Entrepreneurs, please start paying more attention to healthtech. Rather than trying to build the next billion-dollar mobile photo app, go lean and deep into bigger problems. As ZocDoc CEO Cyrus Massoumi said recently, healthtech is underrepresented among startups, with many (and founders are not alone) failing to recognize the size of the market (and the corresponding opportunity): Healthcare alone is a $2.7 trillion industry in the U.S., for example.
Yet, healthtech is just as desperate in its need for brain power, entrepreneurial enthusiasm, and a little elbow grease as it was five years ago. Speaking to a crowd at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday, the ZocDoc CEO essentially issued a call-to-action, declaring that access to healthcare “is one of the greatest challenges to face our generation.”
Today, thanks to the increasing number of health-focused startup accelerators, like San Francisco-based Rock Health and New York City-based Blueprint Health, to name a few, lacking intimate familiarity with HIPAA or med school experience is no longer a categorical disqualifier. What’s more, there are plenty of problems to tackle, some of them low-hanging, and there is in fact growth capital to be found for healthtech.
To that point: One of the first graduates of Blueprint’s healthtech accelerator is a startup called Meddik, which wants to give consumers a better way to search for health information and find targeted and personalized support. The startup is still in the early stages, so the fine points are still gelling, but the idea is to build a platform that aggregates user-submitted content, identifying the best advice, articles, and solutions based on the specific conditions and topics of interest of the individual.
Thought it’s still early in the cycle, Meddik is already finding validation from investors, as the startup is today announcing that its has raised $750K in seed funding from a flock of notable angels and early-stage VCs, including Chris Dixon, Nat Turner, Zach Weinberg, Bob Stern, Vivek Garipalli, as well as Collaborative Fund, Founder Collective, Great Oaks, and Silicon Badia.
Co-founder Tim Soo, who’s currently on leave from the University of Pennsylvania as he and co-founder Ben Shyong work towards to launch Meddik later this summer, told us that they had originally set out to build a kind of Google Search for health. Much in the same way that Noodle is currently doing for education.
But the co-founders eventually came to the realization that their scope was too wide, as crawling the entire web resulted in an unfavorable ratio of spam and junk to quality health content. Of course, this touches on a problem that’s fundamental to online health portals. Unless your leg is falling off, thanks to the high cost of health care and doctor/hospital visits, when it comes to basic health questions, our first move is to ask Google. Just as true now as it was then.
Naturally, that Google search then leads to general answers, confusing encyclopedia entries, or long-winded forums. But, what if you find someone just like you (a clone?!), who had experienced the same medical issue, ailment, or had already asked the same question and could tell you what worked — and what didn’t.
Of course, while this is a great start, that information is still anecdotal. Thus, the key, Soo said, is to scale that experience, adding personalized, aggregated public and academic information, traditional and alternative remedies, in an effort to not just find a good answer to your health questions, but find the right answer. Which is so much easier said than done.
We still haven’t applied Web 2.0 answers where they matter most, the co-founder continued, so a health networking play “doesn’t just mean a better news feed, or a good restaurant recommendation, it means making the right health-related connection can save lives.”
Of course, even though Massoumi reminded us of the fact that health startups are underrepresented in the ecosystem, Meddik has plenty of competition — at least nominally. WebMD and PatientsLikeMe, and Healthline each offer extensive resources for patients, yet the majority of existing health solutions tend to focus on specific conditions (like chronic illnesses), which makes them inherently boxed-in. And in the case of the above examples, the barriers to entry can also be high for the user, with better, easier approaches than filling out complicated profiles.
So, to combat these problems and keep the scope wide, the co-founders built out a large ontology table that connects all common health language (via a Wiki and web scraping) to actual medical code. Based on those codes, Meddik calculates a clinical similarity index between the searcher and every other user connected to the site, with the goal being to create a health network, in which users remain anonymous while being able to connect with those who will be best suited to help you. The hope is that, with time, and use, this will yield a much more personalized health search experience.
Of course, at this point, Meddik is still in the early stages of building its MVP, and the team still has a ways to go. That being said, it’s a goal well worth pursuing. The service is in closed beta with a limited number of beta testers beginning the process of seeding its content. When the site is up and fully functional, Soo says, it will likely monetize by leveraging its unique data set to serve targeted health advertising — not unlike Facebook’s social data/advertising model.
To give readers a sense of their early progress, Meddik will be opening its doors over the next few days to a few hundred early participants. Check them out at home here, and let us know what you think.