Jonathan Machado

19 October 2020

10 min read


Why we invested in Big Health

By Jonathan Machado

4 min read

There will be many takeaways when we look back at 2020, but chief among them is that advancing diversity and inclusion is as important as ever. Bringing together management, founders, and partners from different backgrounds and experiences will enable alternative viewpoints and problem-solving to thrive and ultimately fuel innovation.

That’s why Samsung Next and HLTH VRTL partnered for a startup showcase highlighting diversity in healthcare. Together with an esteemed panel of judges, we selected 11 startup finalists to showcase their healthcare innovations based on how impactful and transformative their companies are and how inspiring their stories were.

The result was a broad spectrum of products and services with the potential to upend healthcare systems and transform the lives of millions of people around the globe. Here’s a snapshot of the 11 startup finalists striving to make a difference:

Emme: Smarter birth control

Amanda French, CEO at Emme, identified more than 200 unmet needs of women while studying at Stanford University’s Byers Center for Biodesign in 2016. The common denominator? Forgetting to take birth control pills — an all-too-common occurrence. As many as 80 percent of women in the U.S. miss at least one pill per month, according to the startup’s research, and 42 percent of women will take at least one pregnancy test a year.

In 2017, French teamed up with Janene Fuerch to form Emme. The Emme Smart Case automatically senses and controls users’ birth control pills so they never miss a pill again.

For Emme, the smart case is just the start. French and Fuerch have broader ambitions of helping women manage other areas of their health over the long-term with technological solutions. That includes expanding users’ access to prescriptions and medical care this fall by connecting them with doctors and pharmacy services through mobile phones.

Check out the recent Forbes article covering Emme.

Genetika+: Blood tests for depression

More than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet for all the advancements in medicine over the past 50 years, treating depression remains a grossly inefficient process of trial and error, with doctors trying different medications and dosages until they find one that is effective. That’s a problem Talia Cohen Solal, CEO of Genetika+, wants to solve with her startup.

Growing up with a family member who suffered from depression inspired Dr. Talia Cohen-Solal to form Gentika+ with Dr. Daphna Laifenfeld in 2017. Together, they developed a laboratory blood test that uses AI to predict the best line of treatment from one of 70 different medications for patients with major depression. By taking the guesswork out of the treatment process, Solal and Laifenfeld hope their blood test translates to faster treatment with lower dosages and fewer side effects. If the company succeeds, millions of depression sufferers around the world may finally find relief.

Kiira Health: Telemedicine for women

Nearly 77 percent of people search for health information online, according to the Pew Research Center, with the majority being young women looking to self-diagnose health concerns.

But doing so can have disastrous consequences. With Kiira Health, founder Crystal Evuleocha wants to put healthcare within easy reach of female college students. The startup’s telemedicine service uses a mobile app to connect patients with primary care physicians, obstetricians, mental health experts, and other clinicians through phone, video, and chat. College administrators already use the startup’s customizable care management dashboard to invite students onto the platform, send health surveys and reminders, and track analytics on student health.

Evuloeachoa hopes that targeting young women during their college years will lead to lower hospital readmissions and reduced patient costs, which will mean better health outcomes and life expectancies in the long run.

Manatee: Virtual therapy for kids

For nearly 80 percent of children in the U.S., access to mental health treatment isn’t an option — and for children who are treated, only 17.6 percent of parents are fully satisfied with the care they receive.

Although Damayanti Dipayana’s family was fortunate enough to have access to mental health services for her autistic brother, the treatment proved ineffective. The experience motivated Dipayana to establish Manatee with Shawn Kuenzler in 2018.

The startup’s online platform, which is used by pediatric hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and community health centers, provides AI-based therapy in an app to children. Providers, parents or caregivers can set and assign custom goals based on the child’s individual needs or select from preset evidence-based goals designed by a team of expert child therapists. For children, there’s a gamified twist: completing goals earns them points, which can be redeemed for rewards.

Manatee’s gamified process motivates children to stick with their treatment plans, while an analytics dashboard provides patient information to providers about their progress and engagement with treatment goals in-between sessions. By offering these tools, Dipayana and Kuenzler hope Manatee helps reduce treatment timelines while providing a little entertainment to its young patients in the process.

Moving Analytics: Virtual cardiac rehabilitation

Heart disease remains the Number 1 killer in the U.S., according to the CDC, and yet, many of those deaths may be avoidable. In fact, after an acute coronary event such as a heart attack, 90 percent of patients don’t receive life-saving care simply because they lack proper access or transportation.

Harshvardhan Vathsangam, Ade Adesanya, and Shuo Qiao founded Moving Analytics in 2013 with the goal of extending healthcare access to low-income adults, adults who live in rural communities, and disadvantaged minorities.

Through texts, phone calls and video chats, patients are able to connect with providers, who create a personalized treatment plan. Movn Cardiac Rehab, the startup’s first app, is a virtual rehab program that guides cardiac patients through supervised exercises, monitors their vitals, and offers educational materials. A companion web portal lets a care provider see how their patient is engaging with the app. Meanwhile, Moving Analytics also plans to eventually roll out a second rehab app for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

New York University’s Langone Medical Center conducted a 100-patient trial earlier this year with Movn Cardiac Rehab, instructing 50 patients to download the app with a nurse and 50 patients to receive normal post-discharge care. Trial results have not been published, but one facility administrator lauded Moving Analytics for its domain expertise.

Roundtrip Health: Uber for medical transportation

Mark Switaj recognized an opportunity to expand ride sharing into the medical transportation space while he was working on his MBA degree at Georgetown University. Nearly 3.6 million people miss a medical appointment each year because of transportation issues, he reasoned. So why not offer a service that gives them a ride?

