(Photo courtesy of Health for America)
Impact investors across the globe are yearning for substantial proof that entrepreneurs can address and solve social issues with innovative business models.
The stakes are inherently higher for many venture capitalists who, for fear of risking returns for a social agenda, need hard data that proves funding this breed of enterprise can be profitable.
Still, the shortage of measurable impact isn’t stopping social entrepreneurs around the world from persisting, and those in Delaware are no exception.
Last we caught up with this year’s four Health for America fellows, they had just introduced their startup — Meerkat Health, a smart scale that can detect signs of pending congestive heart failure by keeping track of users’ weight.
“Weight management is really critical because rapid weight can be indicative of fluid buildup,” said HFA fellow Ellen Kourakos. If left untreated, that fluid buildup can trigger heart failure. The fellows are currently creating a prototype, which will be designed to slide under a bathmat to ensure it’s being used every day.
“As you’re going about your morning routine, it will weigh you and give you a ping if you’re outside your safe zone,” said Kourakos. If users are outside that safe zone, Meerkat Health will prompt them to call their doctor and act upon the data.
The HFA fellows are currently being funded ($250,000) by Start It Up Delaware’s Social Impact Fund, which provides the fellows with a stipend and space at the coIN Loft. It also allows them to work freely with physicians at Christiana Care. Those benefits expire when the program ends July 31, however. Then, under the fund’s unique pay-it-forward structure, Meerkat Health is obliged to return a fraction of its profits to the pot for next year’s awardee.
The product is innovative and should, by all means, exist successfully. But before a marketable Meerkat Health can thrive, the startup needs capital. Before it can raise capital, the founders need measurable results. As they continue to test Meerkat Health, the fellows have high hopes.
“There’s not a lot of research for investors to see if these are good risks to take,” said Megan Caldwell. “We can serve as that research for future groups, so we’re really excited to be the inaugural effort in this. Hopefully the work we’re doing will serve as some of that background research to encourage future investment.”
After all, this is why the four became social entrepreneurs. Not only do they get a thrill from the risk, but they’re solving real-world problems.
“As an industry, healthcare is very, very behind in taking innovative approaches to things,” said Sandra Hwang. “I saw taking this fellowship as an opportunity to enter social entrepreneurship and think about how we can take these risks to improve healthcare.”
It’s the same story for Nick Azpiroz.
“I see the power of business in creating products specifically for people in need as being a much quicker, effective way of addressing real problems people are facing, rather than go through a long legislative process,” he said.
According to the fellows, Kourakos and Caldwell will move the project forward after their fellowship ends, with Azpiroz and Hwang moving to consulting positions. Then, Meerkat Health will look to pilot across the state. With its manageable population, early success in Delaware could mean easy scalability.
“We are excited about that,” said Caldwell. “We’re excited to see where that goes.”-30-
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