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Winrock International

Enduring innovation: Health tech startup incubated by Winrock-led programs poised for growth

MappedOut Health is a client of Winrock International’s former Innovate Arkansas program, a state-funded initiative that assisted more than 750 startup companies in Arkansas, raised $473 million in capital and generated $939 million in revenue over a 15-year period.

As with many innovations, the origin story of the promising new health technology firm, MappedOut Health, begins with someone trying to solve something. In the case of Nate Fells, the problem was both personal and physical: his weight – and the need to bring it down. It was a process, but 58 pounds later, he got there. Then, everyone wanted to know how he did it.

There must be an app for helping people track and manage chronic health issues like weight conditions, Fells mused. Something to set goals, plans, exercise regimes, log diet info – a way to share and encourage others to map out their own health journeys.

But if such an app existed back in 2017, he couldn’t find it.

So Fells, a digital health services pro in Arkansas, set out to design a new one. He teamed up with IT specialist Jerald Todd, and connected with Winrock’s former I-Fund Proof of Concept Accelerator, a program previously funded by the Delta Regional Authority that helped potential startups build business models and then test them in the marketplace. Winrock implemented the i-Fund program from 2016 to 2022.

After completing the accelerator with a “go decision” verdict, Fells and Todd moved on to a different Winrock-implemented program, Innovate Arkansas, with their idea. The crux of it: To develop a new patient engagement and education platform that can support clinicians and healthcare professionals to help patients make meaningful behavior changes leading to better health outcomes.

The concept centered on establishing a user-friendly platform, called MappedOut Health, aimed at addressing significant challenges faced by patients and clinicians managing chronic conditions.

From idea to implementation

Across the national healthcare system, people with chronic medical conditions are responsible for the majority of the highest-cost claims.

Fells and Todd theorized that they could help clinicians help high-risk individuals better manage those conditions ─ and reduce costs ─ by providing better, more meaningful health education, along with information and opportunities for clinical engagement. 

However, overall enrollment in formal health education programs for most people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, or weight issues, is on the low side.

That suggested both a lack of awareness and interest in such programs, as well as ineffective delivery systems that rely on mail or email ─ systems that limit clinicians’ and counselors’ ability to interactively monitor patient progress and success. The end result of this lack of personalized engagement is a lack of motivation on the patients’ part to take action to make changes happen, Fells and Todd realized.

Mapping a path to better health

“When I met Nate and Jerald, I was struck by their determination and combined industry backgrounds in healthcare and technology,” said David Sanders, Winrock’s Enterprise Ecosystem director and former director of Innovate Arkansas. The latter program was implemented by Winrock from 2008 to 2023 with funding from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

“Their drive to tackle a staggering problem was impressive, and we knew that we wanted to work with them to help MappedOut Health reach its full potential.” 

Fells and Todd sought help from Winrock on business strategy, developing a product roadmap, identifying and securing a strategic clinical partner with knowledge of the problem, and fundraising for product development. Sanders’ team, part of Winrock’s U.S. Programs unit, included Gre’Juana Dennis, a former Baptist Health executive who also works with a number of Winrock’s entrepreneurial programs. Dennis helped the entrepreneurs link up with the Baptist Health Weight Loss team. Baptist Health is the largest not-for-profit health system in Arkansas, operating 11 hospitals and more than 100 clinics in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Working with Innovate Arkansas and their new partner, MappedOut Health set out to streamline the clinical workflow for Baptist Health, using a new software platform and a smartphone app designed to meet the expectations of all stakeholders. 

From concept to capital

Moving from concept to a completed project plan – with a prominent clinical partner and first customer on board – enabled Fells and Todd to secure $100,000 in funding to build the platform. Fells and Todd then moved quickly to advance their technology, taking a highly collaborative approach inside a health system that was ready to engage, with multiple departments and key business unit leaders standing by. 

With the app’s development nearly complete, the MappedOut Health rollout at Baptist Health will begin in May 2024, when the weight loss team will use the app to assist patients undergoing treatment for bariatrics or with diabetes, respiratory, and other heart conditions. Use of the app is expected to save an estimated eight hours of time per day by reducing the cumbersome collection and transfer of physical and medical information required for treatment and administrative purposes.

If the pilot flows as expected, Baptist Health plans to expand its use of MappedOut Health’s technology to other service areas, offering an innovative tool for improving patient outcomes and reducing healthcare costs that can potentially advance healthcare education and engagement. 

“The guidance from our advisers at Innovate Arkansas has been critical to our success,” Fells said as MappedOut Health prepared for its app to go live, another milestone in the tech startup’s trajectory. “David Sanders and Gre’Juana Dennis made key introductions, encouraged us along this long journey, and helped us map out a path to success. Our advice to others is: ‘Trust the process, don’t time the pace.’” 

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