After her daughter’s birth in 2017, tennis legend Serena Williams spoke out about her many postpartum complications. Williams experienced a traumatizing pulmonary embolism that forced her to undergo several surgeries after her initial C-section. The complications kept her in a hospital bed for a week after childbirth–and ruminating on the implications of her health issues for a lot longer than that.
Although harrowing, Williams’ story is far from unusual. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. In particular, the immediate postpartum period is considered especially high-risk, due in part to the widespread inaccessibility of adequate postpartum care for both psychological and physiological complications.
Moreover, as Roni Caryn Rabin reports in The New York Times, racial disparities in maternal mortality rates are stark. Black, Alaska Native, and Native American women are approximately three times likelier than are white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What’s more, the CDC notes that around three out of five yearly pregnancy-related deaths could likely be prevented through a combination of better patient monitoring, more education for both patients and clinicians about chronic diseases, standardized care for all patients before and after childbirth, and an improved system of communication among various healthcare providers and patients.
Williams’ story renewed national attention for the enormous racial disparities in the quality, availability, and accessibility of perinatal and postpartum care for Black mothers in particular in the U.S. Now, Williams, through Serena Ventures, and along with a group of other investors, has announced a $3 million investment in Mahmee, a Black-owned startup aimed at improving perinatal and postpartum care for new mothers and babies. Mahmee was co-founded by CEO and entrepreneur Melissa Hanna, JD, MBA, and CTO Sunny Walia. Another co-founder (and Hanna’s mother), Linda Hanna, Chief Nursing Officer, is a registered nurse and lactation consultant who spearheaded lactation and maternity programs at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, and other facilities.
Mahmee aims to bridge the gap between patients, physicians, specialists, doulas, social workers, lactation consultants, and other members of a new mom’s medical and personal support team with digital infrastructure that streamlines communication on all levels. The innovative system, which already has over 1,000 clinical facilities and other organizations in its network, provides personalized patient education and support, giving moms-to-be and new moms 24/7 access to a team of experts and consultants and allowing various care providers to share medical information with each other in real time so nothing falls through the cracks.
In a press release, Williams stated that she hoped Mahmee’s mom-focused, tech-savvy, and evidence-based approach to care would help to model potential solutions to the United States’ maternal mortality crisis, sharing: “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’s data-driven approach is the right solution to one of the most significant problems in the system: that of fragmented care.”
Other Mahmee investors include Mark Cuban, ArlanWasHere (made up of Cuban, Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, and others), and the Bumble Fund, a startup helmed by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd that’s aimed at boosting the efforts of female entrepreneurs of color, as well as other marginalized founders and aspiring founders. Williams backs and serves as a global adviser for the Austin-based Bumble Fund.
Since its establishment in 2014, Serena Ventures has promoted companies focused on maternal and infant wellness, diverse leadership, and out-of-the-box innovation, primarily those that benefit women of color and other marginalized women. Other investments have gone to the sexual wellness and menstrual product company LOLA, the organic baby food delivery service Little Spoon, and The Wing, an international network of women’s work and community spaces, among others.
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