Competing for a spot in a Nashville-based health tech accelerator, PatientsVoices landed its first round of seed capital — with a booster shot from the State of Missouri.
A $150,000 innovation grant from Jumpstart Foundry investment group represents a leap forward for PatientsVoices, headquartered in iWerx’s North Kansas City entrepreneurial development center, said founder and CEO Mary Kay O’Connor.
“This investment allows us to take our software to the next level so we can serve more healthcare professionals and make a larger impact on the changing face of healthcare in America,” she said, noting the award was part of competition that saw 300 teams narrowed to 12 finalists for the accelerator.
Given the infusion of capital from Tennessee, the Missouri Technology Corporation made good on a commitment to match investments from outside funders, O’Connor said, adding another $75,000 to the mix.
Founded in 2013, PatientsVoices is developing a natural language processing application for analyzing patient feedback. The health tech firm works with hospitals like Children’s Mercy to take qualitative responses that hospitals already collect — comments on surveys, complaints and social media – and send them through the application’s statistical model to identify and label their sentiments accordingly, O’Connor said.
“It uses summary statistics to answer questions like how frequently patients complain about wait time, how satisfied they are with the treatment they receive, and how quickly nurses respond when the patient moves their call button,” she said. “It’s a rich set of data that hospitals don’t currently have access to because they rely primarily on simple satisfaction surveys.”
“What we’re doing is letting patients tell their story,” O’Connor added. “They don’t stick to a script. They don’t stick to a topic.”
The Jumpstart Foundry’s seed-stage healthcare innovation fund offers capital investments as well as access to customers, follow-on capital and an advisory community of like-minded professionals, according to PatientsVoices.
In addition to earlier support and investments from Digital Sandbox KC, the University of Kansas Bioscience and Technology Business Center (BTBC) and Google, PatientsVoices is a recipient of two Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research grants — for $150,000 and $225,000 — from the National Science Foundation.
In applying for the initial SBIR grant in 2015, O’Connor learned how to tailor her approach to the objectives of the potential funder, she said. The National Science Foundation, for example, emphasizes commercialization potential over the technology behind an application, she said.
“They basically told me, ‘You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t have a good technical plan. We expect you to implement this, but what’s really important is how you’re going to get your targeted customers to pay you money for what you’re developing because that’s what Congress is ultimately interested in: getting a return on the money agencies invest in small businesses,’” O’Connor recalled.
“That was music to my ears and it really changed how I thought about funding and how we need to spend our time,” she added.
Hospitals are willing to pay for such tech applications because reimbursement rates are falling and they need to attract and retain patients to cover their fixed costs, O’Connor said.
“In the past, their focus was on providing good clinical care — diagnosis, treatment — but now in this new world where patients are becoming more like consumers, the hospitals have to deliver both good medical care and a positive patient experience — from the patients perspective,” she said.
After being awarded a second Phase 1 grant for 2017, PatientsVoices submitted an application for a $750,000 Phase 2 SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation. The company is now awaiting the outcome.