How Clearstep became the front runner in patient navigation

Chicago-based, MATTER member company Clearstep has made great strides with hundreds of thousands of users since its start in 2018. We sat down with Clearstep CEO and Co-founder Adeel Malik to learn more about their journey and how MATTER has played a vital role in the company’s progress.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

MATTER: How was Clearstep founded?

Adeel: Clearstep was initially started by myself and my co-founder, Bilal Naved. We met at the University of Maryland, both working towards degrees in academic medicine. Those paths diverged when he went on to get his MD/PhD at Northwestern University and I went into healthcare consulting at Accenture.

Although our paths differed, we both noticed inefficiencies in care routing and delivery within large health systems. For instance, Bilal saw people who ended up in the ER because of missed opportunities for the right touch points with the system —people who slipped through the cracks. Whereas I was operating at an industry level, seeing trends like AI diagnostics take hold. I was always thinking:how can we use interesting, consumer-facing technologies to solve problems like access to care?. Those combined experiences ultimately led to the formation of Clearstep.

MATTER: What does Clearstep do?

Adeel: Clearstep builds smart care routing solutions using AI chat technology for healthcare providers. Our virtual triage solution is used by leading health systems, payers, digital health providers and other partners including CVS, BayCare Health Systems and DuPage Medical Group.

What makes our solution different versus other virtual care solutions is that Clearstep’s virtual triage allows patients to check symptoms, view options, compare prices, and book care online with 95% triage accuracy. Users see all possible care options, ranked by clinical relevance, convenience, and price, and can book online. Payers and providers use Clearstep so their patients can easily access the right care in their complex ecosystems. In March 2020, Clearstep launched a COVID-19 screener so people could screen symptoms and get matched to the appropriate care. The screener has been deployed to millions of people through Clearstep’s partners and has helped hundreds of thousands of people this year alone.

MATTER: How did the idea for the company take shape?

Adeel: Bilal and I were vacationing in Greece when we had a really provocative conversation about our respective professional and academic experiences and the healthcare system in general, and before we knew it the Clearstep concept was born. From there, the build was progressive and incremental.

It took us several months to build the concept out. We began applying to accelerator programs, including Y Combinator, and were selected to do interviews. We flew out to California with literally nothing but the concept developed — we didn’t even have a deck.

We didn’t get in the program. But, the process of applying to Y Combinator and taking that trip to California still gave us what we needed: proof that our concept was viable. That gave me the confidence to leave my job and just take the jump to pursue Clearstep full time. It was the start of continuously building conviction around our offering.

MATTER: What was your first win?

Adeel: As I quit my job we knew we needed to start raising capital. At that point we had no funding lined up, and raised a quick family and friends round. An early inflection point in our growth was when MATTER entered the picture, at the end of 2018. Advocate Aurora Health was sponsoring their first Health Tech Venture Challenge with MATTER. There was a cash prize along with a MATTER membership and we knew we had to apply.

Despite being the earliest stage company in the final round, we won the challenge. That visibility not only got us noticed by executives at a major health system, but it also helped us close out our round with other investors.

MATTER: How did you springboard your MATTER membership into other successes?

Adeel: MATTER has introduced us to many of our customers, facilitated a top tier innovation challenge that we ended up winning, connected us to the United Healthcare accelerator powered by Techstars and directly introduced us to one of our biggest customers: BayCare Health System.

Through one of their many ACCESS programs, MATTER introduced us to Baycare Health and we had a great conversation about our care delivery routing solution 18 months prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. That conversation had left an impression on BayCare – they reached out to us to see if Clearstep could be the patient screening tool they urgently needed for COVID-19. In short order, we had a workable solution. That deployment led to more engagements, and the Clearstep platform has been deployed to millions of people.

MATTER: What is your advice to companies starting out?

Adeel: First and foremost, show up – really show up. We took advantage of all the MATTER programs, specifically programs that connect you to subject matter experts. MATTER Expert Clinic sessions, Point B, any program where we could get more advice or feedback on our product, go to market strategy or industry insights – we were there. In fact, we found a good number of our current team members through MATTER mentor connections.

Secondly, focus on getting the right team in place. Have the people that can deliver on the promise of your vision. That is so important because when MATTER is making connections to real industry players, you don’t want to miss an opportunity.

MATTER: Thank you for sharing the Clearstep story and advice for other startups following in your footsteps. We’ll be watching for your next big thing.