Switaj partnered with Angela Damiano and Ankit Mathur to start Roundtrip Health in 2016 to essentially “uberize” medical transportation, and to make transportation an afterthought for care managers, riders, and loved ones.

The startup employs an app and website where medical staffers can book rides — Lyft cars, medical sedans, wheelchair vans, and ambulances — for their patients, or patients can hail a ride for themselves. Once a person requests a ride, a ride request goes out to Roundtrip’s marketplace where an approved transportation provider can claim the ride. The transportation provider can also offer an ETA, as well as status updates via text and voice.

Roundtrip Health’s founders ultimately envision a world in which transportation is no longer a barrier for patients seeking care. With clients that include John Hopkins Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, University Hospitals, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Switaj, Damiano, and Mathur are off to a promising start.

RxAll: Combating counterfeit medications

An estimated 1 in 10 medications in low- and middle-income countries are counterfeit or substandard, according to the WHO. Worse still, 60 percent of those people are minorities or immigrants who frequently come from low-income communities, simply because they don’t have access to high-quality pharmacies near them.

Adebayo Alonge, the CEO of RxAll, knows all-too-well how dangerous counterfeit medications can be after his father purchased asthma medication that put Alonge into a 21-day coma. Alonge and Amy Kao co-founded RxAll in 2012 to solve the counterfeiting problem in the African market.

They created RxScanner, a drug testing hardware and software system that works together to authenticate the identity and quality of medications. The hardware scanner employs sensors that scan medications on a molecular level and compares its findings against RxAll’s proprietary library of drug spectral signatures. If a medication meets quality requirements, they are immediately available for wholesalers to purchase on the startup’s Rxdelivered marketplace platform. For wholesalers and users, it’s a win-win.

ConsejoSano: Multicultural patient healthcare

Abner Mason saw an opportunity to help members of the Hispanic/Latinx community receive healthcare while working on another startup in Mexico. The more time Mason spent there, the more he heard of immigrants from Latin America in the U.S. and the healthcare challenges they faced due to language or cultural barriers. In 2014, he founded ConsejoSano to help multicultural communities better navigate and understand the U.S. healthcare system and their options.

ConsejoSano offers a patient engagement platform that helps clients (including employers, hospitals, and providers) better communicate with patients by making sure they are reaching out in the right language, right format, right context to increase engagement.

A hospital may engage patients through text, phone call, email, or mail in more than 25 languages. Patients can then navigate their healthcare options, including Medicare and Medicaid, on the platform in their native language and schedule day-of appointments with doctors.

Mason’s approach seems to be working. Of the 1 million-plus people ConsejoSano has engaged with to date, 95 percent are enrolled in Medicaid, suggesting the startup is helping patients who may need help the most.

Cyclops Medtech: Eye-tracking diagnostics

More than 1 billion people around the world suffer from neurological disorders, including migraines, concussions, vertigo, epilepsy, and ADHD, according to the WHO. Niranjan Subbarao, Srinivas Dorasala, and Ravi Nayar realized these conditions all have one thing in common, which is that they cause changes to the eye that can be detected with the right technology.

In 2015, Subbarao, Dorasala, and Nayar founded Cyclops Medtech to build diagnostic tools that detect neurological disorders in patients early on using affordable eye-tracking technologies. The founders hope its diagnostic tools can help underserved populations in emerging markets, where advanced imaging technologies can be hard to come by. The scarcity of such technology can delay recognition and diagnosis of medical conditions.

Cyclops Medtech launched its first product BalanceEye in 2017. Using a pair of eye-tracking goggles, the product tracks ocular movements, which are analyzed by software and presented to a clinician on a computer. BalanceEye is already used by more than 250 clinics and hospitals in India which have conducted over 70,000 tests to date. Cyclops Medtech is also looking to build products for early detection of cognitive impairment and functional vision screening.

Uno Health: Optimizing savings for low-income patients

In her past role at a healthcare startup, Anna de Paula Hanika realized the impact income has on health outcomes, which is that lower-income patients generally lived shorter lives.

Determined to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for low-income patients, she launched Uno Health with Chloe Phitoussi. Uno Health works by offering tech-enabled services to Medicare organizations that unlock untapped revenue and savings by matching and delivering non-clinical services to low-income seniors.

The startup also uses technology to enroll seniors in all the existing low-income programs they’re eligible for, including Medicaid, food stamps, prescription, utility, and phone line assistance.

By making it easier for seniors to enroll in these programs, Uno Health increases their ability to afford basic daily needs and healthcare costs, while improving their health outcomes in the long-term.

Gina Life Diagnostics: Early ovarian cancer detection

After Inbal Zafir-Lavie lost a sister to an aggressive form of cancer, she dedicated her career to creating technologies that can detect and treat cancer early. In early 2020, she formed Gina Life Diagnostics with Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef and Roni Michaely to revolutionize how ovarian cancer is diagnosed.

A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78, according to the American Cancer Society, but detecting it early can be extremely difficult.

Gina Life Diagnostics’s first product could change that. The at-home early detection test combines hardware and an app to create a personalized baseline for the user and compares a user’s vaginal secretions against a proprietary biomarker fingerprint of untapped biofluid. By making the comparison, the product can screen for gynecological malignancies and notify the user of concerning developments.

A successful, scaleable version of Gina Life Diagnostic’s early detection test could be a game changer and potentially improve the life expectancies of millions of people. The same could be said of all the finalists in the virtual showcase, which serve as reminders that diversity is key to driving innovation.

More information on HLTH 2020 is available on the event’s website.