Melissa Manice, Startup Entrepreneur

Editor’s Note: 

If you were to meet Melissa Manice in person, you’d feel an instant connection.  When a person is described as being someone who makes you feel like “you’re the only person in the room”….well, that would be Melissa.  Once you get past her charming personality, you realize that she is wicked smart, brilliant perhaps.  She is the definition of multi-faceted; a wife and mother first, a dazzling businesswoman and lifelong friend second.  It was a privilege peeling back these layers, each one leaving me more in awe of the one before.

Melissa Manice, Founder of Cohero Health / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

Melissa Manice, Founder of Cohero Health / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

You may not recognize the name Melissa Manice now, but it won’t be long before you do.  Her company, Cohero Health, is about to transform the healthcare industry.

Breathing is something most of us take for granted, but for the 24 million asthma sufferers in the United States (and 26 million with Adult Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD)), ease of this natural instinct is reliant upon daily medication, frequent visits to the doctor, and the occasional hospital visit.

Melissa’s company has created a solution for this—it’s called an “app enabled device” and is changing the way asthma and COPD are managed and treated worldwide.

The Cohero Family at a Race in NYC / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

The Cohero Family at a Race in NYC / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

For as long as I can remember, I was always someone who loved science and thought the logical path would be for me to become a doctor. I was pre-med in college, but ultimately realized that I didn’t want to be in medicine in the literal sense, but maybe healthcare.

At Vanderbilt University, Melissa spent the bulk of her undergraduate education in labs studying cancer research.  She used this research to apply for a fellowship after she graduated at the National Cancer Institute in Washington DC.

Anita Roberts / Photo Courtesy of Melissa Manice

Anita Roberts / Photo Courtesy of Melissa Manice

It was here that Melissa was paired with who she considers to be the most profound mentor in her entire career.

Anita Roberts was a female scientist that dedicated her life to cancer research. She was the second most cited woman scientist in the entire world because she discovered a growth-factor found in the early stages of cancer.

Two months after Melissa began her fellowship, Anita herself was diagnosed with Stage Four aggressive gastric cancer, the very cancer she had studied throughout her career.

I ended up watching her become a testimony to her life’s work. She went through a really novel clinical trial because she knew that her diagnosis was terminal, but this trial would end up prolonging her life for over a year.
Melissa and her family on the 4th of july / photo courtesy melissa manice

Melissa and her family on the 4th of july / photo courtesy melissa manice

The partnership with Anita seemed serendipitous.  Here was a woman that Melissa admired deeply, who showed her a noble way of pursuing her career, and her family, wholeheartedly. 

Melissa took note, finishing her fellowship and starting a Master’s program in Public Health at John Hopkins University, ultimately transferring to an urban public health program at Hunter College in New York….this time, to be closer to her new fiancé.

It was working in the urban public health department that I became really passionate about trying to understand the etiology—or what causes—asthma. This opened the doors to what ended up being ‘my world’ in pulmonary medicine.
Giving an industry talk on the Biggest Healthcare Trends in the next 10 years/ Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

Giving an industry talk on the Biggest Healthcare Trends in the next 10 years/ Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

She went on to pursue a PHD at Mount Sinai, her thesis focusing on the barriers that physicians, patients, and healthcare systems face to properly treat children with asthma.

It felt like the treatment of asthma patients, particularly children, was really stuck in the dark ages. Patients were being sent home with these analog devices and their physicians were flying blind.

  And this is where Cohero Health was born.

We were trying to figure out whether asthma sufferers were just not responding to treatment, or not taking the treatment at all. So we built the technology around these two factors; lung function and adherence, building a really incredible mobile tool.
At Tech Crunch with colleagues Mike Marett and Anna Cushing / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

At Tech Crunch with colleagues Mike Marett and Anna Cushing / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

To break it down for you, what this means is that if you're an asthma sufferer, you can wear Cohero’s device, a mini spirometer (which measures air capacity in your lungs) paired with a smartphone app, and have real time tracking of your medication intake and how your lungs are responding.

The result?  Less time spent making trips to the hospital, and more time spent at home.

Melissa, her Husband and son at her PHD Graduation / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

Melissa, her Husband and son at her PHD Graduation / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

Two years later, around the fall of 2014, Melissa was armed with a PhD and prototype in hand, ready to bring her product to the forefront of an industry so desperate for this type of technology.

It was almost the consummate feeling of ‘you’re building the plane while you’re taking off the ground’, you always feel like you’re almost running out of runway.
Melissa onstage at Techcrunch Disrupt / Photo courtesy Melissa Manice

Melissa onstage at Techcrunch Disrupt / Photo courtesy Melissa Manice

Since then, Melissa has had some incredible milestones:

First, Cohero raised a little under $2M in their first round of startup funding, significantly more than their $1.5M goal.  This brought their product to what she calls ‘commercial readiness.’  Backers include big-name investors like Blue Cross Blue Shield, BioAdvance and several other angel investors.

Then this past summer, the FDA approved Cohero’s technology as a medically approved device that can be fully manufactured.

And finally, Melissa and her company were chosen to present at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this past fall. For those of you who don’t follow tech, this is a huge deal.  2,000 new companies are whittled down to 15 across several industry sectors, Cohero being one of two healthcare companies chosen to be profiled.

It was the first time ever Melissa stood onstage and presented her product to one of the savviest audiences ever, an experience Melissa calls ‘humbling and transformative.’

Melissa berry picking with her sons / photo courtesy Melissa Manice

Melissa berry picking with her sons / photo courtesy Melissa Manice

Cohero is currently gearing up for their second round of funding and the manufacturing of several thousand products that will, fingers crossed, be in patient's and doctor’s hands by the end of 2016.

Melissa with Cohero's mobile med devices / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

Melissa with Cohero's mobile med devices / Photo Courtesy Melissa Manice

What has it been like being a woman in the startup space? 

It has been a challenge as I am constantly outnumbered by men— colleagues, investors, or customers, but I’ve found that people are more accepting than I could have ever imagined. It’s tricky because I think entrepreneurs are expected to exude extreme confidence and I know many female entrepreneurs (myself very much included) struggle with this, particularly when women are planning for or in the midst of having kids as they can be labelled a liability when leading a company.

How have you juggled this?  Being a mother to two young boys and starting a company at the same time?

It is a constant game of ‘life tetris’ as I call it. I started Cohero when my oldest was one and now my second is one so it’s been quite the sleep deprived ride, but I think I’ve learned that I need far less sleep than I thought I did before having kids and also that being busy and time-constrained can be an incredible agent for productivity, creativity and resourcefulness. I definitely have found that compartmentalizing my day into fully dedicated time is my way of trying to be present both at home and at work. I’ve often heard the adage ‘If you want something done, give it to the person who’s busy’. I think that sums up the juggling act pretty well.

What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs out there?

Be confident. I was so nervous about leaving the world of academic medicine that I knew so well for something far less stable and much more entrepreneurial. But I have never been more fulfilled and more passionate than doing what I am now. I’ve met so many female entrepreneurs that say that the first step was the hardest. I count myself in the company of a lot of women who say that they are more risk-averse than their male peers.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

One of our family favorites is ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ I really feel so fortunate to be doing what I’m doing but also feel that working hard, even through the low points, is a critical agent to good fortune.

To learn more about Melissa’s incredible new technology at Cohero Health, click here.

 Next week, on DRIVEN for Women, a Christmas week post, shining a light on one of the most joyful women I've ever met, even amidst tragedy.  Meet Lenore Davis-- rockstar mother of Hunter Zen, and founder of the Healing Hunter Foundation and Lightning Cupcakes.

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