Melissa Hanna, CEO of Mahmee discusses how she and her mother started the company.

October 21, 2019

How a Mother-Daughter Duo Built a Company Together to Improve Maternal Healthcare

One night at dinner, entrepreneur Melissa Hanna noticed that her mother, registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant Linda Hanna, was receiving dozens of text messages — not from patients but from obstetricians and pediatricians.

At the time, Linda Hanna ran a thriving private practice, My Nursing Coach, that offered in-home breastfeeding and postpartum support. That meant that she had up-to-date information on how each mom and baby in her practice were doing since they had gone home from the hospital.

"The doctors were asking her for updates and advice because they felt that my mom and her team were very connected to these mothers and had the best sense of how they were really doing," said Melissa Hanna, who calls her mother a "healthcare pioneer."

"I knew there had to be a way to scale that," she said.

In 2014, drawing on her own background as an activist entrepreneur with law and advanced business degrees, Hanna joined her mother in co-founding Mahmee, a comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care management platform aimed at increasing positive health outcomes for moms and babies.

"We're a staff of software engineers and certified and specially-trained maternity support professionals who deliver proactive, ongoing education and guidance to new families," said Hanna, who serves as the company's CEO.

My Nursing Coach "had identified crucial gaps in care and communication between new moms and care providers, and worked to solve those issues. Mahmee is the next iteration of the business," she said. "I wanted to figure out how to connect professionals like my mom, who are filling in the critical gaps in maternal health care, to act as a liaison between moms and their doctors."

Those critical gaps can have life-changing consequences. The United States is the only developed country with a consistently rising maternal mortality rate, the Harvard Business Review noted recently, reporting that among mothers in 11 high-income countries, Americans face the greatest risk of dying from pregnancy complications.

Black mothers in the United States face a three- to four-times higher maternal mortality risk than white mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also reported that 50,000 American women suffer life-threatening pregnancy complications annually. In addition, the CDC noted, many pregnant women suffering from depression received no treatment for the condition.

Mahmee has attracted big-name supporters and partners who believe in its mission to provide better prenatal and postpartum care for mothers and babies. The startup recently raised more than $3 million in a funding round led by venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton, with participants including Dallas Mavericks owner and "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban and tennis champion Serena Williams — who experienced life-threatening post-delivery complications herself — participating alongside other firms and funds like Pipeline Angels and Revolution Ventures' Rise of the Rest fund, among others.

Healthcare professionals are signing on as well.

"We partner with over 1,000 providers and organizations in our network. This includes major systems like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, AltaMed, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and UCLA," said Hanna.

The venture describes itself as a "HIPAA-secure care management platform that makes it easy for payers, providers and patients to coordinate comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care from anywhere."

Mahmee's website encourages new moms to go home with "a bundle of support for you and your bundle." The platform links mother and child's medical records and supports moms from pregnancy through the baby's first birthday, offering personalized guidance and help with nutrition, childbirth, lactation, emotional health and returning to work, along with developing a personalized care plan. New moms can use the app to make appointments with lactation consultants, registered nurses and dietitians, therapists and other postpartum care professionals.

Mahmee offers support for developing a birth plan, preparing for childbirth and leaving the hospital, traveling with the baby, establishing healthy sleep patterns, breastfeeding, transitioning to solid foods, understanding language milestones and more. Moms can connect with coaches through direct messages or one-on-one virtual consultations, take online courses, participate in support groups and receive perks and discounts for baby-related brands.

New or expectant parents can sign up for free or through a paid premium program — with $20/month, $75/month or $200/month options — that either they or their healthcare provider or insurer pay for. Mahmee also works with both private and Medicaid-focused health plans.

Physicians and specialists use the cloud-based platform to share care plans for their patients, mothers and infants alike, so they're all on the same page.

Mahmee notes that health insurance plans can use the service to bundle lactation, nutrition and mental health services for new mothers, linking to network physicians and other healthcare providers across a region. Hospitals can use the service to make cost-effective care, such as outpatient clinics and in-home visits, easier to offer.

"We've helped reduce NICU readmissions for neonatal jaundice by 60 percent and increase breastfeeding rates by 200 percent above the national average for our health system customers," the company said.

The new funding round will help Mahmee expand its team of engineers, clinicians and sales staff and support upcoming partnerships with billion-dollar health systems.

Hanna leads Mahmee's business development and operations strategy and supports CTO Sunny Walia on product development, while her mother oversees the firm's clinical standards of care and user experience in the app.

"We are designing and selling a new model for maternal and infant healthcare. That requires a lot of creative thinking and flexibility in how you execute on that vision. It also means you have to be patient with the market as it develops because not everyone is ready for a new system," Hanna said.

"Many healthcare organizations are lacking the IT infrastructure needed to connect providers from different practices to each other and to monitor high risk moms and babies," she added.

Her advice to other entrepreneurs who need to pull together multiple partners with sophisticated technology?

"Find something you're passionate about, preferably in an area where you can partner with people who are doing pioneering work. Having experts and allies familiar with the problem you're trying to solve increases your chance of effectively solving it."

Forming a strong entrepreneurial partnership with her own mother has proven key for Hanna, who previously worked in operations and strategy at various startups and as assistant director at Columbia Business School's Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center.

"I'm incredibly grateful for my mom's pioneering work and on-the-ground experience in maternal and child healthcare because it continues to give our entire team insight into what new moms need," she said. "Her passion and dedication to this space drives our mission to solve the problem of inexcusably high maternal mortality and injury rates. We have a great relationship, which creates a trusting working environment and really keeps us motivated."

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