By Cyan Zhong
Stacy Lindau wears many hats – practicing physician, researcher, professor. But she never imagined herself a technology startup founder.
As electronic prescriptions make the old-school pencil-to-paper prescriptions obsolete, Lindau found the calling to expand the power of information technology outside exam rooms and into a broader community.
With funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Lindau created NowPow by bringing the brainchild of her research at the University of Chicago to market.
NowPow’s location-based software puts health-related information on a digital network, making it easy for healthcare professionals to make personalized recommendations to patients based on their addresses and medical records. Lindau described this process as “e-prescribing” community resources.
“We’re really one of the first companies to bring this concept of knowledge utility to communities, to make it easier for people to live well, manage with diseases and take care of others,” Lindau said.
The 4-year-old startup has a growing customer base of care professionals and over 35 health systems across nine U.S. states. Its service works best when integrated with the electronic workflow of customers, Lindau said, whether they’re physicians, social workers or community health organizations.
Since its commercialization, NowPow has been able to generate returns relatively quickly due to high demand for “whole-person care,” a combination of health care and self care, Lindau said.
“Self-care is what you do when you go home from the doctor’s office,” said Rachel Kohler, NowPow’s co-owner and chief executive officer, “If you have diabetes, it’s foot care and eye care. If you’re a smoker with hypertension, it’s a smoking cessation class. If you have food insecurity, it’s a food pantry.”
Investing in Impact
While NowPow’s customers have largely been in the healthcare system, Lindau is starting to see interest from other sectors such as child welfare and education, which is driving her team to continue expanding its services and impact.
In Chicago, companies such as NowPow that aims to solve a societal problem through commercial strategies are attracting increasing amounts of capital. Funds and venture capitalists call it “impact investing” when they bet on these enterprises.
Benefit Chicago, a $100 million collaborative fund that invests in these impact enterprises in the Chicago region, is a supporter of NowPow. Executive director William Towns praised the startup for bridging the information gap in less privileged communities like South and West Chicago.
Besides letting patients know where to find the resources they need, NowPow’s technology also nudges them to actually check in with these follow-up services recommended by doctors, ensuring that they are making healthier life choices, Towns said.
“It’s taking a simple approach to a very complex problem, just by changing behavior and providing the services to make it easier for patients to find these amenities within their community,” he said.
For Profit or Not?
NowPow is a for-profit company, though that was not Lindau’s original expectation when she moved the idea from lab to market.
“I tried really hard to believe that this company could be a nonprofit company,” Lindau said. “But a technology company in Chicago probably can’t survive as a nonprofit because the labor force here is just too tight.”
It’s difficult for a nonprofit tech company to compete with fast growing, for-profit tech companies when it comes to locating the technical workforce, she explained. Software companies need engineers, computer and data scientists willing to give up a much fatter paycheck for the startup experience, a rare phenomenon in Chicago.
This concern is shared by other industries. Chicago has a lack of industrial-focused entrepreneurship compared to cities like San Francisco, Boston and Austin, said John Tough, investing partner at Energize Ventures, a VC that funds software companies in the energy and industrial sectors.
“To get a really vibrant startup community focused on software towards these industries, you need to have people leaving larger institutions and trying their hand at entrepreneurship,” Tough said.
To solve this problem and realize her vision for a not-for-profit, Lindau also founded “MAPSCorps,” a workforce development company that trains youth from Chicago neighborhoods in STEM fields, providing the pipeline for high-tech talent in the city.
Towns said it’s important to establish that kind of pipeline because, with curiosity and a sense of purpose, young people such as Millennials and Generation Z can bring rapid growth to the impact investing ecosystem. Women will also be a major push in the notion of “profit and purpose” as they increasingly become leaders in the next decade, he added.
Mission and Diversity
NowPow is located in Hyde Park on Chicago’s South Side because Lindau wants to give back to the community where her ideas were born, ensure high-quality care and resource connectivity for the members.
CommunityHealth, a free clinic on Chicago’s West Side for low-income and uninsured populations, is a customer of NowPow. Health Education Manager Adelle White said she uses it as a resource hub for finding food pantries, exercise options, even legal consulting for domestic violence victims.
Many of their undocumented patients are fearful of going to food pantries, and the abundance of resources on NowPow provides a peace of mind to seek out the right pantries for them, White said.
“I never would have founded this company if I didn’t believe that this was the path to solving a problem – the very basic problem that people don’t know where are the the vital resources they need to take care of themselves and others,” Lindau said, “So I’m really excited as a physician to have created a tool that spreads from me to my patient, to other people in the community.”
Locating her company on the South Side of Chicago provides access to a diverse talent pool, with people of all races, ages and experiences, Lindau said, and diversity is a key factor that enables NowPow’s impact.
Lindau believes that having people of different backgrounds and skin colors work together on a common problem is the best way to mitigate racism. “It becomes us against the problem, not you against me,” she said.
“I think that the more diversity we have across all dimensions, the more likely we are to solve problems in a way that meets the needs of all people,” Lindau said.