Meet the finalists: KC tech startups competing to boost health, vibrancy of diverse communities – Startland News

Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.

WICHITA — A trio of startups from across the region are set for the finals in an innovation competition targeting health and economic growth challenges. Their technologies’ common thread: releasing the potential of both rural and urban communities.

Robert Feeney and B. Wayne Bradley, KaaS, Ringorang

Robert Feeney andB. Wayne Barkley, KaaS, Ringorang

Kadogo, Kansas City, Missouri; SoulFIRE Health, Overland Park; and Ringorang, Wichita, were selected for the 2022 NXTSTAGE Community Health and Vibrancy Pilot Competition from among 119 competitors from 28 states and seven countries. Nine other companies from coast to coast also were named finalists.

Competitors range from tech that helps low-income consumers stop vaping to healthy eating education programs and a solution that boosts people saddled by medical debt. 

“Kansas communities experience a wide variety of challenges ensuring equitable access to health and the drivers of health — things like social isolation, economic stability, nutrition insecurity and more,” said Virginia Barnes, Blue Health Initiatives director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, which is the presenting sponsor of the NXTUS-led competition.

“We’re thrilled to have these companies and their technologies identified to help us make Kansas a healthier place to live, work and play,” she continued.

The program attracted diverse competitors: 94 percent of applicants had minority and/or female founders. Of the finalists, 100 percent have ethnic minority or females as founders or co-founders, competition organizers said.

Competition partners will select winners and announce pilot projects at an innovation showcase set for June 22 in Wichita. Click here to register for the summer event.

Finalists include:

  • Akesa Health (Marie Lesaicherre), San Ramon, California — Offers a guided self-therapy that helps users transform distress into resilience using their cell phones. 
  • Caregivers Insight (Christopher Jue, Doug Houtman, Thomas Moore), Midland, Michigan — Empowers caregivers to alter daily care using easy-to-understand graphs of one’s changing health condition.
  • Debtle (Stephanie Hoskins, Houston Hoskins), Sheboygan, Wisconsin — Cloud-based software that automates the negotiation, settlement and payment of overdue medical bills for the 70 million Americans each year experiencing difficulty paying for their healthcare. 
  • Embrace Prevention Care (David Dlesk, Marty Agather, Jenni Gudapati), Andover, Massachusetts — Provides value-based care via an integrated suite of Medicare-reimbursed services to help older adults take actions to stay healthy and out of the hospital, and independently age in place. 
  • Kadogo (Quest Moffatt), Kansas City, Missouri — Empowers individuals to give others’ money away while saving on taxes. The app makes it simple to fill a Giving Account with outside funds, like charitable donations matched by employers and brands. 
  • PursueCare (Nicholas Mercadante, Steven Powell), Middletown, Connecticut — Provides comprehensive telemedicine treatment for addiction and mental health issues through a smartphone app. The company partners with health systems and community resources to rapidly get patients into virtual treatment, reducing overuse of high-cost in-patient and ER visits. 
  • Ringorang, by Knowledge as a Service (Robert Feeney, BW Barkley), Wichita — Clinically proven software that ensures people form lasting habits through microlearning and repetition, helping companies and communities achieve and measure real-time results from education campaigns or training initiatives. 
  • Small Bites Adventure Club (Erin Croom, Judith Winfrey), Atlanta — Helps teachers and community programs promote healthy eating and a love of fresh fruits and vegetables via online materials and a subscription for activity kits.
  • SoulFIRE Health (Rebecca MacKinnon, Chris Jackson, Kourtney Govro), Overland Park — A program of 5th Dimension Strategies, presents evidence-based healthy nutrition and activities content, targeting communities and health coaches working with persons with chronic disease. 
  • SpairTime (Tylor Hunn, Ali Zia, Phill Barufkin), Syracuse, New York — A community-focused marketplace designed to improve the discovery process of local microbusinesses and facilitate purchases of their products and services.
  • Televeda (Shruti Gurudanti, Mayank Mishra), Phoenix — Alleviates social isolation and loneliness by helping community-based organizations efficiently and effectively reach, engage and track the mental wellbeing of their members via virtual/hybrid programs.
  • Vincere (Shalen De Silva, Jake Keteyian, Hadi Javeed), Boston — Offers a smoking (and vaping) cessation program accessible to lower-income residents that provides instant rewards and coaching that intercepts smokers earlier in their quitting journey. 

NXTUS partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas and NetWork Kansas to identify statewide partners looking for innovative solutions to their community health and growth challenges. Returning 2021 pilot partners Hodgeman County Economic Development, Scott County Development Committee, and Thrive Allen County were joined for 2022 by Healthy Bourbon County Action Team, Inc., LiveWell Northwest Kansas, and Russell Hospital. 

“By pairing future-minded community organizations and innovative entrepreneurs, we’re changing Kansas for the better,” said Mary Beth Jarvis, NXTUS executive director. “If we help startups thrive here, Kansas can grow as a proving ground for technologies that can improve our population health and unlock growth potential in rural and urban areas.” 

Six projects stemmed from the 2021 program, which was focused on rural access to health care and mental health treatment, improving quality of life for seniors, and management of diabetes and other chronic conditions. The 2022 finalist group offers technology tools focused on some of these same issues, organizers said. 

Click here to read more about the NXTSTAGE Customer Traction accelerator, a sister program to the NXTSTAGE Community Health and Vibrancy Pilot Competition.

This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.

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