MedHaul is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here.
Erica Plybeah’s grandmother was a double-leg amputee with Type 2 diabetes whose transportation to and from doctor visits were a struggle. Plybeah recalled those difficulties in 2017 when she saw a hospital advertising cab rides for new mothers, so she set to work developing a technology solution to the problem.
Her business plan won the Memphis Medical District Collaborative Operation Opportunity Challenge that year.
In June 2019, that solution became a reality when Plybeah founded Medhaul, a benefit corporation that prioritizes developing innovative transportation solutions for vulnerable communities that are often overlooked, including the elderly and those with physical and mental disabilities. “We make a difference by solving the most complex transportation issues for those who need the solution most,” she told FierceHealthcare.
The company has quickly gained attention among some major investors despite working in a space where heavyweights Uber and Lyft have a headstart. The startup recently closed a $1.2 million round of seed funding, and with a lineup of investors that includes Morgan Stanley, Citi Impact Fund and Google for Startups. That backing included mentoring from Google in the hot world of machine learning.
Medhaul’s core mission balances profit, people and purpose.
To that end, Plybeah said she is determined to grow the business responsibly and remain focused on areas in which it can make a real impact on population health.
“We specifically target distressed urban and rural communities in an effort to focus on populations with high rates of poverty and/or chronic disease,” she said.
Fierce Insights from Medhaul CEO Erica Plybeah
What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?
Take the necessary time to truly understand the needs of patients and organizations. Grow responsibly. Growing too quickly creates unnecessary risks that would not only disappoint customers but could also negatively impact the patients. Healthcare is also a very grassroots industry. Startups must spend time understanding what is going on with clinical staff on the ground and what is going on in patients' homes and communities to truly understand how to create a solution that best fits their needs.
What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?
When going after what we thought would be our very first contract, we had a major fail. We know the old adage "don't count your chickens before they hatch" but of course, as excited new founders, we thought we had this customer in the bag. Meetings with leadership and respective teams all went well and moved forward, the proposal was done, then a contract in legal, then...silence. We heard nothing. For weeks we checked in with our main contact and never heard anything. A few weeks later, I learned that our champion had left the organization and did not yet have a replacement. None of the other members of the team were responsive, because, from the beginning, we had only worked profusely with one person from the organization. It was devastating, because as a tiny team (only two of us at that time), with no funding, and no real customers yet, it seemed like it would have been our first win.
The primary lesson I learned from this is that there will be many, many failures during the startup journey and not to get too hung up over one. While it may not feel like it when you're going through the experience, failures make you a much more resilient founder and are only preparing you for the next great win. (Oh, and I also learned that we definitely need at least 2 champions within an organization!)
What is the book you recommend to other healthcare leaders?
A book I'd recommend to all leaders is The Four Agreements, which is a very simple, yet powerful book. In today's time, leaders (well, honestly anyone with the internet) are bombarded with information, media, & messages; but core principles seem to get lost. The Four Agreements isn't new or groundbreaking, but simply a daily reminder of what's required in how you treat others and yourself.
What is your prediction for how the healthcare industry will change in 2021?
I predict that healthcare will become even more complex as we continue to figure out value-based contracting, the deployment of the COVID19 vaccine, and an increase in data security protocols as more remote patient monitoring solutions are being launched and many healthcare staff and leadership are working remotely. With COVID-19 shedding light on disparities in healthcare, my hope is also that there will be a rising awareness of social determinants of health and action to create sustainable impact.
In light of the national conversation that is happening right now, what advice would you offer to healthcare leaders seeking to make a real impact on problems caused by systemic racism?
I found it daunting that the concepts of healthcare disparities and lack of access to quality healthcare were foreign to so many prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest. These were longstanding issues that we've known about for decades. I would offer the same advice as I always do. I would first challenge organization leaders to take a look around their boardrooms and C-suites. If the leadership does not reflect the communities of patients being served, we've already failed. It's impossible to effectively serve a community that we don't understand. Diversity in leadership helps promote trust and confidence in the healthcare organization. We've learned time and time again that it is critical for patients to see people who look like them and have shared experiences so that the patients, and their family, continue to stay engaged in their care. 2020 was very a tough year, but with the greater awareness that we've seen recently, I am cautiously optimistic that healthcare is (very slowly, but surely) heading in the direction of sustainable impact.