Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland Nelson and welcome to another edition of Women Mean Business, where we’re going to take you up close and personal with extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. My guest today are two extraordinary women, a mother/daughter team, Adrienne Weir and Elena Medo, and their company is Medolac Laboratories. And you’re doing something pretty amazing.
Adrienne: Thank you Leisa.
Leisa: I think so; tell us all about what you’re doing and how you started doing it.
Adrienne: Well we have a human milk bank. So what we do is actually collect, test, process and distribute human milk to neonatal intensive care units across the country and around the world as a formulated feed for preterm infants which is actually life-saving for them.
Leisa: I’m very involved with the March of Dimes so prenatal birth is our big push right now; how did you even get to this or think about it?
Elena: Well after having four children of my own who were large – I had no preemies, they were late so it wasn’t an issue with prematurity – but my first company was a breast pump company. And I went in a local hospital in the intensive care neonatal unit, I’d never seen a preemie that small and I saw a baby that was 500 grams – well under a pound – and I just knew that the rest of my life would be dedicated to helping these little guys, they just have such a tough, painful time.
Leisa: So how do you collect the milk; what’s the process for your business.
Elena: Well what we’ve done is we’ve really used technology to take milk banking into the next generation. There’s been milk banks around for 100 years where they collect the milk and either pasteurize it or just bottle it and freeze it, but we wanted to make it a real win/win for moms. And so we tried something really experimental and Adrienne can tell you about the Mother’s Milk Co-op which is our supply side.
Adrienne: We have the first cooperative milk bank and we have milk donors in 47 states who are mothers of every walk of life who are interested in helping their families and helping these small babies at the same time. So they are tested through their medical history and a blood test and once they qualify they ship their milk in from their homes across the country in 47 states and we receive it, test it process it, package it and distribute it.
Leisa: So who is a typical mother that’s going to apply or contribute to you?
Adrienne: We have moms ranging from an attorney at Shell Oil to a mother who tried to complete nursing school, dropped out because she had the kids, participated in our milk money program which is actually a paid milk donation program and was able to successfully complete nursing school using her milk money.
Leisa: Oh wow, but generally it’s a nursing mother who’s going to just continue to contribute beyond nursing her own baby.
Elena: And it helps them stay home longer if they wish and a lot of times the decision to go back to work really depends on just an extra $300 or $400 a month. They don’t have to replace their income, they just have to replace the net; what they would retain if they’re paying for daycare, if they’re paying for transportation. And so this allows them to nurse they’re own babies a lot longer which is completely aligned with all public health policy.
Leisa: And you’re buying all this milk from these mothers?
Leisa: So it’s income stream for them and revenue generator for you? So that’s your product. I can’t even imagine that this was very easy to come to starting it. I would love to know how long you planned it before you actually launched. I know that you’re growing incredibly rapidly from startup phase to almost global leader in the business. So tell us how that happened, what was the process?
Adrienne: Well one of the things that we really focused on as we were planning was that in milk banking, which is such a niche, the landscape has been challenging. There has not been enough milk, it’s been too expensive when it is there, there are shortages, there are quality issues; so what we wanted to do is actually sort of Democratize access to human milk for these sick babies who need it to live. So we took a look at things like technology, scale and manufacturing efficiencies to develop a product that was easier for hospitals to use, easier for them to access and more affordable.
Elena: So we have the only shelf life stable human milk in the world; stored at room temperature, shipped at room temperature, good for 3 years in the package, commercially sterile and it’s been well accepted.
Leisa: Awesome. And I’m really curious, what advice do you have for someone else who would want to build a giant company. What have you gone through; what’s the best thing you can tell someone with this ambition?
Adrienne: I would say that you need to find something you are very passionate about. For me we have some long days and we have some incredibly challenging hurdles to overcome, but when I meet with a neonatologist who tells me that without human milk he’s forced to turn off life support for babies who need it to save their lives, and because the alternatives are so expensive, it drives me to continue to innovate to provide solutions for them. So I think passion is the key to achieving a successful company.
Leisa: And for you?
Elena: And I would agree with her on that, no amount of money could be better than the work that we do. But I think one word of caution is be very careful about partners, distributors; if your gut feeling at first says no, listen to it and don’t second guess yourself because we all have instincts that are pretty accurate if we listen to them.
Leisa: Thank you very much.
Both: Thank you Leisa.
Leisa: There you have it, two extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. I’m Leisa Holland Nelson, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Astoundz, your one search, one click, one resource for everything interactive; websites, search engine optimization and social media. You can find me at Astoundz.com or follow me on Twitter @LHNelson. We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Women Mean Business.
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