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December 7, 2021 in success stories

Lived Experience: The “Secret Sauce” of Great Founders

When Shelley Saxena’s mother almost died because of a medical misdiagnosis, he knew he had to do something to make sure that wouldn’t happen to other people. So Shelley launched Sevamob, an AI-enabled healthcare technology platform that brings low-cost primary and diagnostic health services to underserved urban and rural communities that have limited access to healthcare. Sevamob’s AI and telehealth-based model also requires fewer specialists and addresses staffing gaps in underserved areas. 

When Andrés Idarraga was 20, he ended up in a Rhode Island prison for selling drugs. But he’d seen how education and finances could make or break opportunities for people like himself and the communities that shaped him. And he didn’t want to let his time in prison define him. He wanted to create more opportunities for the communities like the ones he was born into and around whom he grew up. So Andrés co-founded Creci to finance, incentivize, and reward businesses that build sustainability and social impact into their core business. This would solve a key problem for many small businesses in Latin America: accessing affordable loans and reporting metrics that showed their impact.

In both cases, Shelly and Andres were moved to create innovative, novel solutions born out of their own lived experience and a dissatisfaction with what the market had to offer people like them. 

Supporting founding teams with deep, lived experience is a core tenet of Village Capital. We have found that entrepreneurs with lived experience more intimately understand the problem they are addressing and can more effectively address the pain points for people and businesses that face similar challenges. This theme is woven into every program we run, including the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator Program. Below we have highlighted a few examples from the program of how lived experience inspired these founders to start their companies:

Nanlir Kapnan, Founder, Lafya HealthShare (Healthtech/Fintech, Nigeria)

In 2017, Nanlir Kapnan lost his father after a prolonged battle with Parkinson's disease. While treating the disease, the cost of his medication was more than one third of his monthly pension and Kapnan was aware of many other people in similar situations, even when the money required to cover medications and treatments was as little as N500,000 (~$1,200). 

Frustrated, he did some digging and discovered Nigerians were often completely reliant on friends and family to cover end of life expenses and that less than 1% of the population had private health insurance due to a lack of awareness and trust in public institutions. 

Kapnan saw an opportunity and Lafya Healthshare was born. Lafya is a community-based system of saving money and sharing healthcare bills with others such that people do not have to bear the risk of their medical expenses alone, reducing their financial distress. 

Marci Lobel-Esrig, Founder, CEO, and General Counsel, SilverBills (Fintech, USA)

In 2008, Marci Lobel-Esrig was working as a lawyer for the New York Mets’ parent company, Sterling Equities, when news about the Bernie Madoff scandal broke. Due to Madoff’s crimes, the company would lose about $500M and almost the entire 401(k) of the company. For the next 8 years, Lobel-Esrig worked on the Madoff crime and, as a result, became an expert in financial fraud. 

While working at Sterling Equities, Lobel-Esrig also witnessed the struggles faced by her elderly Aunt trying to manage her household bills. She told Marci that she “had to drive to the car dealer to drop off a check.” Marci realized there was an opportunity to create a solution to the problem at the intersection of these issues:  financial exploitation because of the elderly’s need for help managing bills.  When older adults looked for help with this problem, they often turned to untrustworthy individuals who either stole valuables from them or wrote unauthorized checks. 

At the time, she learned that there was no tech-enabled, scalable solution to managing household bills for older adults and that there was more than $1B of annual financial exploitation of older adults occurring in the U.S. She quickly realized that it was an urgent problem that needed a solution and that she was well-situated to address this unmet need. She founded \SilverBills, a tech-enabled solution that allows older adults to age with dignity and security without being financially exploited because they need help with household bill management.  SilverBills provides a robust proprietary software solution that receives, scrutinizes, stores and ensures payment of clients’ household bills. Every client is paired with a U.S.-based SilverBills Account Manager and client computer use is optional.

Stacy Ekker, Founder and CEO, Tinuum (Doc2Doc) (Healthtech, USA)

Stacy Ekker grew up in rural Utah, so small in fact that her graduating class had only 13 students! Right out of high school, she got her first job working in an ambulance. Growing up in rural Utah and working on an ambulance has its challenges, the biggest of which is the closest hospital to the town was around an hour away. Time after time, Stacy watched as emergency patients either passed away before arriving at the hospital or had to be unnecessarily transported to another location. 

One day, Stacy experienced these problems from the other perspective as she waited for her mom to be transported to a tertiary care centre after she suffered a brain aneurysm. Transporting her to the local hospital, just like for Stacy’s patients, was both hard and inefficient. Her experience in Utah and her nearly twenty years of care experience caused her to start Tinuum, a healthtech company that hopes to  save lives by creating a worldwide solution where patients can be transported efficiently from one facility to another.

To learn more about the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator Program, visit here.

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