For some seniors at Brown, entrepreneurship is less a foreign concept that brings to mind a Silicon Valley pipe dream, but rather a core part of their college experience and identity. With an ambition to use technology in innovative ways to address the pressing issues society faces, the co-founders of two tech startups spoke with The Herald on their approach to growing a venture out of college, innovating and paving their own paths forward.
Evan Jackson ’21.5 and Alexander Rothberg ’22 founded Intus Care along with Robbie Felton ’21.5 in late 2019 to use patient data to optimize long-term care by health care providers. They recently celebrated raising an additional $3.1 million in seed funding last month to grow the health care analytics platform, with their funding now totaling $5.4 million.
“We’ve gotten a really great reaction (to the latest funding), especially from the Brown community,” Jackson said. “That’s something we’ve seen throughout the time that we started this.”
Jackson and Felton started developing the venture in their first year at Brown. By a stroke of luck, the two met current Chief Technology Officer Rothberg in ENGN 1931T: “Entrepreneurship Practicum: Starting, Running and Scaling Ventures,” when he surprised them as another student who wanted to “build a software analytics platform for geriatric care organizations,” Jackson recalled.
The team secured their first funding from winning the Brown Venture Prize in 2020, and each founder has taken time off from college to work full time in elderly care organizations, alongside the people that their solution serves, while building the platform, Jackson said.
This focus on serving others informs their decisions as they look to expand their team and reach their long-term goal of serving all Medicare/Medicaid-eligible patients in the country. Around 20 health care organizations across seven states now use the Intus Care platform, according to the co-founders. This mindset applies to the technical design of their product as well: “If you design with empathy, you're not thinking, ‘What do I need for myself as a 20-something-year-old tech-enabled person to use this product?’ It's ‘What do our users need?’” Rothberg said.
Working within the overlooked space of long-term care constantly requires innovative thinking and technological design, the co-founders said. For care coordinators in traditional health care to change their mentality of patient care to one that incorporates data analytics is “a cultural shift,” Rothberg said. To address this, the team has been working to make Intus Care’s technology as accessible and actionable as possible for everyday use. They plan to roll out a new “Actions and Insights” feature in the coming months that will automatically note on the back end when new information on a patient arises from their health data and produce an easy-to-read alert for the provider with recommended actions.
The team is currently working out of Providence to grow the venture and will continue full-time after Rothberg graduates this spring. In retrospect, “it looks like you can draw a straight line, but it was definitely very (much) one decision at a time,” Rothberg said, “and that doesn’t mean you’re undercommitting to your venture.”
Jackson agreed, noting that “as you continue to hit milestones, … you really start to eliminate some of those ‘what if’ questions and start to see where you can take this company.”
Jack Schaeffer ’22 and Eliza Sternlicht ’22, co-founders of MediCircle, met during first-year orientation and connected over a common desire to address inequities. After working together on Bear Dens, a platform to make college housing options easier to navigate, Sternlicht, an aspiring doctor at the time, conducted a survey on anesthesiologists and found that over half of respondents said that their waste management practices needed to be updated.
After four weeks spent visiting every nursing home in Rhode Island within driving distance, the two realized there was a need for a solution that could provide cancer patients who cannot afford prescriptions with unfinished chemotherapy prescriptions that are typically thrown out.
MediCircle, which won the Brown Venture Prize in 2021, uses advanced software to track donations in this redistribution process. The venture’s technology takes advantage of the pharmaceutical industry’s recent move to mandate serialized barcodes on medication to prevent the circulation of counterfeit drugs, Sternlicht said. Information pulled from the barcodes adds to a comprehensive profile of each donated medication and can then be recertified, she said.
Existing medication distributors have built models that work well with a particular state’s legislation, but MediCircle’s innovative model can be replicated across the country, Schaeffer said.
After the venture was featured in the Boston Globe, the co-founders fondly recalled receiving a huge wave of support from the oncology community, with around $60,000 worth of unused medication arriving on the doorstep of Schaeffer’s childhood home, listed as the company address at the time. The team now has a waitlist of several thousand people, raised $1.2 million in a pre-seed round of funding and plans to launch soon.
Sternlicht used to think there was a “one-track path” to help patients: by pursuing medicine. But by working to grow MediCircle, she feels she can fulfill the same life goal in a new way.
These budding entrepreneurs join a wave of technological innovation that is yet to be defined, but they offer some visions of what the future could look like. Schaeffer and Sternlicht noted a move in tech toward social good as the measure of success. Companies are “becoming very adept to the fact that (their) value proposition and helping people are really the same work,” Schaeffer said. “Business models, innovation and technology are becoming intelligent enough that they can provide value to people and derive their revenue from other sources.”
The increase in “diversity in experience and thought” in the startup space as a whole will definitely lead to a more diverse set of tech product offerings, Jackson said.
The emergence of alternative forms of financing, such as crowdsourced investing, will also contribute to a diversity in the types of problems that are invested in, Rothberg added.
“I’m really excited to see the next things that will be brought to life,” Jackson said.