Ramp Up: An Interview With Wellframe CEO Jacob Sattelmair

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Wellframe is a digital health startup building applications designed to improve the patient experience, care plan adherence, and health outcomes.

Tell me about yourself and your company.

Wellframe is a Boston-based, venture-backed health tech company comprised of engineers, clinicians, and data scientists dedicated to reorganizing healthcare resources around the needs of patients. We partner with healthcare delivery organizations and health plans looking to improve the capacity of their human resources to better engage more patients toward improved clinical compliance and financial success. 

I am a co-founder and the CEO of Wellframe. I’m an epidemiologist by training, but have been working on using technology to improve health behaviors and healthcare decision making for a while now.

What problem in healthcare are you trying to solve, and how are you solving it?

In a cost-restrained, value-based healthcare landscape, providing ongoing guidance and support to patients is increasingly critical to delivering the outcomes needed to achieve financial success. With technology currently in use, there is a huge and growing gap between available healthcare resources and patient need. At Wellframe, we’re developing and integrating new approaches to tech and data that are designed to extend clinical relationships and scale human resources while giving patients a level of support that has historically not been possible.

If every health system in the US rolled out Wellframe’s platform, how would it change the healthcare industry? 

Patients would notice a significantly improved experience, feeling more connected and more cared for on a continuous basis. Clinicians and care managers would have an unprecedented level of insight into the dynamic needs of their patients, enabling them to more strategically allocate their resources across populations and over time. Health systems would be better equipped to measure, report, and intervene on some of the biggest drivers of variance in outcomes and cost.

Wellframe is a Rock Health graduate. If you had to do it all over again, would you still go the accelerator route?

Yes. Rock Health has been a big advocate and being part of ‘the family’ has helped Wellframe in a number of ways, ranging from customer and investor intros to press and exposure. Their model has evolved significantly since we partook and is even better. Two thumbs up!

When you initially started pitching to VCs, how much work had you already done?

We started talking to investors early, with a team and a prototype. I think that is a good idea, to an extent, for the same reason it is essential to talk to customers as early as possible. We didn’t have a clue when we started out. I recall one investor telling us “you have a great team but that is the absolute worst business plan I have ever heard in my life”. When we started bringing in investment from Angels we had an MVP and clinical trials lined up. When we did eventually raise from VCs, we had published studies, customers, etc.

Wellframe is working in fairly uncharted territory. How did you convince early investors that if they helped you build the product, there would be a market for it?

A lot of the stuff we pitched early on, in retrospect, didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is pretty clear that early on investors were betting on our team, as well as the general idea that a lot was changing in healthcare and there would be opportunities for new entrants, particularly in digital health. When we started raising, there just weren’t enough investors with an appetite to bet on an unproven team of first-time entrepreneurs tangling in the jungle of enterprise healthcare, so we couldn’t run a competitive process. We brought on our first investors one at a time. They got to know us, they saw we weren’t going to quit easily, and that we could get hit and get back up. I learned a lot through that process.

What is your monetization strategy?

We partner with health plans and healthcare delivery organizations to extend the capacity of their care management resources to support more of their patients or members toward improved outcomes. We license our technology to our clients and then work closely with them around clinical program specification, implementations, analytics and ongoing/iterative improvements to software, content and service. I’d say it has evolved as the scope of our platform and services has expanded, but we have not pivoted per se.

How did you approach the challenge of finding a pilot site once you were ready to test your application in a real-world setting?

We found champions who had an appetite to advance a novel approach to clinical care, an orientation toward research. Before commercializing, we did several clinical studies under IRB. We also looked for champions with the patience to jump through all the hoops required to make it happen, like a 6 month-long vendor risk management audit to do a 30-patient study! I actually don’t think finding a pilot site is the hard part, if you cannot find a couple pilot sites, good luck signing long-term service contracts.

Now that you have some live customers and a few clinical trials under your belt, what benefits are customers seeing that you’re most excited about?

We started Wellframe with a vision for how we could better leverage healthcare resources to improve the lives of people with clinical and emotional need, so to see a growing number of patients and clinicians using our platform and reporting back that we are in fact enabling more effective and efficient models of care is pretty awesome. A picture of the broader implications of this on our client’s bottom line is taking shape and is equally compelling.

What’s next for Wellframe?

We are growing on all fronts. Over the next six months or so we plan to launch a number of new partnerships, expanding our footprint across several additional clinical verticals, and continue to invest significantly in building a superior platform and world class team. Stay tuned!


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