Houston digital health startup sees rapid expansion, grows team

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 155

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Image via LinkedIn

It's Tatiana Fofanova's goal to have her company's digital health platform active in all 50 states by the end of the first quarter of 2023. She's already halfway there.

Fofanova founded Koda Health, a B2B Enterprise SaaS solution that guides patients through the process of proactive healthcare planning and document authentication, in early 2020 with her co-founders Dr. Desh Mohan, who serves as chief medical officer, and Katelin Cherry, the company's CTO. The trio connected in the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Fellowship program and observed how advanced care planning was something that wasn't on the radar for most patients.

The tech platform allows for patients and their providers to get on the same page for their care. Fofanova describes the platform as similar to TurboTax — users answer a series of questions and the program provides a care plan then shared with the patient's doctors. This greatly simplifies — and democratizes — the process for patients and providers both.

"The standard of care for advanced care planning has traditionally been left to patients to do on their own — with estate planning attorney or through a direct-to-consumer solution," Fofanova says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

But when the pandemic hit, not only did patients have a harder time accessing these services, but it also further exposed the gap between the people who traditionally could afford advanced care planning and those who could not. Koda Health targets value-based care organizations, who then onboard the platform for their patients to use for free. Fofanova says it's in these providers' best interest to have these plans established.

"For the customers we were serving — the value-based care organizations — it was there priority as well to bring those services to those populations," Fofanova says. "They save money when they deliver the right care. When they don't know the right care to deliver, everything escalates."

Within a few months of launch, Koda Health was invited to Techstars, received NSF funding, and started its first paid pilot. The pandemic was almost like a firecracker for her business, she says.

Koda Health is having another period of rapid growth. Following a $3.5 million seed funding round earlier this year, the company is developing out its product across the country, which poses several challenges for Koda.

"Regulations for medical power of attorney, advance directives, do not resuscitate orders — things like that — vary from state to state," Fofanova says. "Some states are fairly simple, but others are incredibly complicated. We've been working with a law firm to make our product legally compliant in every state, and that has required an entire rebuild of our fundamental engine in order to toggle on or off all of these requirements."

Recently launching its Spanish beta platform, Koda is now compliant in 25 states with new contracts in most of those areas already. She now has 12 full-time employees working in both Houston and remotely. This year, Koda has about 5,000 patients on its platform. Next year, based on growth projections, Fofanova says that number will grow to 100,000 before hitting 500,000 patients in 2024.

She shares more details about this growth and the future of Koda Health on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


DECISIO has fresh funding and a new board member. Photo via decisiohealth.com

Houston health tech company raises $18.5M, appoints new leadership

fresh funding

A Houston-based digital health startup has officially closed its latest funding round and has a new member to its leadership to support the company's next phase.

DECISIO has appointed Major General Elder Granger to the company's board of directors. Dr. Granger is currently president and CEO of The 5Ps LLC, a healthcare, education, and leadership consulting organization.

"Dr. Granger joining our board provides enormous value and validation for our company moving forward," says Dr. John Holcomb, co-CEO and co-founder of DECISIO, says in a news release. "His expertise and leadership in the healthcare industry is a welcome addition to our esteemed group of Board of Directors."

Dr. Granger previously served as the deputy director of TRICARE Management Activity, a Department of Defense field activity responsible for operating the Military Health System as a fully integrated healthcare system providing care for 9.2 million beneficiaries worldwide. He also serves on the board of directors for Cerner Corp., Cigna Corp., and DLH Holdings Corp.

In February, the company officially closed its $18.5 million series B. DECISIO has raised $31.5 million since it was founded in 2013. The funding raised will go toward commercialization, continued product development, and operations growth.

Decisio is a virtual care monitoring software that's based on technology licensed from and developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Using real-time clinical surveillance with data visualization, the DECISIOInsight software can identify risk that helps clinicians make better patient care decisions virtually. In 2015, Decisio Health was approved by the Food and Drug Administration class II medical device, which made it the first FDA-cleared web-native software.

"Virtual Care is the next step beyond traditional telemedicine, which — for many years — was limited to having a teleconference or even just a phone call with a caregiver," Hancock previously told InnovationMap. "Now we can start sharing real-time clinical data with clinicians wherever they happen to be located."

