘22) of Hello, Mortal Inc.

Zell Lurie Institute
February 22, 2024

Maura McInerney-Rowley (MBA ‘22) wasted no time getting her venture off the ground while earning her MBA at Michigan Ross, and she leveraged the ample resources at the Zell Lurie Institute to help her along the way. Maura participated in a host of ZLI’s programming, including the Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream Grant Program, Michigan Business Challenge, Pinkert Healthcare Accelerator, and Zell Founders Fund. Read on to learn about Maura’s entrepreneurship journey and the launch of her company, Hello, Mortal Inc.


 

Tell us about Hello, Mortal Inc. and what inspired you to start this venture?

Hello, Mortal Inc. is the parent company of a variety of resources that help you navigate the universal and challenging experiences of end-of-life. 

The inspiration behind starting my company stems from a deeply personal journey that began at an early age. When I was just five years old, my world was suddenly confronted with the reality of mortality when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the ups and downs of her battle with the disease, she remained steadfast in my life until she died just two months before my 21st birthday.

This early and profound encounter with death highlighted the taboo nature of grief in our society and the profound need for spaces dedicated to contemplation and support surrounding end-of-life matters.

However, a series of more recent back-to-back events (the juxtaposition of a tragic death at a wedding and a life-flashing before-my-eyes experience backpacking in Alaska brought death to the forefront of my consciousness) and the sheer timing/opportunity of being in business school propelled me to create resources and tools I thought were needed in the end-of-life space.

What problem(s) are you trying to solve?

The problem I aim to address is multifaceted but fundamentally centers around our society’s reluctance to confront the reality of death. More than half of Americans are unprepared for death, lacking basic necessities like an advance directive or even $1000 in emergency funds. For context, the average funeral costs nearly $10,000, further exacerbating the financial burden on grieving families.

Beyond the financial strain, our culture’s pervasive death denial has far-reaching consequences on emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Each death impacts an average of nine people, amplifying the ripple effects of our collective avoidance of the topic. The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified these issues, exposing the outdated practices of the funeral industry and the pervasive fear surrounding discussions about death.

Using Death Archetypes as a jumping-off point and a tool for self-reflection, followed by deeper discussions and contemplations with the Hello, Mortal community, I aim to disrupt this status quo by fostering open conversations about mortality and empowering individuals to confront their fears.  

In the future, I plan to launch a platform for grief and end-of-life resources to support grievers, alleviate some of the burden associated with end-of-life decisions, and facilitate a more proactive approach to planning.

It’s crucial to understand that discussing death isn’t morbid; rather, it’s an opportunity to reframe our perspectives on life and fully embrace the present moment. 

My experience at the Zell Lurie Institute during my MBA at Michigan Ross was instrumental in shaping the development of Hello, Mortal Inc. The support I received from ZLI, both in terms of capital and community, significantly impacted my entrepreneurial journey.
Maura McInerney-Rowley

MBA ‘22

During your MBA at Michigan Ross, you were very involved with the Zell Lurie Institute. How did ZLI impact you and your development of Hello, Mortal Inc.?

My experience at the Zell Lurie Institute during my MBA at Michigan Ross was instrumental in shaping the development of Hello, Mortal Inc. The support I received from ZLI, both in terms of capital and community, significantly impacted my entrepreneurial journey.

Firstly, the financial investment of $100,000 from the Zell Founders Fund provided crucial early-stage capital that allowed Hello, Mortal Inc. to take shape and grow. Additionally, winning around $20,000 in pitch competitions hosted by ZLI organizations further validated the venture’s viability and provided essential resources to fuel its development.

However, beyond the financial support, the community aspect of ZLI was equally invaluable. Being a founder can often feel isolating and lonely, especially during the early days when all your classmates are focused on recruiting for high-paying jobs while you’re grinding away and making a bet on yourself, which will likely include little to no income for a few years post-graduation.

A supportive network of friends, peers, and mentors within the ZLI community provided a lifeline of encouragement, guidance, and camaraderie. Leaning on fellow entrepreneurs, sharing experiences, and learning from each other’s successes and failures was instrumental in navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

You recently launched the first product under the Hello, Mortal Inc. umbrella called Death Archetypes. Tell us more?

Death Archetypes is a contemplative personality test that is centered around the question: Who are you in the face of life’s impermanence? It’s an invitation to introspection and existential inquiry, and an opportunity to delve into the depths of our existence. As you reflect on the questions and your results, you’ll cultivate a deeper awareness of our shared mortality and the great transition that awaits us all.

