Dorm Room Founders: Healthie CEO Erica Jain — Bridging The Gap With A Telehealth Platform For Dietitians
Dorm Room Founders is a series of interviews focused on sharing the stories of Dorm Room Fund Founders and how they got started as student entrepreneurs.
Bio: Erica Jain is the CEO of Healthie, the HIPAA-compliant EHR and telehealth platform for dietitians. Prior, Erica worked in the healthcare practice of the Boston Consulting Group and on the nutrition team of the Clinton Health Access Initiative in East Africa. Erica completed her undergraduate degree with honors in Health Disparities at Duke University and recently finished her first year at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
How did you first get interested in startups?
Erica: For me, it wasn’t that I was interested in a startup, but rather it’s something I fell into. I was motivated by the desire to change the way our country can access much-needed nutritional care using technology. I love being able to work on a company that I believe so passionately in.
Where did the idea for Healthie come from?
Erica: I watched my mom struggle with weight loss for over 25 years. She was always on these random fad diets, from Atkins, to Weight Watchers, to Jenny Craig, and she never actually lost weight. It always came back. Eventually, she was introduced to a nutritionist through a corporate wellness program, and she lost 35 pounds (and has kept it off for over two years since). I was amazed — that outcome and experience was the difference between my mom having diabetes and not! I asked the question of how we could make this sort of care accessible and affordable to as many Americans as possible.
I had been working in healthcare for several years prior, and I saw that while 85% of individuals who work with these nutrition professionals reach a tangible health outcome, fewer than 5% of Americans actually access this type of care — a HUGE missed opportunity. And, digging a little deeper, I realized that nutrition coaches, who are trained to provide this sort of care, were still using pen and paper (and fax machines) in their care. Thus, the idea of Healthie began taking shape.
What were the first steps you took when you decided to turn your idea into a startup?
Erica: I talked to as many nutritionists as I could to really understand the true nature of their challenge in providing affordable care. The overwhelming frustration was in how much time was spent doing back-office, administrative tasks that diverted resources to actually helping clients. On top of that, we realized that the biggest difference, and the reason these providers can’t use practice management or telehealth platforms meant for doctors, is that health outcomes come from building longitudinal relationships with clients — e.g., nutrition providers required technology that would facilitate communication on a daily basis through messaging, photo-sharing, document sharing, video calls, and more, on top of regular appointments. We therefore teamed up with a number of nutritional professionals to brainstorm a better solution.
What have you learned about building a two-sided marketplace?
Erica: Well, we’ve learned that building a two-sided marketplace isn’t easy and isn’t completed overnight. We focused our limited resources on building the supply side of the market with a product that would immediately benefit our nutritionists. This is of course, a product that continues to evolve in terms of features, updates, and other enhancements.
What was your experience in TechStars this past summer like?
Erica: Techstars was an unbelievable experience for us. Over the course of 3 months, we were immersed in an environment that was a needed catalyst for Healthie. We benefited from immersive strategic sessions, invaluable advisors who challenged and supported us, and workshops that helped frame and answer tough questions that companies face early on. It was truly a catalyst that enabled us to jumpstart Healthie, and give us a chance to build something big.
Why did you choose to get funding from Dorm Room Fund?
Erica: Because no one turns down $20,000. But seriously, [DRF Philly Partners] Steve Weiner & Jeff Ellington believed in our vision, were incredibly supportive of what we we were building, and encouraged us to apply. As a founder, I quickly came to realize the value of having dedicated advisors in your camp, and Steve & Jeff been great at helping us get to the best version of Healthie, and in particular, instrumental in helping us get Healthie off the ground.
What is the best part about doing a startup so far?
Erica: Building incredible relationships with both our customers and our team. Cavan (Healthie Co-Founder & CTO) and I are really fortunate to have such a great group of individuals partnering with us to build Healthie, coming at this massive problem of nutritional care from a business, technology, and market perspective. We’ve had some inspiring conversations with our community of dietitians and nutritionists, and I’m constantly humbled by their passion and drive to help people.
What advice would you give to other student founders out there?
Erica: Just do it! From my experience, college campuses are one of the best places to start a company. There are so many opportunities to connect with talented and inspiring peers. Grab coffee with someone who seems interesting, brainstorm and whiteboard with those around you, and accept that no idea is too crazy. Feel free to reach out to me: email@example.com — would love to hear from you!