making moves

Houston palliative care startup raises $3.5 million in seed funding to expand nationally

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Houston-based Koda Health announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round.

The round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital, which focuses on emergent and early-stage investments. Sigmas Capital, Headwater Ventures, CRCM, and a number of angel investors also participated in the round.

The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement.

The Koda team will also use the funds to expand its operations to all 50 states. According to the statement, the team plans to focus on low-resource communities and operating in different languages. When Fofanova spoke with Innovation Map in September, the platform was being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

Koda Health was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship and launched by Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry in March of 2020. The platform uses AI to help patients create advanced medical care directives and documents, such as a living will, through its proprietary machine learning approach.

The pandemic helped show the founders the demand for an accessible and conversational way to help underserved communities prepare for end of life care. According to the team, 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. It is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year.

"Most Medicare beneficiaries can't afford traditional approaches to planning for future care, like estate attorneys and direct to consumer solutions. But these are conversations and legal documents that are fundamental to navigating healthcare," Fofanova continued in the statement. "Koda bridges the clinical and legal divide to make advance care planning easily accessible to everyone."

The company was awarded a prestigious Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation in 2021, which was used to test the platform against phone conversations with 900 patients.

It was also named the inaugural winner of the Henry Ford Health System’s Digital Inclusion Challenge for "its potential to increase equity of access to advance care planning" in October 2021.

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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