Folia wins The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership Women in Digital Health Award at the MassChallenge HealthTech (formerly PULSE@ MassChallenge) Finale
Nell Meosky Luo founded Folia to change the way patients and family caregivers collect and share data to improve treatment outcomes for people suffering from chronic diseases. In our existing system, patients and their families know a lot about how a patient is doing, but their medical professionals are limited to the data they capture during visits. Folia’s technology makes it easier for patients and caregivers to share daily data and communicate with their providers. Earlier this year, Folia won The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership Women in Digital Health Award at the MassChallenge HealthTech (formerly PULSE@ MassChallenge) Finale celebration.
Why locate your business in Massachusetts?
A lot of startups default to the west coast because of Silicon Valley. We looked there and at New York. We realized is that the medical innovation happening in Boston is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. As a healthcare company, we felt like this was the place to be able to easily access the experts, talent, and exciting ideas at the forefront of healthcare innovation. It’s been awesome to be here.
Who in Boston has been particularly helpful to Folia?
Any time I hear about an exciting new development in digital health, I Google the company and it turns out they’re almost always no more than 15 miles from our office. We’ve had a lot of success gaining access to many different types of experts. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the area are very open to having discussions about technology and innovation. Harvard Pilgrim and Blue Cross Blue Shield are also very innovative and they’ve been very helpful in talking things over with us. We’ve spent a lot of time talking with health startups outside of Massachusetts, too. One downside to this being such a robust digital health startup community is that you’re often competing for attention.
What has your experience been like with PULSE?
We very much enjoyed working with PULSE (ed. note, now MassChallenge HealthTech) because the team is focused on helping startups move forward with partnerships and advisors that can help you break into industries. We benefited both from experience with the community and from the amount of access they were able to give us within established healthcare organizations. The collaborations that they helped us to form with AARP and Vertex have been invaluable.
What is Folia’s core mission?
We help patients and families dealing with chronic diseases to better communicate their observations to their care teams. The information you can collect at home is more representative of everything that is going on than what is normally seen in a doctor’s office.
Our main customer is the patient and their family. Every day, our team is focused on improving the Folia platform based on input from our users. For us, the most important metric is patient and family engagement. If they’re using Folia, we’re doing something right!
Providers, pharmaceutical companies, employers, payors, and others are also important to us because they are ultimately the stakeholders that can take the patient & family observations to improve the care that’s available. When we collect information from patients, they have the ability to agree to contribute that data anonymously to our growing data set. With this information, we put together interesting data sets that show how treatments are, or are not, working to help develop treatments and clinical decision-making frameworks that may work better.
One area that we’re excited about is the emergence of a value-based payment system in the US. We need more outcomes information to determine what a treatment is worth, and how to engineer an individual patient’s care plan to serve his or her specific needs. The idea is that when you improve care, you end up with healthier and happier patients. It’s also often less expensive, and everybody saves money.
Has that been a tough sell?
Not at all. The concept of what we are doing makes a lot of sense to everybody. The reason it hasn't been done before is that previous attempts to collect information were not focused on families and patients. We are focused on making the needs of these people our North Star, because they are the most important piece of this equation. In the past, tracking platforms have not been designed with the end-user in mind. At the end of the day, the most important people we are working for are the people who are using and entering data into Folia everyday. Without them, you don’t have a patient- and family-reported outcomes data set, and none of these grand ideas about improving healthcare work!
What are some of the workforce needs of the Digital Health industry here in Massachusetts?
The tech hires here are more challenging for us because our technology is consumer-facing. A lot of the companies in Boston area are b2b focused so potential hires are more familiar with building technical interfaces for the office rather than daily life. When we hired our first senior mobile engineer, he came from Minnesota to live in Boston because we didn’t find anybody here that was available. As we build more consumer-facing companies in the region, we will be attracting more people with those skills sets.
Are there VC firms, accelerators, or incubators that are helping drive the growth and success of startups?
I love Venture Cafe, they do a really great job creating an environment where it is easy to start understanding the Boston tech ecosystem. They were very helpful when we were first starting out a few years ago. We also pitched at Boston New Tech and that was a lot of fun. My experience with Boston New Tech was a kind of free exchange of ideas that was exciting and non-judgemental.
Do you see/not see support for digital health entrepreneurs at our academic or research institutions in Massachusetts? What more could be done to support budding entrepreneurs?
I think it would be really interesting to build more of an exchange between entrepreneurial academics and the existing startups. I think there are many individual academics who are interested and get involved, but I don’t think there is anything formalized in that regard. AI For The Rest of Us is one group that comes to mind - - they’re working to demystify the concept of AI by bringing in experts to speak with the larger community on a regular basis. So far, I’ve been very impressed by what they’ve put together.
Where can people find out more about Folia?
They can visit our website at FoliaHealth.com