Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
WICHITA — Landing a million dollars in angel investments and selling his mobile app to a longtime customer are major highlights of Miguel Johns’ entrepreneurial journey — but they aren’t what make the twists and turns worthwhile, the Pitch Perfect alum said.
It’s the people. And the opportunity to help more of them, especially in Mexico.
“I have a wedding picture where I’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles all in it — and 90 percent of the people have diabetes,” Johns, CEO of Wichita-based KingFit Preventive Health and Performance, said of the family members who fuel his entrepreneurial passion and inspired a mobile app that converts health-related content into dynamic, easy-to-share, bilingual videos.
A broken healthcare system served as further inspiration, Johns said of his startup, which seeks to lower glucose levels at scale using machine learning.
“Back in 2015, I came across a documentary called ‘Escape Fire’ and it was all about how the current healthcare system is in shambles. [It explained that] if we didn’t do something quick to help us deliver people with chronic conditions, then eventually we would bankrupt the healthcare system,” he said, noting sustainable, low-cost solutions for treating chronic conditions needed to be developed.
Click here to learn more about KingFit, which was founded in 2015 with a mission to drive healthy habits and happiness.
As Johns finished his exercise science degree at Indiana University, he developed a digital diabetes coaching platform, which he presented at 1 Million Cups Wichita and eventually to Daymond John, CEO of FUBU, serial entrepreneur, investor, and cast member of ABC’s Shark Tank.
“[John said] If we could build some technology around it, we may be able to build an AI bot that would [do the coaching] and we wouldn’t have to hire coaches and it could be scalable while also helping a lot of people,” the Wichita entrepreneur said.
Johns’ latest endeavor — DiabetesCare — does just that, utilizing a similar approach as KingFit, he said.
“Users can come to us and get free diabetes education, no strings attached by just scrolling through Facebook,” Johns said, noting the product is offered in both English and Spanish.
“The underserved communities with the least amount of resources, suffer the most chronic conditions,” he noted. ‘Diabetes is the most potent, with the most complications for low income individuals. And a large portion of low income individuals who experience diabetes speak Spanish.”
Diabetes was declared by the World Health Organization in 2016 as the leading cause of death in Mexico, a statistic that hits home for Johns and for KingFit, which has a 90 percent user base in the country.
“When we started on this, we always knew that our goal would be to help a million people who would never have access to the best resources. And so having [content in] Spanish was absolutely necessary for that,” he added, noting DiabetesCare content includes such topics as diet and exercise. A membership allows glucose monitoring, 24/7 support, doctors on call, and motivational content in the form of guides and E-books.
“We wanted to be able to get it to those people who spoke Spanish, maybe didn’t even have insurance, and were still able to access the information they needed to improve their health,” he added.
Click here to connect with DiabetesCare on Facebook.
Johns’ entrepreneurial goals and the missions of both efforts were further cultivated by programs like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation-backed 1 Million Cups, Wichita’s NXTUS Accelerator and its network of entrepreneurship support resources, and the Enterprise Center in Johnson County where Johns traveled weekly to complete the Pitch Perfect program led by Kathryn Golden.
“I was looking at it like, ‘This is the real entrepreneur life.’ So I was driving that same day, coming back late at night — a long, two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kansas City,” he said of the experience, which provided him with necessary coaching, resources, and mentorship.
“I had the mindset of, ‘This is the life, this is what you want to do, you want to be so great, this is part of the craziness.’”
Such skills proved their worth when a customer recently showed interest in acquiring KingFit’s technology.
“There’s one of our customers who really saw this app as their future as a business. And so we offered them the opportunity to acquire it from us,” he said, noting the undisclosed company had been a long-time customer of KingFit and already benefited from a wide range of KingFit’s health content.
“Once we started that conversation it was a seamless job.”
The sale has provided enough capital to extend the runaway for the startup, which will turn more of its focus to customers in Mexico, Johns said.
“We’ve begun discussions with the local state governments in Mexico. We had started these conversations back in March and of course COVID hit and the government’s focus completely shifted and some departments shut down,” he explained of the deal, which would aid diabetes care efforts and initiatives in the country.
As the world braces for a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases amid a mass of lingering, initial outbreaks, progress has been put on hold indefinitely, Johns said.
“That’s the big challenge, continuing the negotiations that we started, because those negotiations and getting those deals done will put us into a revenue category where we’re generating from government organizations, which is the long-term goal,” he said. “That’s how we want to be funded.”
Getting the ball rolling in Mexico could be the company’s biggest opportunity yet, Johns said.
“If we can get down there in these next several months and start to move these relationships forward and start to really talk contract details and we can start to move on that before the year’s up, that’ll be a huge win for our organization going into 2021.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.