Durham-based Higgs Boson Health is not Co-Founder Rajeev Dharmapurikar’s first rodeo. The startup, which made this year’s Triangle Tweener List, is actually the result of a conversation Dharmapurikar had with neurosurgeon and Co-Founder Nandan Lad about his earlier company, AdviseStream.
AdviseStream was an end-to-end solution to advise college students on a pre-med track that expanded to offer general academic advising capabilities before being acquired by Kaplan in 2014. Well-versed in the healthcare world, Lad said many of the ways AdviseStream helped students on their academic journeys were applicable to the patient journey as well.
That was the spark needed to launch Higgs Boson Health. After being introduced to Ziad Gellad, a Duke gastroenterologist who also recognized the need, the trio of co-founders launched Higgs Boson in early 2017.
As a patient engagement, activation and market platform, Higgs Boson Health’s Manage My Surgery app can manage all activity related to a surgical or interventional patient journey. With FAQs, educational videos and task tools, patients are supported throughout the entire process. But the app also incorporates every other kind of stakeholder in a surgery as well, said Gellad.
“We started with our patients and really identified a need among our patients to help guide them through these complex surgical and interventional journeys,” Gellad said. “We then quickly realized, as we were doing that, that there are multiple stakeholders involved in that journey. It’s not just the physician and the patient.”
There’s also the family, the medical device companies and pharmaceutical companies.
On the clinical side, providers and medical device companies can manage payments. The idea is better outcomes and greater efficiency.
While Higgs Boson initially focused on hospitals as their sole client base, they found a new niche in medical device companies. Since launching, Higgs Boson has also leaned more heavily on its data-derived insights and the AI algorithms it’s building. Medtronic and Edwards Lifesciences are just two of nine medical device companies that they’ve brought onboard.
“They’re looking to enhance and streamline the patient experience and help personalize that therapy in a better way,” Gellad said. “The data that we’re collecting through that journey helps us do that.”
The startup has already gained some traction in two rounds of funding and is looking to raise around $15 to $20 million for their next.
The Journey So Far
Along Higgs Boson’s journey so far, the trio of co-founders has definitely uncovered some startup lessons. For one, workflow is everything.
“In any implementation, workflow is 90 percent of success and product is 10 percent,” Gellad said. “We’re certainly very proud of our product, and we put a lot of work into it. But what makes it successful often is the workflow and listening to the customer and the stakeholders to make sure that it fits into their workflows.”
They also had to reckon with an industry that is not necessarily known for being open to change. Having two highly regarded doctors on the founding team helped, but difficulties still remained.
“Selling to any healthcare entity is a very challenging proposition,” Dharmapurikar said. “There are so many stakeholders who are incentivized to maintain the status quo. So you really need to convince everybody. You have to develop top-notch, not just technology, but protocols, security practices. You have to come with credibility.”
Plus, in serving the healthcare market, Dharmapurikar said you have to understand that customization will be necessary.
“No matter how much you would love to build once and deploy it over and over again, it doesn’t work that way in the healthcare market,” Dharmapurikar said. “Everybody wants to customize the product because even though you say surgery is 99 percent similar, that 1 percent itself makes the difference between a chimp and human.”
When the pandemic first arrived, many elective surgeries were canceled, prompting an initial dip in sales volumes. But over the longer term, the pandemic saw companies look to Higgs Boson for even more capabilities, including offering Covid surveys that could be deployed quickly. Over time, the same changing healthcare consumer patterns that helped the telehealth industry also gave a boost to Higgs Boson.
Part of Higgs Boson’s strength in handling whatever has come its way lies in the chemistry of its team, which Dharmapurikar believes is a prerequisite for success. Plus, a catchy name never hurts. The trio were inspired by the 2012 discovery by physicists at CERN of the Higgs bosun particle, which is essential to the physical universe—much like health is essential to human life.
As it looks ahead, Higgs Boson is focused on building AI models that can take their value to the next level alongside acquiring customers in pharmaceutical and insurance verticals. This means the startup is likely to double in size, growing to around 100 employees within the next year.
“We’ve proven that we can build a product and deploy a product that patients love, that eases the workload for health care staff,” Gellad said. “Where we would like to go now is start to capture the data from that journey and build actionable AI models.”