HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 54

Houston innovator is putting female health tech entrepreneurs on center stage

Ayse McCracken joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss women in health care and Ignite Madness. Photo courtesy of Ignite

When COVID-19 hit, Ayse McCracken realized that women in health care were going to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic and social isolation. As the founder and board chair of Ignite Healthcare Network, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting and promoting female health tech entrepreneurs, McCracken jumped to provide a virtual way to connect her members.

"With COVID, it has only escalated the importance of our work, so we've elevated our voices through our webinar series," McCracken says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

The webinars featured prominent women in health care discussing leaderships, the effect of the pandemic, and more. Now, Ignite has introduced an entirely new virtual event series focused on startups and, something slightly unexpected: basketball. Ignite Madness begins tomorrow, October 22, and will feature 35 startups. The startups will be narrowed down to seven finalists, who will then pitch at the finals next Thursday, October 29. Click here to register.

"We wanted to do something that was kind of fun and engaging for people while showcasing great entrepreneurs. We didn't want it to just be a pitch event," McCracken says. "When you look at basketball, the similarities were very interesting."

Women make up a significant portion of the fan base for basketball, McCracken says she discovered, and she had the idea of featuring female coaches into the pitch competition. Seven college basketball coaches will be involved in the event as mentors, sharing their own stories.

McCracken says she was strategic when organizing the pitch competition and made sure the competing companies were representative of both the industry's innovation and of diversity. The startups from 13 states across the United States and six other countries — 43 percent of the founders pitching are women of color.

"When we say women, we mean women of all colors and ethnicities," McCracken says. "We have made sure that our leadership team is diverse and inclusive. Everything we do, you'll see women in a very inclusive way."

While you'll have to watch the pitches yourself, McCracken says, the startups are focusing on novel medical devices, cancer detection, and nanotech-based treatment selection platforms, mental health platforms, telehealth solutions, digital solutions for women's health issues like fertility, and so much more.

McCracken shares more about what viewers can expect from the event as well as the important role women in health care play and the evolution of the industry in Houston on the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

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