The time period from birth to age five is the most critical development period of a person’s life. But it’s also the most difficult time for pediatricians to reach parents and caregivers.
Raleigh-based Social Cascade is a startup that defines itself as the “easy button” for pediatricians looking to connect with their patients and (especially) their adult family members.
The company’s founders, Scott McQuiggan and Lucy Shores Kosturko, met in grad school at NC State. The duo ended up leading a philanthropic division at SAS called Curriculum Pathways. There they built education technologies that they scaled across the globe to more than 5 million students.
As they started to think about ways to reach children earlier, they realized the one touchpoint that nearly all infants to five year olds share is the pediatrician. From speaking with these pediatricians, McQuiggan and Shores Kosturko realized how powerful their solution could be in healthcare more broadly.
As Social Cascade narrowed its focus on the healthcare impacts of increased pediatrician communication to patients, they realized they could change the way pediatricians conduct patient education altogether, Shores Kosturko said.
Currently, pediatricians put out content at community events and mobile apps, which are severely underused, according to Shores Kosturko and McQuiggan. But where is one place a majority of adults are every single day? Social media.
“Younger generations are going to social media to make healthcare decisions, which terrifies medical professionals because they’re not there,” Shores Kosturko said.
The Social Cascade’s proposal to pediatricians attempting to stop the misinformation on these apps is this: let the startup provide the content and tools to construct an active, informative social media presence on the doctors’ behalf with little to no effort.
By doing this, pediatricians can build medical trust, patient engagement and cost-saving behaviors even while patients are not in the doctor’s office.
“We’re changing the way that we do patient education,” Shores Kosturko said. “We are creating an easy button to help medical professionals connect, educate and inform their patients outside of the office visit.”
While The Social Cascade finishes its beta pilot in Charlotte, they intend to exhibit their services at the North Carolina Pediatric Society meeting at the end of August.
Since their startup journey began, Shores Kosturko said they’ve uncovered new areas for potential growth and scale from healthcare system partnerships. Ultimately, they see themselves at the forefront of discovering how to best tailor public health messaging to different audiences and mitigate health disparities across regions and populations.
Throughout their time as founders, McQuiggan and Shores Kosturko have become very comfortable hearing the word ‘no.’ It happens to all founders at some point, but staying focused on their customers’ perspectives has kept them moving forward.
“We’ve heard no so many times from grants that we’ve applied for,” Shores Kosturko said. “We’ve heard that we’re too early. We’ve heard that we’re too focused. We’ve heard we’re too scattered. We’ve heard everything.”
In some ways, the pandemic has only solidified Social Cascade’s value proposition because it put an exclamation point on the importance of social media and the dangers of misinformation.
“We want to make sure not only are we prepared for the next pandemic, but prepared for all of life’s little moments and using the most effective communication tools and innovative health technologies that we can,” Shores Kosturko said.
When patients weren’t visiting their health care providers anymore, social media became even more pervasive at spreading health information, whether it was accurate or not. So much so the World Health Organization recognized an “infodemic.”
Says McQuiggan, “Making sure that parents and caregivers have the information they need to make the best decisions for the health, well-being and resilience of their children is absolutely at the heart of our mission.”
Triangle ties a major plus
While pursuing this goal, Social Cascade has taken advantage of the fact that it is headquartered in the emerging Triangle tech region. The founders said the Triangle is full of people who are generous with their time, talent and network.
Part of plugging into that network includes The Social Cascade’s participation in CED’s GRO Incubator, a 12-week program designed for early-stage ventures.
“It’s not enough to just have a really good idea,” Shores Kosturko said. “You have to know how to navigate the entire business operation.”
The GRO incubator is preparing the team for its upcoming launch this month, and Shores Kosturko said partnerships with CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics will be essential.
“What’s really key to our mission is making sure that we have these national organizations,” Shores Kosturko said, “but more importantly, local community health organizations that are putting out information across social determinants of health to make sure that those voices are represented. Because they tend to be more culturally relevant, more impactful and more effective when driving behavioral change and the community.”