When Downtown’s innovation hub, Downtown Launchpad, opened in 2020, it was a bright light in a gloomy year. Even with the clouds of pandemic-induced uncertainty hanging over the city, the Houston innovation community showed that they weren’t just up for a challenge, but ready to come back stronger than before.
As MassChallenge and gener8tor, two of the Launchpad’s inaugural residents, prepared for their cohorts, they rolled with the punches, shifting to virtual programming and welcoming new companies in with enthusiasm.
In a short period of time, Downtown’s centralized innovation ecosystem has played host to some of the city’s most promising startups, including the following four companies taking their businesses to the next level.
Surgery always carries some degree of patient apprehension and anxiety. Most people are, understandably, focused on what might happen from the moment a surgeon picks up a scalpel to the moment the operating room clears.
But as anyone who’s experienced a medical procedure or works for a doctor’s office knows, there’s a lot more to the process than simply showing up on surgery day. There’s always paperwork — forms for patient history, instructions to the patient on how to prepare for surgery, insurance — the list goes on.
Concurrent with this mountain of paperwork is the communication network between doctors, patients and schedulers to ensure that a surgical plan becomes a reality.
Many outside of the medical world are surprised to find that despite huge advancements in medical technologies, the innovation many hospitals and doctors’ offices rely on for scheduling and communication tools remains in the technological dark ages.
CaseCTRL, a promising collaborative surgery management platform and Houston startup, aims to change that.
No patient left behind
Led by veteran systems engineer Pamela Singh as CEO, bioengineer Dr. Ashvin Dewan as Chief Medical Officer and Saachi Roye as Chief Technology Officer, CaseCTRL hopes to bring surgical scheduling into the modern age with artificial intelligence. The Software as a Service (SaaS) management platform streamlines surgical scheduling and coordination workflows for simple collaboration across surgeons, schedulers, administrators, billing and staff.
What started as an administrative solution has cascaded into additional positive effects. As the CaseCTRL website states, “By effectively engaging patients and tracking metrics that enhance patient care, CaseCTRL reduces surgery cancellations, complications, operational costs, and maximizes surgical case revenue with up to an additional $230,000-300,000 per surgeon per year.”
The idea started with a patient at Dr. Dewan’s orthopedic practice. The patient needed a knee replacement and came to the office for a brief visit to discuss what to expect from the surgery. After a 10-minute discussion with Dr. Dewan, she went home with a routine packet of information from the office that detailed what she should do to prepare.
The day of the surgery, she arrived with an empty stomach, per instructions, only to find out that she had missed a cardiac clearance. Her surgery was canceled.
When Dewan saw the patient after the cancellation, the patient was understandably upset — an already stressful situation had not only been prolonged but amplified. Dewan then discovered that she had attempted to call and clarify necessary steps before the surgery only to get lost in a phone tag shuffle.
Seeing his patient in distress, and recognizing the inefficiencies at his practice, Dr. Dewan shared his concerns with his wife, Pamela Singh.
“We really started thinking, why are we using low-tech processes to support high-tech surgeries? On the one hand, he’s having conversations about the latest robot for the hospital, and on the other, we’re using faxes to coordinate his surgery. It made no sense. There’s over 150 data points that need to be communicated successfully to prepare for any surgery, and if just one falls through the cracks, through a missed email, phone message or fax, the surgery can be canceled.”
At the time, there wasn’t a grand plan for a startup — Dewan and Singh just recognized that there had to be a better way to reduce surgery cancellations and provide better care for patients.
With coding experience at his disposal, Dr. Dewan started with a barebones product for his own practice with the goal of reducing surgery cancellations. A year later, he had reduced cancellations by 20 percent, and found that he had $300,000 more in surgical case revenue.
His administrators came to him to ask why his practice was more efficient than everyone else’s.
“That was when he came to me and we realized it had commercialization potential,” said Singh. The next step was to find a way to make their vision a reality.
Becoming part of the Downtown Launchpad community
People often hear about startup success stories and assume that fortunes are virtually guaranteed alongside a great idea. But a great idea isn’t a business, and Dewan and Singh knew they needed some help to form a new company and get it off the ground. They found an opportunity in fall 2020 as one of five companies invited to participate in gBETA, a free seven-week, pre-accelerator program for early-stage local entrepreneurs through gener8tor.
Singh credits the program for helping CaseCTRL focus its efforts and provide a roadmap for success.
“We had a very shaky foundation when we started, and gener8tor helped us launch our company and our vision. That’s why we’ve been able to pitch to people and communicate with people. One thing we learned is that it doesn’t matter how good your idea is, and it doesn’t matter how many people you’re helping. If you can’t communicate it properly, it’s going nowhere.”
With direction to zero in on what they could do best rather than what they could do well broadly, Singh says gBeta helped their new company recognize where they should focus their efforts. “That is when we really started to see traction in terms of not just resonating with customers, but also at pitch competitions.”
Looking toward the future, today
Since finishing the program at the end of 2020, CaseCTRL has been busy racking up accolades and preparing for future growth. Singh describes the next steps as a multi-pronged approach, which includes continuing to work with private practice orthopedic surgeons, talking to innovative arms of hospitals, and finding innovative partners.
“We’re grateful for these opportunities. I feel like when you make entrepreneurs feel supported, to have that support on the business side is really what kept us afloat. We [recently] got into Venture Houston and were awarded as a Most Promising Company at the Texas Life Science Venture Forum. When we saw that our community is rallying behind us, that made us want to succeed even more. We’re grateful for our Houston community.”
Because MassChallenge and gener8tor are part of Downtown Launchpad and industry agnostic, Singh says, “there is a support system for companies that aren’t just oil and gas ... With the gener8tor network’s help, we were able to accelerate our timeline and get everything in order at least 100 times faster in my opinion.”