In our fast-paced and death-denying world, reflecting on our mortality is something we rarely take the time to do. And yet, deepening your awareness of death can unlock a more purposeful and fulfilling life. Death Archetypes guides you through a journey of self-discovery to help kick-start the process of integrating death contemplation into your day-to-day life.

What inspired the creation of Death Archetypes? 

The true goal of art is to make it for oneself. “If you think, ‘I don’t like it, but someone else will,’ you are not making art for yourself.” – Rick Rubin

When we prioritize external validation over our personal connection to the creative process, we risk diluting the authenticity and depth of our artistic expression. In the context of creating Death Archetypes, this sentiment resonates deeply with my journey in developing the project.

From its inception, my focus has been on crafting an idea that I felt called to bring to life, one that aligns with my vision to normalize talking about death. Each aspect of Death Archetypes, from its concept to its execution, has been guided by a genuine passion for exploring how contemplating mortality can help you live a more purposeful life right now.

Creating Death Archetypes has indeed felt like making art – a labor of love infused with personal meaning and introspection. Every question, illustration, and decision has been driven by a desire to delve into the depths of existential inquiry, and in a world increasingly driven by technology, offer a contemplative tool that speaks to the essence of being human to initiate conversations about mortality.

Navigating the journey of bringing Death Archetypes to life has been a profound experience, filled with moments of both excitement and apprehension. Like any creator, I’ve grappled with the fear of how this project might be received. Yet, I’ve come to realize that, much like art itself, Death Archetypes will elicit a spectrum of responses – from critics to compliments.

Despite the nerves, I am deeply committed to sharing this labor of love with the world. I hope that Death Archetypes continues to spark conversations and connections long after I’m gone.

It’s a project born out of a desire to foster a greater sense of comfort and openness around the topic of mortality – a topic that unites us all yet is often shrouded in taboo and discomfort. Through death archetypes, I aspire to facilitate a deeper understanding and acceptance of life’s only guarantee – death.

By embracing the art of contemplation and conversation, we can cultivate a more compassionate and enriched human experience for ourselves and future generations.

For without death, there is no life. And without life, there is no death.

Your next product to launch is Hello, Mortal. What will this platform offer?

Hello, Mortal is a long-form newsletter, editorial project and digital community featuring intimate conversations and reflections on the lost art of death contemplation. We seek to reintegrate an awareness of dying into the experience of living through ideas, practices and stories that illustrate how becoming aware of our mortality can help us to live authentic, meaningful lives.

Hello, Mortal is founded on the idea that contemplating mortality is the missing link to a meaningful life. We aim to break through our collective apathy, fear and denial around death through compelling storytelling and practical philosophy. We’ll share lost knowledge on the practice and purpose of death contemplation, rooted in the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual and philosophical traditions, from Buddhism to Stoicism to Indigenous shamanic teachings to existentialism. We’ll cultivate community, connection and intimacy by acknowledging a reality by sharing stories of those who are walking the path of cultivating a conscious relationship with death—and using an awareness of their own mortality as a powerful force to transform their own lives.

You have more offerings coming down the pipeline. Can you give us a sneak peak of what’s to come?

After launching Death Archetypes and Hello, Mortal, I’m focusing my attention on a platform for personalized grief resources and support. We’re looking for beta testers! If you or someone you know is interested, please send them our way (there’s no time limit on grief).

How can people get involved or follow along?

Discover your Death Archetype and share your results! Subscribe to Hello, Mortal.

Finally, what is your advice for student entrepreneurs who are looking to get their startup off the ground?

If you’re a student and want to start a business, just do it. The University of Michigan is one of the best places in the world to launch a company because you have unparalleled access to diverse and incredible resources.

Here are some concrete and actionable tips:

1) Take advantage of being a student. Your .edu email will get you discounts and a well-crafted email will get you time with people who might not otherwise talk to you. ASK questions. Seek guidance from professors, mentors, alums, and fellow students, and leverage your academic community’s wealth of knowledge and expertise. Go Blue, go anywhere!

2) Tell everyone who will listen (and those who won’t) what you want to do/are doing. Utilize social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok to amplify your startup’s presence and engage with potential investors, co-founders, and early hires. Get in the habit of sending a monthly newsletter (even if it’s just to your mom at first). This is a powerful way to publicly build your startup, share your journey, grow relationships, and connect with your audience.

3) Explore local resources and entrepreneurship ecosystems like SPARK Ann Arbor or other Detroit-based organizations. These hubs often provide mentorship programs and access to non-dilutive funding resources that can propel your startup forward.

Thank you so much, Maura!