Navigating A Pandemic Launch

Melissa Ellison, founder of Better Now Health, wasn’t going to wait for COVID to end to launch her business.


Most entrepreneurs might have shied away from launching a new business during the pandemic, particularly within the healthcare space. But Melissa Ellison, G’19, was determined not to let COVID disrupt her plans. 

“We were in a pandemic, but I wasn’t going to have that impact the decisions I made about when to launch,” says Ellison. “I knew this was something I was really passionate about. I firmly believed that Better Now Health could make a difference.”

And so, in August 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, Ellison launched Better Now Health. The business provides a new approach to therapy. When a client signs up, they select a package that has a predesignated number of sessions specifically designed to address common mental health issues, like depression symptoms, or commonly stressful life events, like navigating life after college . 

Ellison had previously worked with the military as a research scientist in a federally funded research and development center, drawing on her experience as a social scientist. She had helped the military evaluate mental health treatments and responses, and she had seen time and again that stigma keeps people from seeking care for mental health issues. In her experience, part of stigma was hesitancy to sign up for therapy or counseling that is open ended. 

“There might be something you want to get help with, but you don’t want to be in therapy forever,” Ellison says.

For some people, long-term therapy is the right fit. For others, however, the idea of having a clear timeline and objectives helps make mental health more accessible. Those individuals are who Better Now Health aims to serve. 

Better Now Health started by marketing directly to consumers. But over the past year, Ellison has had growing interest from health plans, and is working to develop a business to business approach as well. 

As the rest of the world learned about life during the pandemic, Ellison was rapidly learning as a founder, about everything from Better Now Health’s clients’ demographics and needs to the multiplicity of stakeholders

“You are constantly learning every day,” she said. “I’ve been impressed with and surprised by the rate at which we’re learning, which is very encouraging.”

In addition to strengthening her B-to-B marketing, Ellison is also working to develop and expand the product line. Currently, Better Now Health offers three packages, but it will soon have more. Although she’s still in the thick of it, when she takes a moment to reflect, she can see the ways that her business has progressed in just ten months. 

“You can sit back and say ‘It’s been under a year, and look at what we’ve done and what we learned,’” she says. 

Ellison says that her background as a social scientist has served her well as an entrepreneur. The ability to test hypotheses and adjust a plan accordingly is invaluable with a startup. So is having a community of like-minded people, like the one at the Magnuson Center. 

“I can’t imagine doing this without my  community,” she says. “It’s important to be able to have a supportive community where you can be frank with each other and ask questions, because you can’t know everything.”

Ellison also has a message for anyone who is considering jumping into entrepreneurship when they’re already in an established career: if you can make the financials work, go for it. 

“It’s not all glamour, but it’s so rewarding,” she says. “Even on the hard days you’re doing something you believe in. It’s really worthwhile.”