What's Poppin'

Houston startup founder is reinventing medical devices by thinking outside the pillbox

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the traditional pillbox. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

One day in college on her way to lunch with some friends, Regina Vatterott fainted on the sidewalk. It wasn't anything serious, but she had a few vitamin deficiencies and hadn't eaten in a while. After that, she started taking her daily supplements more seriously.

She tried using the traditional pillbox, but it would take her forever to organize. And she hated how her friends would call it, in a loving, playful way, her "old people pillbox."

She joined forces with a few like-minded individuals at her school to create a health and wellness accessory, rather than a medical device. They bought craft supplies and hand-glued LED lights to the first prototype of what would become EllieGrid, a smart pillbox that syncs with an app on your phone so that you can easily program your medicinal schedule and receive alerts of when to take what.


EllieGrid is a smart pillbox that syncs with your phone.Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

Vatterott, who was interning at a company that did social media marketing for independent pharmacies nationwide, saw an underserved market of adults who have a need for a product like this. EllieGrid targets the Baby Boomer age and younger, usually between ages 35 and 55.

Now, EllieGrid is growing from its initial presale phase to setting a system in place where Houstonians can find EllieGrid in stores or online.

InnovationMap: You and your team were only college students when you started. How did you get funding?

Regina Vatterott: We started pitching business plan competitions all over the country — even as far as Barcelona. We raised money — and some of it wasn't even money, but resources, like access to 3D printers or free office space. It was an amazing tool for us, and it helped validate us and helped us perfect our business plan. We ended up raising like $200,000 just in business plan competitions.

After that, we knew we had to prove it in market. Last year, we ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. Our goal was to raise $40,000, and we raised around $167,000. In January of this year, we shipped all the products that were preordered on IndieGoGo to 37 different countries.

IM: What's been the biggest challenge?

RV: The very beginning, the challenge was affording our legal fees — it's not something you want to skimp on, but was incredibly expensive. After that, it was simply manufacturing. It's never easy. It's always going to cost three times as much and take three times as long as you expect. With our plastics, we use a process called injection molding, and if the temperature is off, the plastics will dry in a different way and the pieces won't fit together. It's an obnoxious challenge that we're still facing today.

IM: What's next for you or your company?

RV: Right now, we are making that transition from pre-selling products to just regular sales. It's easier said than done because we are making sure that supply chain is efficient and on time. We are finishing up a batch of 1,000 units to work with that we'll just sell on our website. Once we have information on how we can sell these units, we want to work with distributors, so we are working on creating those relationships now.

IM: How has being headquartered in Houston been?

RV: This is a very affordable place and has a lot of resources for startups. I will say our one struggle is there's not a lot of funding for hardware startups — especially for consumers — like ours. That's more in California or New York.

IM: Thinking more long term, what do you have in mind for EllieGrid and your team?

RV: For EllieGrid, we want to implement artificial intelligence. We want to be able to take the data of how the user is interacting with the device and be able to predict when people will forget to take their meds to prevent any issues with medication.

For us, Ellie is just the start. We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices. One example we give is how eyeglasses used to be medical devices, and now glasses are a fashion accessory. We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients.

IM: What's the worst piece of advice you've received?

RV: In the beginning when we'd pitch this idea to doctors, they would tell us we were wasting our time because patients don't care what a product looks like as long as it works. I don't really get that anymore, because we're proving that wrong now.

The product is available online on the EllieGrid website, and the app is available for download. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Paying a per-employee fee, companies can give their team access to a one-stop-shop approach to medical care with Crossover. Courtesy of Crossover

Information technology provider HP Inc. and other major employers in the Houston area are exploring a new way to offer medical care to their employees.

A California company called Crossover Health just opened a 5,300-square-foot medical clinic in Spring. The clinic — Crossover Health's first in the Houston area — enables several self-insured employers to share one provider of primary healthcare services for their employees in an effort to cut costs and promote convenience.

Aside from primary medical care, offerings at the Spring clinic include physical therapy, and chiropractic, acupuncture, and fitness services. Each employer pays a monthly per-employee fee for access to Crossover Health.

At the Spring center, Crossover Health seeks to act on its "belief that healthcare should be convenient, simple to navigate, affordable, and personalized."

The Spring location, at 28420 Hardy Toll Road, features four rooms for primary care, and two each for physical therapy, acupuncture, and health coaching. At the outset, the clinic employs 13 people, but more hires are planned as Crossover Health adds clients there.

Palo Alto, California-based HP is the only client of the Spring clinic that Crossover Health is permitted to identify. In February, HP moved about 2,400 employees into its new two-building, 12-acre campus at Springwoods Village, a master-planned community just west of the Crossover Health clinic. Later this year, San Jose, California-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., a sister company of HP, is scheduled to kick off construction of a new campus at Springwoods Village.

Neighboring employers include ExxonMobil, Southwestern Energy, and the American Bureau of Shipping.

For employers, Crossover Health operates medical clinics that are at or near worksites. Outside the Houston area, Crossover Health's corporate clients include Apple, LinkedIn, and Visa.

Larry Boress, executive director of the Dallas-based National Association of Worksite Health Centers, says clinics like Crossover Health's can reduce travel time for employees heading to medical appointments and, as a result, can improve productivity.

"The value of a worksite health and wellness center for both large and small employers in Houston is that it offers the ability to gain real value on their healthcare investment," Boress says.

Aside from trimming healthcare costs, such centers can boost employee satisfaction and decrease absenteeism, he says.

"These centers have also been found to help employers be an employer of choice, benefiting recruitment and retention of employees," Boress says.

A 2018 survey by consulting firm Mercer and the National Association of Worksite Health Centers found that in 2017, one-third of U.S. employers with at least 5,000 employees provided worksite medical clinics, up from almost one-fourth in 2012.

A different survey — this one conducted in 2018 by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers and Benfield, a market research, strategy, and communications consulting firm that focuses on the healthcare industry — showed that among large employers with some sort of medical arrangement, 63 percent offered on-site clinics, 16 percent offered nearby clinics, and 21 percent offered a mix of the two.

"The hope with on-site or near-site clinics is to make healthcare more convenient for employees, and along the way ideally cheaper by cutting down on visits," Business Insider reported in 2018. "Crossover says it can save as much as $970 per member compared to what employers would be paying if that employee went through the traditional healthcare system. That savings can add up for a company with thousands of employees."

Crossover Health already has brought its brand of healthcare delivery to Austin and San Antonio. Now that the company has planted its flag in the Houston market, it's eyeing its first location in Dallas-Fort Worth.

"Texas, which has consistently ranked as the top U.S. state for business and job growth, is one of our most important markets as we continue to expand our national footprint," Dr. Scott Shreeve, co-founder and CEO of Crossover Health, says in a release. "The new Spring center allows us to introduce our new model of primary care to an increasing number of corporations moving to the Lone Star State."


features four rooms for primary care, and two each for physical therapy, acupuncture, and health coaching.Courtesy of Crossover Health