August 14, 2019
The startup journey: How Clearstep found focus through the Health Tech Venture Challenge
Last fall marked the beginning of the first-ever Health Tech Venture Challenge: a joint initiative of MATTER and Advocate Aurora Health that called on health technology startups to submit novel solutions capable of improving the primary care experience for patients and their providers.
In December, Advocate Aurora Health found their winner in Clearstep (formerly Lytic), a digital health startup developing a virtual triage technology and a digital front door for healthcare. Clearstep won $10,000, a six-month membership at MATTER and the opportunity to collaborate with top leaders and subject matter experts from Advocate Aurora Health.
In commemoration of the launch of the second annual Health Tech Venture Challenge, we’re taking a look back at Clearstep’s journey.
The origin story: realizing WebMD is not enough
The day Bilal Naved began his MD/PhD program at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, he started receiving calls from friends and family.
What do I do for my sore throat? How do I make my stomach stop hurting? What do I do about my stubbed toe?
These questions led Bilal to do some research: What does the average person (who doesn’t know someone studying medicine) do when they have a symptom?
The answer was that they go on WebMD — and walk away thinking they have a terminal illness instead of the common cold.
They go on WebMD — and walk away thinking they have a terminal illness instead of the common cold.
When Bilal shared his experience with his college friend, Adeel Malik — who was working as a consultant at Accenture and witnessing firsthand the money being poured into digital health solutions by huge players in the industry — they saw a business opportunity: Why not create a digital health solution that could close this gap in communication?
Before their idea could become a company, Adeel and Bilal recognized a few holes in expertise that needed to be filled by their founding team members. They reached out to two talented friends to take the leap into entrepreneurship with them: Peter Garber, a brand strategist and designer who began his career at Twitter, and David Zbarsky, an engineer who had begun working for Mozilla Firefox his sophomore year of highschool.
By early 2018, the Clearstep team was born. Advocate Aurora Health sees the possibilities with Clearstep
Starting a healthcare company is not as simple as coming up with a great idea.
The Clearstep team knew they wanted to create a platform that provided patients with next steps for treating symptoms, but they were unclear on the details of their business model.
“Before winning the [Health Tech Venture] challenge, we hadn’t refined our product-market fit,” said Bilal. “We had a broad vision, but we were unsure who our ideal customer was.”
The team had entered multiple challenges and pitch competitions, and made it to the finals of Y Combinator, but were still struggling to find an ideal customer — until they heard about another challenge from MATTER’s newsletter. Bilal had heard about MATTER as a student at Northwestern and began following and attending programs.
“When in doubt about whether to go to MATTER or not, we almost always go,” said Bilal. According to him and Adeel, they have a common refrain in their team: Things happen at MATTER.
In the fall of 2018, the team saw an announcement about the Health Tech Venture Challenge in the MATTER newsletter and decided to submit their solution. Early on in the process, Advocate Aurora leaders took notice of the promise Clearstep brought to the table.
“The team stood out to me,” said Mike Rogers, the vice president of commercial innovation at Advocate Aurora Health and a judge at last year’s challenge. “I really liked the dynamic they brought to the table: the positive attitude, the entrepreneurship, the focus on creating a solution that affects people’s lives — but also on the mechanics of making and building a successful company.”
“I really liked the dynamic they brought to the table: the positive attitude, the entrepreneurship, the focus on creating a solution that affects people’s lives — but also on the mechanics of making and building a successful company.”
Clearstep takes the first steps to becoming a ‘startup in residence’ at Advocate Aurora Health
As the challenge winners, Clearstep worked with experts at Advocate Aurora Health to evolve their company, attending more than 30 hours of meetings over the first six months. According to Adeel and Bilal, the relationships built in those meetings, and the lessons learned, have proven invaluable.
“Throughout that first six month period, we evolved our focus and our product-market fit,” said Adeel. “The experts at Advocate Aurora were a great sounding board while we were going through our evolution.”
However, learning was a two-way street. While Clearstep was able to meet decision makers at Advocate Aurora they never would have had access to before, Advocate Aurora’s innovation team, led by Mike, gained just as much. According to Mike, Clearstep has become almost a part of his innovation team, and having them is just as valuable to Advocate Aurora as it is to Clearstep.
“At the end of the day, we learn from each other,” said Mike. “The opportunity is for us to learn how to do things in a more agile way from them at the same time they learn about the industry from us… It’s the best of both worlds.”
“At the end of the day, we learn from each other. The opportunity is for us to learn how to do things in a more agile way from them at the same time they learn about the industry from us…It’s the best of both worlds.”
Interested in applying to this year’s Health Tech Venture Challenge? Apply here.