A good lesson for startup founders - sometimes, your product has more potential than you think.
When Andrew Suggs created a scheduling platform for hair professionals, he realized he could use it to reduce health disparities in his community.
He turned to 1501 Health to help him repurpose his digital tools to address chronic health issues that disproportionately affect minority communities.
Today, as a newly minted 1501 Health graduate, Andrew discusses his experience in this year-long incubation and investment program and shares how it helped Live Chair Health reach its critical next stage.
Q: What inspired you to pivot your product to healthcare services?
A: Primarily, it was the declining health and loss of my father.
He suffered from chronic heart failure and died at age 56. I looked at the statistics and found Black men were suffering from this condition in far greater numbers than those in the general population.
Seeing this gap in access to care, I realized my technology had a unique way of communicating and reaching the community. The idea to leverage this concept into a health platform was a no-brainer.
Q: What qualities or specializations were you looking for as you built your core advisory team?
A: 1501 Health helped us expand our group of physicians, medical experts and people with experience in the healthcare delivery and payor field.
My advisors were extraordinary, not only because of their clinical expertise but because they really got our mission, and had experience developing community health initiatives.
Their core values aligned with ours, and they educated my team on what we needed to know: from research on what is shortening life expectancies in our community to helping us understand where we could find and tap into resources.
Q: Did the COVID-19 pandemic change your focus or approach?
A: Yes. The pandemic really disrupted the grooming industry, so we responded by reaching beyond barbershops as our connection point with clients.
We started working with religious organizations, community centers – really wherever our clients live, work and play.
It wasn’t a difficult pivot into these centers. I think we would have eventually branched out and expanded our focus this way, but the pandemic definitely accelerated that thinking.
We used heavy ‘boots on the ground’ communication methods to get our message out there, and we got a good response from community leaders.
Access to care is an issue that resonates, and what we bring to the table is combining high-touch efforts with technology that makes follow-up easy.
Q: Can you recall a lesson or a piece of advice from 1501 Health that’s helped you navigate your business growth over the past year?
One thing we’ve learned is how to be very specific about who our customers are, and how to hone our message to be very transparent about what we do and don’t do.
When speaking to investors or potential partners, it’s important to have a clear path to a ROI for the customer and be ready to demonstrate that with proof.
We forged amazing long-term relationships that taught me the three components of a great team: people who ‘get’ it, want it, and have the capacity to do it.
By ‘getting it’ I mean mission focus. ‘Wanting it’ is a person’s drive, and by capacity, I mean people who have the acumen and hard skills necessary to achieve the business’ outcomes.
Going into this we didn’t have years of experience in the healthcare industry, and 1501 Health helped us attain that critical perspective.
A few words from 1501 Health mentors, Emily Durfee and Adam Beck:
Q: In what ways have you seen Andrew grow as an entrepreneur? What skills has he cultivated that have prepared him for his recent round of seed funding for Live Chair Health?
Through our work with Andrew both within the 1501 Health program and efforts with LifeBridge Health , Andrew has gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight into the business of healthcare that will serve him well going forward.
These experiences have prepared him for his seed funding because he has a mature network of people, a team with capabilities to bring initiatives to life, and a much clearer vision of how he can integrate with the systems that already exist.
Q: What is the most innovative or interesting aspect about the services Live Chair Health provides?
I am very impressed with the relationships Andrew and his team have developed with local barbershops, salons, and other community centers and how he has been able to leverage these relationships for the greater good for the community, the provider, and the payer.
Being able to connect the dots through already trusted networks is so deeply important yet is overlooked by many people. It’s something that people haven’t been able to make money in and finding a sustainable way to do it is so incredible, interesting and innovative.
Q: What lessons as a leader have you learned from Andrew?
Andrew is one of the most resilient and positive leaders I have met. His company has gone through some significant change and growth over the last year and the accompanying stress and challenges that come along with this has never shown through.
I deeply appreciate his candor. He is incredibly transparent and thoughtful. I appreciate his passion, and he is not afraid to call out when things are not working, or could be working better.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about Andrew, Live Chair, or your experience with them through 1501 Health?
In addition to Andrew, we found his team to be amazing to work with and flexible to our needs while also challenging our current systems and processes. Live Chair Health revealed access points to health care services that needed adjusted to better serve the African American community.
June 2022 – Live Chair Health announcements a $3.5M seed raise
January 2021 – Technical.ly RealLIST Startup Honoree
December 2021 - Top 50 in Digital Healthcare - Equity Advocate Honoree
October 2021 – 7 Wire Ventures and United States of Care - Thomas J. Main Ignite Award
Technical.ly | June 2022
Everyday Health | June 2022
Washington Business Journal | January 2021
JMore Living | November 2021
About 1501 Health
1501 Health is a unique partnership between Healthworx and LifeBridge Health, representing expertise in both health insurance and financing (payers) and healthcare delivery and services (providers). The investment and incubation program empowers entrepreneurs to get their innovative solutions to market and expand their impact in healthcare quality, access and affordability. To learn more about 1501Health, visit www.1501Health.com.
Healthworx operates at the intersection of healthcare and innovation by creating, co-creating and investing in companies that are improving healthcare quality, accessibility, affordability and equity. As the innovation and investment arm of CareFirst, Healthworx envisions a healthier future for all people by changing the way health works. To learn more about Healthworx, visit https://www.healthworx.com.
About LifeBridge Health
LifeBridge Health is one of the largest, most comprehensive providers of health services in Maryland. LifeBridge Health includes Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Grace Medical Center and related affiliates. For more information, visit www.lifebridgehealth.org.