After years of battling chronic illness, Vanessa de Waal is pouring her entrepreneurial energy into a new wellness platform aimed at easing physical – and financial – pain points for patients and practitioners.
The 28-year-old Ottawa native says she spent much of her teens and early twenties visiting medical specialists in a frustrating bid to get to the root of stomach, hormonal and other issues that plagued her for more than a decade.
With the help of her mom Jacqueline, a medical doctor, de Waal researched everything she could about her symptoms. Eventually, she found a naturopathic doctor who helped her get a handle on her condition, in part by analyzing data from apps she was using to measure how much sleep she got each night, track her periods and gauge other aspects of her health.
De Waal says her ordeal showed a clear need for technology that could make sense of the information collected from wearables, smartphones and other devices to improve the quality of life for patients suffering from chronic illnesses.
The result is Flöka, a software platform that allows health-care practitioners such as naturopathic doctors, health coaches, dietitians, nutritionists and others to track an array of metrics on a single dashboard.
“For the practitioner, the a-ha moment is really seeing all of that (data) in real time,” explains de Waal, whose team began developing the platform nearly four years ago.
"For the practitioner, the a-ha moment is really seeing all of that (data) in real time."
“The better information we can get to practitioners faster, the better recommendations you can get to patients and better care you can get to everyone.”
It’s a message that’s resonating with Ottawa’s investment community. Last month, De Waal took home the $50,000 second-place prize at the SheBoot pitch competition for women entrepreneurs hosted by Invest Ottawa and the Capital Angel Network.
The podium finish comes as the University of British Columbia psychology grad is in the midst of raising fresh capital. De Waal says she plans to put her pitchfest winnings toward an Android version of the app, which is currently available in beta only to iPhone users.
“I think the cool thing about entrepreneurship is you get to pick the problems that you work on,” she says. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m really grateful to the entire SheBoot community.”
Flöka – the name is a combination of English and Dutch that roughly translates to “female state of flow” – will initially be targeted mainly at practitioners who focus on women's health.
De Waal says the process of diagnosing and treating chronic women’s health issues such as hormonal imbalances and irregular periods has traditionally been time-consuming and repetitive, requiring patients to constantly re-explain their symptoms and creating administrative headaches for health-care professionals.
Flöka aims to give practitioners a more concise picture of key wellness indicators as patients’ conditions evolve, making it easier to recommend treatments or lifestyle changes.
“Our goal is by doing this, we can help practitioners serve more patients,” de Waal says. “We’re just really excited about the idea of solving this problem for practitioners – to make this care proactive as opposed to reactive and to streamline their processes for them.”
At the same time, patients can track all their wellness data on a single app. De Waal says providing users with an easy-to-read analysis of vital health information will help motivate them to, for example, change their eating or sleeping habits if necessary to better manage their conditions.
“My mom would always say to me that prevention is better than cure, but it’s hard to change behaviour,” de Waal explains. “Getting (practitioners) access to that information helps them get out of the dark with accountability.”
The app is free for patients, while practitioners pay a monthly subscription fee to access the dashboard. A limited number of Canadian health-care professionals are now using the platform, and de Waal says she plans to start scaling the venture once the Android version of the app is ready for market.
Deal with Fullscript
In a move that's likely to boost its scaleup push, the five-person startup recently inked a partnership with Ottawa-based online health-care platform Fullscript, one of the city's fastest-growing companies.
Fullscript – whose technology allows health-care practitioners to dispense products such as vitamin supplements as well as track inventory and automatically refill patients’ orders – is poised to launch an app store shortly, and Flöka’s platform will be among its offerings.
“They just seem to really support and understand the vision of what we’re building,” de Waal says. “We’re really excited that we’re integrating with them.”
The budding businesswoman comes by her entrepreneurial ambitions honestly. Her father Michael is the founder of Global IQX, a local AI software firm that automates the procurement process for group insurance providers.
“It’s definitely not a straight journey,” de Waal says of what she learned from watching her dad build a company from the ground up. “Every day you get up and your goal is to make your customers happy and to make sure that you’re executing on what they need.”