DENVER, Colo. — “I was in the process of shutting down my company. Sitting on the couch, staring at the wall, and everything was dark.”
At a recent meet-up in Denver, Cheryl Kellond explained the impasse she had faced as the co-founder and CEO of Bia Sport. Chancing on a LinkedIn post, she learned of the pioneering venture generator 10.10.10 Health, which had just been launched by serial entrepreneur Tom Higley. Her decision to apply would lead her to cofound a transformative healthcare company.
10 Prospective CEOs, 10 Wicked Problems, 10 Days. This is the heart of 10.10.10. (Read the CyberMed News profile of 10.10.10 Health here.) Prospective CEOs with previous start-up experience are invited to commit to the program without knowing the 10 wicked problems they will be asked to consider. After signing on, Kellond quickly learned how important her skills would be.
“The way the content was structured did an amazing job of proving to me that I had a bunch of really valuable skills, skills that weren’t just valuable, but were so needed in this healthcare space.” She realized she could provide “huge” added value precisely because she knew “nothing” about healthcare.
New to Colorado, Kellond was heartened by the “amazing community Tom and his team had pulled together.” She was further impressed with the program’s even gender mix. “That spoke so strongly to me about the space, about the program, about the community. And I’ve only seen Tom double down on that year over year and create a really diverse group.”
As with most participants, Kellond’s favorite part of 10.10.10 was her “amazing ninja team.” Bringing different backgrounds to the wicked problems, 10.10.10’s ninjas were essential to Kellond’s brainstorming process. The resulting experience triggered “a lot of personal self discovery” and allowed Kellond to develop a rich network of tech and healthcare professionals.
Selecting Alzheimer’s disease as her “wicked problem,” she and her ninjas became energized as they quickly drilled down on various facets of Alzheimer’s research. “We went at it like fast fury.”
After the program, Kellond discovered that Alzheimer’s disease was not a good “problem-founder fit” for her. Nevertheless, going through the “awesome” experience served as a foundation for future disruption. Recalling other problems she had been exposed to at 10.10.10, Kellond began to pursue different threads. Among them was reading The Innovator’s Prescription by Clayton Christensen, a book focused on making healthcare “both more affordable and more effective.”
Another crucial thread was studying the work of Harris Rosen, founder of Rosen Hotels & Resorts. After building his first hotel in 1984, Rosen wanted to provide free health insurance for his employees, many of whom had significant healthcare needs. In 1989, he began offering a company-funded health insurance plan that, according to Kellond, began doing “really basic, common sense things.”
Employee health and satisfaction at Rosen’s company steadily improved and retention increased to four times the industry average. Through his basic yet disruptive approach, Rosen was able to provide healthcare at 40% less cost than the national average. Reinvesting the savings in the community, Rosen launched the Tangelo Park Pilot Program in Orlando, Florida, which guaranteed “every child in Tangelo Park an education from preschool through college.”
Kellond had found her fit. “I want to do that for everyone,” she thought. Utilizing her 10.10.10 network, Kellond reached out to Julia Hutchins, the CEO of a health insurance co-op who was in the process of winding down her company. Teaming up with Kathy Keating, the three founded a new company that they called Airstream Health, a name intended to convey “a joyful, Americana feeling.”
Focused on small self-insured employers, Airstream Health’s first paid pilot program has already grown to 2,000 members in 20 rural school districts. The company overlays the school districts’ insurance plans with third-party solutions that address “the four drivers of healthcare waste: over-treatment, poor chronic care management, consumer confusion, and pricing failure.” In six months, Airstream Health has saved the districts $250,000 in healthcare costs, “stopped five serious issues from going catastrophic,” prevented two unnecessary operations, “and actually saved a life.”
But this success is not enough. On April 18th, 2017, Airstream Health will announce some “really disruptive stuff” at Techstars Boulder Demo Day.
“It all started at 10.10.10,” Kellond reflected at the end of her talk. “I would have never done anything in the healthcare space if I hadn’t been depressed on my couch and Tom Higley hadn’t had a really easy web form to fill out.”