MATTER Startup Spotlight: SkinIO
Making skin cancer screening and skin health monitoring accessible
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it’s estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
MATTER member Kyoko Crawford, co-founder and CEO of SkinIO, is on a mission to reduce the rate of skin cancer through early screening. With SkinIO, anyone with a smartphone can screen themselves for skin cancer and get connected to the right dermatologist at the right time. We sat down with Kyoko to learn more about SkinIO’s solution and her entrepreneurial journey.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
MATTER: Tell me about the SkinIO solution.
Kyoko: SkinIO is an unprecedented, comprehensive platform that allows anyone with a smartphone to proactively screen themselves for skin cancer via full-body photography in just 10 minutes. We have an AI-based image processing algorithm that specifically looks for moles and lesions on your skin and tracks them over time.
But it isn’t a self-serve app; we’ve deliberately designed it to be a more closed-loop platform that automatically connects individuals with dermatologists in their area who will see them within two to three weeks should they need in-person care.
We’ve designed SkinIO to be a comprehensive solution where proactivity and prevention meet and provide previously unattainable access to dermatological care, especially as it pertains to the early detection of skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that affects the largest organ in our bodies.
MATTER: Can you share the SkinIO story?
Kyoko: I started SkinIO with Dr. JC Lapiere, founder of the Northwestern Skin Cancer Institute in Chicago. He’s a dermatologist, skin cancer specialist and surgeon who saved my father-in-law’s life from melanoma — twice — as a direct result of early detection during a full-body skin exam.
Mapping the skin as a whole and tracking it over time were really foundational to how we built SkinIO. But another consideration is access. My father-in-law had access to Dr. Lapiere, so he was able to see a specialist who could detect the melanoma at an early enough stage to treat it.
With 10,000 or fewer dermatologists in the U.S., many Americans don’t have easy access to a dermatologist. We ensured that SkinIO would be able to address that gap in care and screen more of the U.S. population further upstream.
“With 10,000 or fewer dermatologists in the U.S., many Americans don’t have easy access to a dermatologist. We ensured that SkinIO would be able to address that gap in care and screen more of the U.S. population further upstream.”
Dr. Lapiere was critical in determining how the technology was built, designed and validated. In fact, our initial market — continuing to today — is direct to providers, dermatology practices and primary care physicians. They leverage our technology to monitor their patients during office visits.
MATTER: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact SkinIO?
Kyoko: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we realized there was an opportunity to provide the SkinIO screening platform to employer groups, self-insured employers and other member organizations to reach populations who don’t traditionally have access.
To validate this new market, we ran a successful screening program for a major airline, providing screenings inside an airport and maintenance hangar, which can be pretty restrictive workplaces. Since then, we’ve expanded further into the corporate market. We are piloting with a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Pennsylvania and launching with a number of cities and school districts throughout the country.
As we continue to serve the medical community, we’re starting to implement with more health systems. We’re also serving the broader community through employer groups, unions and municipalities to give all of their beneficiaries access to this type of care.
MATTER: What challenges have you faced on your journey?
Kyoko: One seminal challenge is adherence and engagement; we live in a very noisy, distracting environment with a lot of competing priorities. But we’ve found that we have the advantage of being an app that you can use not only at home but truly anywhere — such as in the workplace with certified nursing assistants and clinical staff — which has opened opportunities for us to engage with patients despite traditional engagement challenges.
MATTER: What are the benefits of teledermatology, and how do you see it integrating with traditional dermatology?
Kyoko: Teledermatology is an area that really benefits the healthcare system because there are so few dermatologists to begin with. Realistically, teledermatology can be leveraged to expand access to dermatology, but it needs to be done efficiently and effectively.
Our approach is to triage the right patients to the right dermatologists at the right time. Because there’s such a pronounced imbalance between supply and demand for dermatology, dermatologists’ time isn’t always used efficiently. The ability to pre-qualify or pre-screen patients who need specialist care is critical to ensure the system runs efficiently.
MATTER: Let’s pivot to your journey as an entrepreneur. What’s your background? How did you become interested in healthcare?
Kyoko: I’ve always been entrepreneurial by nature. I was a biomedical engineering major in college, and soon after graduating, I co-founded a boutique technology development consultancy. This was an interesting first entrepreneurial step because I didn’t need to raise much capital; I built upon my own qualifications in order to build up my client base. I gained exposure to Fortune 500 companies and completed a lot of custom work for them.
I started to work with many early-stage entrepreneurs, serving as their de facto CTO. Because I was exposed to various parts of the product development cycle, I wanted to own a product from idea to deployment and make a positive impact on people’s lives.
As it happens, I believe serendipity plays a big role in a lot of things that happen in our lives. I met Dr. Lapiere about eight years ago, coming off of his heroics with my father-in-law. And he, as a dermatologist, happened to have an idea on how to better educate his patients between visits. Since he can’t see enough patients to impact the whole community, we thought, “How do we leverage technology to make a bigger impact?”
What I didn’t factor in at the time was how difficult healthcare would be. I likely went into it because, sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I probably would’ve been much more afraid and nervous if I’d known everything going into it, but that’s how I grew into this venture. It’s been a ride so far — circuitous, but rewarding.
MATTER: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Kyoko: I say this to everyone who joins our team: there’s a lot of glamour and hype associated with entrepreneurship when the reality is far starker. The triumphs are more triumphant, but the harrowing anxiety and despair are even darker.
Entrepreneurship takes a certain level of fortitude, self-confidence and resilience. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and it requires being comfortable with uncertainty. That said, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and I think the only way to make it work is to truly believe in what you’re doing and to make sure it matters.
“Entrepreneurship takes a certain level of fortitude, self-confidence and resilience. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and it requires being comfortable with uncertainty. That said, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and I think the only way to make it work is to truly believe in what you’re doing and to make sure it matters.”
It’s not a cakewalk — it’s hard. Every day is different; every day has its own challenges. But if you’re doing something that matters, it’s worth it.
SkinIO is a HIPAA-compliant, AI-driven, virtual skin cancer screening platform that allows anyone, anywhere to perform a skin exam in just 10 minutes using their smartphone. SkinIO images are reviewed remotely by expert dermatologists, users receive their results by email in just a few days, and they are connected to care if they require in-person follow-up. For more information, visit skinio.com.
At MATTER, we believe collaboration is the best way to improve healthcare. The MATTER collaborative includes more than 700 current and alumni startups from around the world, working together with dozens of hospitals and health systems, universities and industry-leading companies to build the future of healthcare. Together we are accelerating innovation, advancing care and improving lives. For more information, visit matter.health and follow @MATTERhealth.