Startup Insider: Zest Health

Last year has been dubbed 'the year digital health broke out'. By one estimate, the number of healthcare startups venturing into digital health solutions grew about 200 percent between 2010 and 2014.

This boom in entrepreneurs entering the healthcare sphere may be due to the fact that it's an industry fraught with complex challenges and logistical difficulties, the solutions to which are increasingly based tech-based. The teams that make up healthcare startup companies — often young physicians, designers, coders and thinkers — can make a big splash with new ideas that aren't dependent on large businesses whose models may already be well-established, or are rooted roots are in a different mode of healthcare.

These groups are particularly well-positioned to objectively identify problems in care delivery, and then tailor a product or business platform toward developing the solution that will fill in that gap. At least that is the approach Chicago-based startup Zest Health took in 2013 when it began construction on its pioneer app, Zest's Smart Concierge.

Zest Health, which recently secured $6 million in its Series A Funding round, is a consumer-focused, mobile health company that enables more informed and cost-effective healthcare decisions. It designed Zest's Smart Concierge mobile application, with an aim to provide users with the information and resources they need to make more informed, effective decisions about their personal healthcare.

"There was a tremendous amount of interest towards this product in market," Shawn Ellis, president of Zest Health, says. "Our view at Zest was that there was a fundamental flaw in the market when you can learn more about toothpaste, you can research, shop for, purchase and have toothpaste shipped to your house but you can't do something like that with your healthcare, which is a $4 trillion industry in the U.S."

Zest Health's philosophy is to look at healthcare as a consumable service, one in which the consumer is increasingly bearing greater responsibility to navigate the system and their own care. If consumers are better able to match their needs and demands with the supply that providers offer, both sides of the equation should see better outcomes.

"We wanted to give folks the access, the guidance and the information that they needed to be more intelligent healthcare consumers," Mr. Ellis says. "Hence where our motto comes from: "Be Smarter, Buy Better."

Zest Health views Zest's Smart Concierge as a human-powered technology. One that pairs consumers with concierge teams members, who may be RNs, benefits experts or scheduling support technicians, who are never outsourced. This enables users to gain a better understanding of what is a complex and costly topic for many — tracking and taking advantage of their healthcare plans and options. The company has recently introduced new features to the app's platform, such as live chat with RNs, and plans to continue to leverage its funding to expand product capabilities. Additionally, the funding will go toward expanding Zest's already rapidly growing team in order to both accelerate revenue and offer higher quality service to members.

Mr. Ellis views Zest's success thus far as being in part related to the company's flexibility. One challenge many startup companies face is what he thinks of as a "point-solution," when a new company will aim to do one thing very well, but may not be able to expand that product or service to exist in a broad ecosystem in an integrated way. Larger entities that may be looking to purchase startups or their ideas for development in-house look for technology and solutions that are interoperable and can integrate with the patient experience they've already invested in.

"There's skepticism when you come to the table with a point-solution and there isn't broader integration, you can't speak to how this is going to function in a harmonized manner within the industry," Mr. Ellis says. "I think that can be a challenge to start ups and we've been really thoughtful about how we can architect in a flexible manner so that we offer a high-degree of continuity for the ultimate end consumer."

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