11 Southeast entrepreneurs have made it their mission in business not just to make money, but to improve access to healthcare for all.
These 11 healthcare startups gathered with enthusiasm last Thursday at the first SOURCE Pitchfest at Research Triangle Park. What unites these companies is a commitment to enrich the lives of low-wealth members of society using technology. They were surrounded by impact investors and healthcare industry leaders eager to hear their solutions for some of society’s biggest challenges.
The host of the event, SOURCE (Solutions from Our Country’s Entrepreneurs) Initiative, was founded last year as a collaboration between Durham-based Investors’ Circle, the world’s largest early-stage impact-investing network, Village Capital, which trains and invests in early-stage entrepreneurs solving major societal problems through business solutions, and the Hitachi Foundation, an independent, philanthropic organization that seeks to discover, demonstrate and expand business practices that improve economic opportunities for low-wealth Americans. The new organization hosts Pitchfests and other events around the U.S. with a focus this year on healthcare and how health startups can improve communities and the lives of low-wealth individuals, according to Investors’ Circle’s Meredith Martindale.
“This event connects the Triangle’s entrepreneurial spirit with the rich history of healthcare to promote innovation and problem-solving, while improving the lives of those most in need in our community,” she says. (Here’s a recent video interview we did with Investors’ Circle executive director Bonny Moellenbrock.)
Martindale adds that Investors’ Circle is “pleased to bring the unique pitchfest to the Triangle to uncover entrepreneurs, whose innovations, approaches and practices improve health outcomes for the underserved, and to connect these entrepreneurs with local investors.”
Ventures pitched their healthcare solutions for three $1,000 prizes. The first was peer-selected by the pitching companies.
The next, selected by Investors’ Circle’s local angel investors, was awarded to the venture showing the strongest investment potential. The winner of this award, in addition to the $1,000, would have the opportunity to meet with an Investors’ Circle North Carolina member to review the company’s business model and fundraising plan.
The final award, selected by the audience, was awarded to the venture with highest likelihood of impacting low-wealth individuals’ health outcomes in the U.S.
The impact prize was awarded to Lowcountry Street Grocery, a Charleston startup that has transformed an old school bus into a traveling, two-aisle farmer’s market. The brand goes by the motto, “Where you live shouldn’t determine what you eat. We also believe it doesn’t have to.” Revenue generated from the bus is reinvested to provide reduced pricing and free nutrition education in underserved communities across the Lowcountry region of SC. Lowcountry Street Grocery’s long-term goal is to partner with national food retailers to replicate the model in other cities.
Here are the remaining seven companies:
Aware Engineering, based in Richmond, Virginia and Zurich, Switzerland, turns traditional medical devices used to treat Cystic Fibrosis into smart data gathering tools by attaching sensors that help physicians monitor patients in real-time. Backed by multi-disciplinary world experts, Aware Engineering is in the process of completing a six-month, Switzerland government-funded study that it hopes will demonstrate the feasibility of the company’s approach.
Health Fair Connections connects companies to local health and wellness providers primarily via health fairs, but also through screenings, workshops, lunch n’ learns, demos and other wellness initiatives. This Durham company essentially removes the need for a human resources staff member to plan wellness activities for a company.
Medlio is basically a Google for healthcare. Its goal is to reinvent how people search for doctors, medications and health information. It also allows users to schedule appointments and pay for services online or via their mobile device. The Medlio team views current healthcare search as fundamentally broken and works to provide “a healthcare experience with transparency, simplicity and convenience – on your terms.”
Nicotrax is a North Carolina State University spinout developing a smart cigarette case and software solution that helps users quit smoking. The case monitors how often cigarettes are removed and delivers data about a smoker’s habits and a customized plan to quit. This venture plans to pilot the technology in December and eventually sell to CVS and Walgreens as a smoking cessation product.
Remedy transforms the way pain is managed by giving healthcare providers accurate, meaningful and usable data on their patients’ progress. Pain is a prevalent issue since one in three Americans deal with chronic pain. Remedy has a simple mobile application that lets patients track pain by recording their location, intensity and triggers. Doctors have access to the app too, and can use the data to notice trends and prescribe better pain management treatments.
Wellsys, based in Gilbert, Ariz., has a program for hospitals and employers (as workplace wellness service) that helps to screen patients with behavioral disorders like depression, obesity, smoking, binge drinking and drug abuse and refer outside treatment like health coaches, clinics and other healthcare providers.
Zansors, based in Washington, D.C., is an early-stage company developing wearable breathing sensors and apps that help doctors and patients track episodes of sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and childhood pneumonia. The team has been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.