An annual innovation festival and yearlong civic initiative founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT.
What is your background? How did you find your way to your current field of work?
I cofounded Pilleve after a personal experience with substance abuse. I struggled with it growing up, but found a way out through an early intervention. My mom was at the crux of it all and ensured that I got well. Years into my sobriety, I found myself working at a rehab clinic. That’s when I realized that I was one of the lucky ones. Most people don’t have the blessing of an intervention, and as a result end up slipping through the cracks. A lot of the people that were in treatment used prescription opioids before transiting to illicit drugs. The epiphany came after hearing all their stories and realizing that an early intervention could’ve prevented them from going down the path of a long term addiction.
If you have more than one founder, how did everyone meet?
Gautam and I met through a flyer. Not your typical founders story, right? But it was one of these occurrences in life that was meant to be. I posted a flyer in one of Duke University’s coffee shops in the summer of 2017. Campus was empty because it was in the midst of summer transition. I had very little expectations and was hoping for a miracle. A few weeks later, I received a text message from a random number that said: “ I can build this device.” The flyer that I posted was a subpar recruitment poster aimed at engineers who have experience building medical devices. In BIG words centered on the page, it read: $5000 in compensation! (I didn’t have the money). That text changed the trajectory of Pilleve and opened up many doors. Gautam shared his experiences with substance abuse, as it affected his uncles while growing up. As a team, we always sought to help patients lead healthy and happy lives because we understand the tragedy in addiction. We don’t wish it on any patient, loved one, family, member or care provider, which is why Pilleve exists.
What problem are you trying to solve with your company? How does the company address it?
Pilleve is addressing opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction. Also known as the opioid epidemic, over 70,000 lives are lost due to it and many of its victims began using prescription opioids before transitioning to illicit drugs, such as fentanyl and heroine. Pilleve aims to prevent patients that are prescribed prescription opioids from transitioning into a long term addiction. Pilleve is an integrated and secure pill bottle that helps care providers and loved ones identify high risk patients and intervene before the onset of an addiction. Patients receive their prescription opioids in a secure Pilleve bottle by their pharmacists and prescribed by a physician. To access their medication, they simply log in to an app, verify themselves using a passcode, input their pain levels and mood, before dispensing one pill at a time at a push of a button. Pilleve captures rich data every time a patient needs their prescription opioids. This helps stakeholders, such as physicians understand their behaviors and alerts them in real time if they are misusing through Electronic Health Records to encourage an early intervention.
What have been the biggest challenges in founding/growing a startup? How have you overcome them?
We have a complex business model that requires buy-in from a variety of healthcare providers, including physicians, pharmacists, and payers. As an early stage start up, we struggled to get each of them onboard due to limited resources, in terms of human and financial capital. Unlike large pharma companies that can quickly on-board providers using clinical trials and quality sales teams, we had to sell our vision with a semi functional prototype. But we exuded passion and love for the work that we do, regardless of how early we were. To this day, our sales pitches begin with our story. Giving them the underlying reasons for why we continue to work over 80 hours a week, with little financial compensation, helps bolster our credibility and inevitably gets them to begin considering our offering. Stories sell, especially when you are an early stage startup.
Do you have any advice for someone hoping to start their own company?
My biggest advice is to set expectations straight right from the outset. Starting a company is not glamourous, regardless of what Hollywood sitcoms have to say. This is not to say that it isn’t an amazing experience, because it is, but it requires humility, patience, and grit, to say the least, which isn’t sexy/glamorized. Having a realistic expectation will allow start up founders to cherish the successes while appreciating the failures for what they are: learning experiences and avenues for growth. These qualities are instrumental in entrepreneurship.
What are you most looking forward to at HUBweek 2018?
We are excited to share the stage with disruptive startups, each of which are seeking to make a large impact in the world that we live in. Further, we are looking forward to engage with enthusiastic and civically engaged attendees, share our story, and solidify potential partnerships to move the needle forward. As a medtech start up, we are eager to engage with HUBweek’s partner Mass General Hospital and explore common interests in addressing the opioid epidemic, because we understand that it will require multiple actors to make a dent.
What does HUBweek 2018’s theme, We the Future, mean to you?
To me, We the Future is a call to action that addresses the calamities that we’ve faced in the last few years, be them political, social, or financial. It has an optimistic underlay that motivates others to step up and take the lead on solving some of the world’s most complex problems. The future is scary and unknown, so to embody it in the present is empowering.
HUBweek is a festival for the future that explores innovation at the intersections of art, science and technology. Founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and MIT, HUBweek is a first-of-its-kind civic collaboration that brings together the most creative and inventive minds in making an impact in Boston and around the world.