Serena Williams invests in project aimed at improving women’s maternal health
She is part of $3 million investment group that’s funding a tech startup
Serena Williams’ well-documented health complications after the birth of daughter Alexis in September 2017 have led her to invest in mothers across the globe.
This week, Williams’ Serena Ventures joined an investment group to back Mahmee, a data-driven maternal and infant health tech company that is helping build a digital infrastructure to prevent critical gaps in care. One of its focuses is to end the maternal mortality crisis among black women in the United States.
In season one of Williams’ HBO documentary series Being Serena, she was very emotional as she explained the pain, fear and multiple surgeries she went through after her daughter’s birth. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, said he didn’t know if she would survive.
“I just remember getting up and I couldn’t breathe, and I was just like, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Like I couldn’t take a deep breath. I told the nurse, ‘I can’t breathe, I need a mask,’ so I put the oxygen mask on and I started coughing because I couldn’t breathe,” said Williams. “It hurt so bad, it hurt so bad. And then my stitches broke. And I remember I was in the bathroom with my mom just crying and crying, and she was crying. She was like, ‘You just got to breathe,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t, I can’t breathe,’ and it was just really hard.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. every year, and 60 percent of those deaths are preventable. Black mothers die at a rate that’s 3.3 times greater than for white mothers. The CDC says a lack of access to health care, missed or delayed diagnoses, and failures by doctors or nurses contribute to those deaths.
The report warns pregnant and postpartum women to understand warning signs so they can identify problems early and seek timely treatment. For hospitals and health systems, the CDC says, medical responses to emergencies should be standardized so providers are clear about how to proceed with treatment.
This is where the Mahmee startup hopes to close the gap. A new investment group involving Williams announced this week that it is providing $3 million to Mahmee. The group includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, returning investor the Bumble Fund and ArlanWasHere, the joint project between Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital and Cuban, among other investors.
“I am incredibly excited to invest and partner with Mahmee, a company that personifies my firm’s investment philosophy,” Williams said in a statement. “Given the bleak data surrounding maternal death and injury rates, I believe that it is absolutely critical right now to invest in solutions that help protect the lives of moms and babies.”
Mahmee was co-founded by Melissa Hanna and her mother, Linda Hanna, a registered nurse in obstetrics and veteran health care expert who pioneered the world-class maternity and lactation programs at Kaiser Permanente and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“Mahmee grew out of the work that my mother did over the course of her career, and she’s very famous, very well-known in the community for building a very successful maternity and breastfeeding care program, and she did that for a number of different hospitals and health systems over the past four decades,” said Melissa Hanna.
When she realized how her mother was facilitating the treatment for these patients, she noticed there needed to be a change.
“She worked with a team of people that were driving all over and working with the families across the socioeconomic spectrum. I realized that they were using their cellphones and they would be using, like, texting and email for a lot of their communication with patients and with the other practitioners,” said Hanna. “I was like, we had to get secure. We have to get you using some medical apps for this. We have to get you using some software that is designed for providing maternity health care.
“I started looking at the market and I could not find anything that actually met the needs of this very unique part of the health care industry where you have moms and babies of two different patients being cared for by many different providers.”
Hanna says she’s trying to bridge that gap between patients and health care providers to prevent these deaths.
“We’re providing personalized guidance and support, online, to families from pregnancy all the way through babies’ first year of life. And as part of that process, we are keeping track of the health of the mom and baby and keeping an eye out for anything that might otherwise present,” said Hanna. “That’s a risk needing additional medical care. So rather than waiting for bad stuff to happen, we’re trying to proactively engage with mothers and provide education and check-in so that if, if there’s any, you know, early warning signs or issues, we can catch those facts and you can bring that to the physician’s attention.”
Hanna said working with Williams is something she would have never imagined. Launched in 2014, Serena Ventures focuses on early-stage startups and has invested in about 25 companies.
“It’s humbling for me to be in a place in my professional career that I get to connect with women like Serena Williams,” said Hanna. “And the fact is that I think that would be the case regardless of my personal identity. However, being a black woman working in tech and having the privilege of working with Serena Williams is beyond my wildest dreams.”