As is true for many social entrepreneurs, Jayanthi Narasimhan’s idea for WatchRx started with a problem close to home. While she was working for a number of different technology companies in the Boston area, her mother fell ill back home in India. Jayanthi tried to care for her at a distance, calling her daily to remind her to take her medications, but she found that the sheer amount of different prescriptions was overwhelming for her aging mother.
“On any given day, she was taking as many as 10 different medications, and it was impossible for her to keep up with such a complicated regimen,” says Jayanthi. “She was readmitted into the hospital multiple times because she took the wrong medication at the wrong time or just forgot to take it all together.”
To cope with the stress of trying to juggle caring for her mother with her obligations at work, Jayanthi looked for a simple solution. She needed something that could help her mother remember to take her medications and keep Jayanthi updated, but she found nothing that served both purposes.
“I wanted to find a solution for seniors to live independently with dignity and help caregivers get their peace of mind by getting real-time status updates on their loved ones.”
Jayanthi also knew her experience wasn’t unique. With the U.S. population aging more each year, the number of family members taking care of an elderly loved one has steadily increased. Medication management is one of the primary reasons caregivers resort to assisted living facilities when balancing caregiving with work and family obligations becomes too onerous. After experiencing this struggle herself, Jayanthi says, “I wanted to find a solution for seniors to live independently with dignity and help caregivers gain their peace of mind by getting real-time status updates on their loved ones.” With this vision in mind, Jayanthi founded WatchRx in June 2015.
Their solution is an easy-to-use smartwatch and accompanying app that provides seniors and caregivers with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of long-term care. For seniors, the watch provides visual medication reminders and personalized voice instruction with the medication name and dosage, a phone that supports emergency calls, live GPS tracking and personalized reminders for Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) to increase independence. For caregivers, the accompanying app connects with the watch to provide notifications regarding missed medications, emergency calls, or GPS alerts if their loved one has wandered away from home. By tracking 150+ behavioral points, the watch can also help to predict any urgent medical anomalies and provide early warning alerts for caregivers.
Crucial to the company’s vision of dignity and independence is the watch’s sleek design, which distinguishes it from other more-bulky medical devices and helps to decrease social stigma around its use. The product was a huge success when it first launched, and Jayanthi was recognized as part of the 2016 Women to Watch in Science and Technology selected by the Boston Business Journal.
Despite her early success and her years of experience in the technology sector, Jayanthi knew that social entrepreneurship required a different set of skills, and she had a number of questions about how to grow her business. Through word of mouth, she learned about Social Enterprise Greenhouse and signed up for the 2017 Health Accelerator, where she was introduced to a network of mentorship and support through workshops and advising.
The SEG Network Effect
SEG’s Health Accelerator takes entrepreneurs through an intensive course in skill building, from the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship and business model development to marketing and pitch presentation. The program helped Jayanthi hone in on what made WatchRx unique and what was necessary to help it thrive.
In particular, she credits a workshop on population health offered by SEG advisors James Rajotte of the RI Department of Health and Jill Glickman of Care Transformation Collaborative, alongside advice from her coach Salil Patel, with helping to solidify a change in her business model from business-to-consumer (B2C) to business-to-business (B2B). “I was in the process of pivoting my business model during the program,” she says, “ and it definitely helped me make the change.”
“Passion and hard work are necessary to create a successful start-up.”
Since graduating from SEG’s Health Accelerator in 2017, WatchRx continues to push the envelope in developing dignified solutions for elders and their caregivers. On the technology front, WatchRx has added a Remote Patient Monitoring platform that enables physicians and case managers to receive updates on their patients, which leads to decreased hospitalizations and other unnecessary medical costs. They have also added heart rate and activity monitoring to the watch, and developed integrations with other healthcare devices in order to track more vitals and provide more comprehensive updates to caregivers.
On the business side, the company has signed three B2B customers, with more in the pipeline, and has secured Medicare coverage for their services. Finally, in light of COVID-19, they are working on using their platform to develop remote monitoring to help protect elders most vulnerable to the virus.
Jayanthi’s advice to other budding social entrepreneurs emphasizes the importance of knowing your customer and learning to adapt to change. “A lot of research and surveys need to be done before developing products or services,” she says. “For social entrepreneurs, the adaptability and sustainability of the product is very important.” She also speaks frankly about the financial difficulties of launching a business and advises other entrepreneurs to know what they are signing on for before they take the plunge. “Passion and hard work are necessary to create a successful start-up,” she adds. With Watch Rx, it’s easy to see how that hard work has paid off.
By Austin Wilson
Impact Program Manager