The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How two bachelors teamed up to transform the pregnancy experience

Anish Sebastian, front, and Juan Pablo Segura, created the start-up Babyscripts, which produces software to reduce the number of office visits made by pregnant women. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

I believe in being lucky. I also believe you make your luck.

Entrepreneur Juan Pablo Segura volunteered for several years at a summer camp for kids with neuromuscular disease. He was sharing a beer after the fourth year with a friend from the camp who has muscular dystrophy. The buddy said something that changed Segura’s life.

“He tells me how genetics and big data are going to transform health care,” recalled Segura, who worked in financial consulting for Deloitte at the time.

Segura jumped on the idea. He partnered with a tech-minded Deloitte colleague, Anish Sebastian, to create Babyscripts, a Georgetown-based start-up that seeks to revolutionize pregnancy care for both doctor and patient.

Babyscripts makes a software app whose mission is to reduce the number of doctor visits during pregnancy — saving time so doctors can concentrate on their higher-risk patients. It is another ambitious entrant among a generation of young, disruptive companies, like Uber and Airbnb, that are mobilizing technology against complex industries such as health care, transportation and travel.

“We are trying to make the patient journey more convenient,” Segura said. “We want to eliminate patients’ visits so doctors make more money.”

They sell to doctors and health-care systems, but pregnant moms benefit because they can have their doctor “visits” automated from home.

“Moms are working; they aren’t in the home. For many who already have kids, when they visit the doctor, they have to plan for child care, drive an hour through traffic, sit in a waiting room, pay for parking and take three hours out of their day for a 15-minute visit,” he said. “Even then, the majority of pregnant women are healthy and just go through all that and get a thumbs-up, high-five. It doesn’t make sense when they have so many other responsibilities.”

Let’s talk about the Big Book: Everything your family needs to know when you die

Babyscripts employs 25 people at its Washington headquarters. That includes a sales team, software engineers and employees who train physicians on how to use its products. Segura said the company expects to gross more than $1 million this year. He said he expects Babyscripts to turn a profit in 2019.

The company has raised $8 million to date from investors, including GE Ventures and $5 million last July from Ysios Capital, a Spanish firm that provides financing for health-care companies.

Co-founders Segura and Sebastian are still substantial shareholders.

Segura, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, is Babyscripts’ president and “the vision guy.” Sebastian, who graduated from the University of Maryland, is the chief executive and runs the technology side of the business.

The business works something like this:

The OB-GYN, or baby doctor, enrolls patients into the Babyscript app in the first visit of pregnancy. Babyscripts ships a kit to the patient from a North Carolina fulfillment center that allows them to relay data such as blood pressure — a critical metric in pregnant women — to the doctor from the home.

The company sells five products. The main product is designed to automate the pregnancy visits and reduce the number. The products include tests for blood sugar for women who develop a form of diabetes during pregnancy.

Jeff Zients was with Obama for the long haul — and now he’s going long in investing

There is also a post-pregnancy interactive survey to screen moms for post-pregnancy problems such as depression. Babyscripts can alert the physician so he or she can act if there is a problem. Babyscripts can track whether women know how to breast-feed, have enough food in the house and enjoy a stable living situation.

There is a lot of competition in this space. Segura said pregnancy apps are among the most downloaded in health care. Most apps are geared toward patients, but Babyscripts sells to doctors, specifically those who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth.

“That makes us unique,” Segura said. “Typically, there is a serious return on the investment.”

Most OB-GYNs use a similar, one-size-fits-all playbook that calls for about 14 visits for each pregnant patient. They are paid a flat fee of around $3,500 for a nine-month pregnancy. But the idea here is to save the physician’s time spent on low-risk patients.

“We automate the prenatal care so patients can go in eight or nine times instead of 14 times, while still capturing necessary data,” Segura said. “That frees up the doctor. They are getting the same amount of money but have more time for high-risk patients.”

The company charges hospitals a monthly fee based on each patient served. The fees are tied to how many patients participate in the Babyscripts program. The start-up’s clients are 15 health systems across 13 states, including MedStar Health, George Washington University Hospital and Cone Health, a not-for-profit network in North Carolina.

The two bachelors (Sebastian is marrying soon) knew nothing about pregnancy when they started researching big data and health care back in 2011.

“We are known as the bachelors who started a pregnancy remote monitoring company,” Segura said.

How rich is Apple? Its recent stock buyback is more valuable than 275 companies in the S&P 500

“We had gone to a couple of conferences where everyone was talking about moving costs out of hospitals and better managing costs in the home,” Segura said. “We stumbled on the idea that the Internet of things is the conduit, the vehicle, that will allow a transformation in the health-care system to actually occur.”

They left Deloitte in 2013 and spent more than a year on research, developing a business plan, and talking to physicians and hospitals. They made a pitch video for investors. They attended conferences to learn more about the intersection of big data and health.

“We used friends and family to get connected,” Segura said. They finally got a $900,000 investment from an angel investor. The money was used to build the initial Babyscripts product and work with a group of doctors from George Washington Hospital. By the end of 2014, they were gaining credibility and enlisted the chairman of OB-GYN at Sibley Hospital to join the Babyscripts team.

The $900,000 grew to $3 million from outside investors over the next two years.

Their credibility grew. President Barack Obama nominated Sebastian, who studied information systems at the University of Maryland, in 2015 as a White House Champion of Change for his Babyscripts research.

The Northwest Washington lifestyle trap: $500,000 in income and still can’t save

Segura’s parents are from Argentina, and he grew up in Fairfax County. His father is an economist, and his mom is a human rights lawyer. After attending the Heights School, he studied Chinese and accounting at Notre Dame.

I asked Segura how he came to volunteer at the Muscular Dystrophy Summer Camp near Leonardtown, Md.

He said it was because of his sister, who is a pediatrician.

“I volunteer for one week each summer,” he said. “Basically, you are paired with a camper who has muscular dystrophy, and you work with them for the entire week.”

He said he still keeps in touch with camp attendees with whom he has worked while volunteering.

“I would never have known anything about health care if I never volunteered,” he said, looking back. “I was in finance at the time. I was working for Deloitte, unwinding the disaster that was Lehman Brothers. The only thing I knew about health care was the phone number of my internist.”

As I said: Sometimes you make your luck.