DECISIO's flagship product is called InsightIQ, and earlier this month the company launched a new tool: EnvisionIQ, which provides templated real-time and customized compliance reports to improve operational efficiency.

Dr. Elder Granger previously oversaw the DoE's health care system. Photo courtesy

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startup raises $16M series A round

money moves

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health."

The company is reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed through its digital health program, GIThrive, which equips people with digestive issues with technology, advanced science, and on-demand support. Throughout 2021, Vivante Health grew its client base by 400 percent through the addition of key Fortune 500 clients as well as employer healthcare solutions. Through these partnerships, Vivante's potential member base encompasses over 500,000 covered lives, according to the news release.

Around one in four Americans live with a digestive disease, making for a $136 billion market — and Vivante is addressing this need. The company reported that 87 percent of members stated they better managed their digestive symptoms, according to a recent poll, and 83 percent of members said they felt healthier. From a corporate client side, Vivante allows for reductions in direct medical cost, resulting in a 3 to 1 ROI for a large employer organizations.

"The current experience for individuals with GI disorders is at a minimum inadequate and frustrating, and for many, debilitating. To no surprise, over 40 percent of people with a GI condition are dissatisfied with their care," said Robert Garber, Partner at 7wireVentures. "Vivante is on a mission to change that. We are thrilled to partner with the company at a true inflection point in their growth story and accelerate access to a proven, evidence-based model that drastically improves the consumer experience while reducing costs for employers.

In 2020, Vivante raised a $5.8 million series A1. The company was founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneur Kimon Angelides, who recently launched a new business called FemTec Health.

The Center for Innovation at Houston Methodist has opened its new Technology Hub to showcase its efforts to advance digital health. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Photos: Houston Methodist opens new hub to showcase health tech of the future

what's next for health care?

Houston Methodist is regularly exploring new digital health technologies, but, until recently, lacked a proper space to demonstrate their vision for the future of health care. Now, with the Center for Innovation's Technology Hub, the hospital has just that.

The tech hub opened earlier this month in Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more.

"Basically this space is like a laboratory for digital health innovations," says Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist. "It's an opportunity to bring doctors, administrators, and subject matter experts to talk through what digital health could be at Houston Methodist."

The tech hub has re-imagined the experiences patients have and demonstrated the effect technology can have in various experiences — from the waiting room or outpatient care to at-home health and a voice control-optimized patient room. There's a virtual reality demo room that showcases the hospital's use of VR for distraction therapy, as well as for a doctor to demonstrate a surgical procedure for his or her patient.

"Part of this space is to change culture within the organization to promote this type of technology and really grow it because we think we can have some really positive impacts with our patients with these collaboration tools.

The space also features coworking space for industry experts — like Amazon or Microsoft — to come in to co-create, Sol says. Houston Methodist was also the first hospital in Houston to sign up for Apple Health's beta program.

Tours are open to industry professionals, vendors, and staff.

"We're excited for what the future can bring with this space," Sol tells InnovationMap.

Click through the slideshow to see some of the tech hub's rooms and the technology featured.

An interactive space

Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The purpose of the new tech hub is to allow visitors to interact with technology Houston Methodist is exploring, as well as to tell the story of the hospital's innovations and its patients. The screen upon entry to the hub is one of the only 8K touch-screen monitors and allows a viewer to tap through to see a layout of the hub as well as to hear a story of one of Methodist's patients.

TMCx will select its 2020 cohort from the 19 startups it has invited to attend a bootcamp this month. Courtesy of TMC

TMCx names 19 startups to be considered for 2020 cohort

that x-factor

The Texas Medical Center is one step closer to narrowing down its next TMCx cohort. It will be the first group of startups for the accelerator following an overhaul and redesign of the program that was announced last year.

TMCx has identified 19 companies from around the world to attend a two-week bootcamp within the TMC. At the conclusion of the two weeks, TMCx will select its 2020 cohort, which will then go through a six-month accelerator program.

While TMCx has been accelerating digital health and medical device startups for five years, this is the first year the program has taken this approach. The TMCx team first announced these changes on its last demo day in November. The program redesign was put into motion in order to find startups and technologies that solve the problems and challenges that TMC institutions face.

