Built By: Rushika Fernandopulle of Iora Health
Rushika Fernandopulle grew up at the intersection of “two different worlds”. Born in Sri Lanka, he arrived in the US at the age of two and a half at a time when immigrants from South Asia accounted of a very small percent of the US population. His family settled in Maryland, and Rushika’s upbringing was marked by learning to navigate between Sri Lankan and American culture.
“Sri Lanka is more traditional in terms of respecting authority, and doesn’t encourage people to make waves,” he says. “[In the US], you’re being taught to think independently and encouraged to ask questions, break the rules and start new things in order to fix problems.”
It was precisely this element of American culture that inspired him to create Iora Health, a company that is building a new model of primary care medical practices in order to lower costs and improve healthcare quality. “I didn’t start out wanting to be an entrepreneur,” he shares. “I started out wanting to fix healthcare.”
Rushika’s path of ‘fixing’ healthcare didn’t lead directly to entrepreneurship. After receiving his medical degree from Harvard, he worked in healthcare for more than ten years, but could not help but notice the inefficiencies. “I was in the system, working on the policy side and in academia, and realized that I couldn’t improve healthcare from within,” he remembers. “I wanted to help people by emphasizing relationships, not transactions.”
Relationships are indeed at the core of Iora’s model. The company employs non-physician health coaches that help patients develop healthy habits, such as learning how to eat and exercise. “We’re changing healthcare from the ground up,” says Rushika. “And we’re doing it at scale, across multiple markets.” Operating in 9 different states, the company’s practices serve largely low-income populations, giving people access to better, more affordable healthcare.
“This is my way of giving back,” explains Rushika. “I was able to go to great schools and probably would not have had the same opportunities in Sri Lanka.”
His idea of entrepreneurship as a way of serving society could be traced back to his immigrant roots and the gratitude he feels towards the US. “Immigrants take big risks,” he said. “[In fact], immigration selects for people who are entrepreneurs, add a lot to the country and don’t take for granted that the way we’ve always done something is the only way to do it.”
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