Dementia is a disease that affects 90,000,000 people globally. With close to 1000 dementia specialists in the world, each would be responsible for 90,000 patients. Dr. Anitha Rao is one of the limited number of physicians in the United States with advanced dementia training and has become a pioneer in dementia tech.
During her fellowship at the UCSF’s Memory and Aging Center, Dr. Rao met with countless patients and family caregivers who lacked access to specialized physicians and were desperate for answers on how to manage the symptoms and behaviors of this challenging disease. From her experience in practice and clinical research, Neurocern, was created. The company, part of MATTER Chicago has been recognized several times for their ground-breaking business, most recently by 1871 as one of the Top 12 Women Led Start Up Companies.
Dr. Rao states, “Dementia is an umbrella disease with more than 20 different types, of which the most commonly known are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Each type has it’s own hospital plan and family care plan. Each individual dementia patient has a unique brain profile that would take numerous doctor visits to analyze, especially with the limited access to specialists. The key to preventing rapid decline in dementia is proper management of behaviors at home and reducing hospital visits.“
Anitha was introduced to her co-founder, Marguerite Manteau-Rao, a former dementia caregiver, through a mutual colleague in 2014. Marguerite, a licensed clinical social worker with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has experienced the limited resources and answers for dementia affecting families first hand. Anitha and Marguerite identified the market need for a solution that would facilitate relief to non-specialized doctors with clinical decision-making tools and also empower family caregivers with highly relevant home care plans.
While Neurocern is on a fast upward trajectory now, it’s road to success did take some time. “It took us a full year just to understand and build the business model. Healthcare is a complex arena with multiple stakeholders who have varying incentives. Having a medical background has helped us tremendously, as the understanding of the inner clinical workflow is key for digital health startups”.
Dr. Rao had multiple hurdles to overcome to breakthrough to success, but she states that the biggest challenge for her was leaving the world of academic medicine behind for the unchartered tech space. “The choice I had after finishing my training was to become a dementia research clinician who would see roughly 2000 patients a year or take a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create algorithms that could potentially change the life of millions for the better. Family, friends and colleagues all had a myriad of opinions on what the best path for me would be but I decided to listen to my gut, take the leap and not look back!”
Balancing the roles of entrepreneur and doctor can be difficult. We asked Dr. Rao how she transitions from one to another. “I keep my clinical skills alive by practicing one week per month in underserved areas across Illinois. I learn so much when I’m in the trenches by listening to patients and families who have little access to large academic health centers. It keeps me inspired.”
When we asked Anitha what her experience as an entrepreneur has been she stated, “Transitioning from entrepreneur to physician for me was seamless. However, transitioning from physician back to entrepreneur has been challenging. It requires a shift in thinking. Practicing medicine is all about avoiding risk, following protocols and adhering to guidelines. In the entrepreneurial world however, risk can come with huge reward, and there are never any protocols to follow.”
To other founders, Dr. Rao’s advice would be to “Learn to ride the waves, there will be good days and bad days. Remind yourself that a no is never a no - there is always a creative solution to everything. For this to be true, you must have a strong belief in your instincts and stay committed to your product.”
It is clear that Neurocern is riding a great wave and is on it’s way to doing something big. If you are interested in learning more about Anitha and Neurocern or would like to see more stories like hers, please fill out the form below.
You can follow Anitha, Marguerite, and Neurocern on Twitter: @AnithaRF, @minddeep, and @neurocern.
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