"The TMCx team is razor-focused on ensuring X companies find a landing spot here in the TMC," says Lance Black, associate director at TMCx. "Our north star metric is agreements between the startup and the member institution. With this as our determiner of success, we need to be intimately familiar with not only what the startups are doing but with what our hospitals need."

The TMCx team selected this batch of 19 startups based on their ability to hit the ground running at TMC, Black explains, and the two-week bootcamp will be filled with customer meetings, in-hospital exploration, social events, and educational programming.

"From these bootcamp participants, we are looking for companies who are ready to have meaningful conversations with their customers on day 1," Black says. "The access to enterprise health systems here in Houston is like no other place in the world, so TMCx is focused on curating these conversations and subsequent relationships so our member institutions are truly able to remain cutting edge."

Ultimately, Black says, his team is looking for the companies ready to "show up" for the TMC's member institutions.

"One of the most exciting aspects of TMCx's new phase is how we are now working hand-in-hand with the offices of innovation and internal champions of our member institutions to investigate needs and scour the globe for the best solutions," Black explains. "This community is one of collaborators and TMCx is a proud partner in improving the quality of life for patients."

Here are the health tech startups participating in the TMCx bootcamp this month:

  • San Francisco-based Atlas Health connects patients with payment resources.
  • Austin-based CareStarter automates and scales care management.
  • Houston-based CaseCtrl is a surgical case management platform.
  • San Francisco-based DeepScribe is an autonomous medical scribe.
  • Austin-based Diligent Robotics created a clinical robot assistant.
  • Los Angeles-based Elly allows users to live healthier through positivity.
  • San Francisco-based Ferrum reduces preventable medical errors.
  • San Antonio-base GaitIQ evaluates gait in primary care.
  • Toronto-based HelpWear is a clinical grade wearable heart monitor.
  • Pessac, France-based inHEART combines imaging and electrocardiology technologies.
  • London-based Lantum is a total workforce solution for healthcare.
  • Denver-based Manatee has created connected, everyday therapy for kids.
  • Cupertino, California-based Pyrames is a continuous, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring system.
  • Copenhagen-based Radiobotics automates analysis of routine medical X-rays.
  • Philadelphia-based Repisodic is a discharge planning solution.
  • Evanston, Illinois-based Rheos is a wearable shunt monitor.
  • College Station-based Solenic Medical eliminates biofilm on metallic implants.
  • Melbourne-based TALi can assess and strengthen attention in early childhood.
  • New York-based Yosi is creating the waiting room of the future.
Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

Digital health startup based in Houston closes $5.8 million round

Money moves

A Houston health technology startup that uses digital solutions and on-demand support to help its users with digestive health has closed a Series A round of funding.

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

"We knew we were onto something when the market responded so positively," says Dr. Kimon Angelides, Vivante Health founder and CEO, in the release, "but support from esteemed, experienced and successful firms like Lifeforce and Big Pi, and the continued strong support from our initial investor partners, give us a very encouraging boost of confidence as we carry out our vision and further develop the GIThrive platform."

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

The startup's Houston headquarters is based out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center, JLabs@TMC, but has offices in Nashville, Chicago, and Athens. Angelides, who honors his Greek heritage by spending a fair about of time in Greece, says in the release how important the Big Pi investment is for him.

"This partnership with Big Pi, a tech-based investment firm who's driven by the desire to support Greek talent, makes perfect sense. What's more, we have partnered with a team who themselves have been very successful entrepreneurs," says Angelides in the release.

Angelides, who has founded three other health tech companies, impressed Big Pi with his entrepreneurial track record and nationwide team

"This is one of those rare investments where the financial upside goes hand in hand with the prospect of radically improving the lives of millions of people across the globe," says Marco Veremis, investment partner with Big Pi, in the release.

Lifeforce Capital has a portfolio of software startups, including Aspire, Cricket Health, Notable Labs, One Medical, and Second Genome, per the news release, and the VC firm is excited for their new addition.

"We were immediately struck by Kim's entrepreneurial passion and big vision," says Sander Duncan, general partner with Lifeforce Capital, in the release. "We are thrilled to work with the Vivante team to build the first platform tackling digestive disease for millions of suffering patients."

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.