DC: What is your name, major, and graduation year?
Andhavarapu: My name is Sanketh Andhavarapu, and I graduate in the spring of 2023 with a degree in Health Decision Sciences. [Vitalize was also co-founded by Veeraj Shah ’21.]
DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Andhavarapu: We participated in the 2020 Terp Startup Accelerator, and the 2021-22 Terp Startup Fellows. We won the Quattrone Venture Track Grand Prize and Audience Choice Prize at the 2022 Pitch Dingman Competition.
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Andhavarapu: Vitalize works with healthcare employers to improve the mental health of their staff. For individual healthcare workers, we offer a mobile app with healthcare-centric coaching, peer support and mindfulness content. For employers, we provide a web-based dashboard with robust data on staff well-being trends, app engagement, and drivers of burnout.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Andhavarapu: In high school, I had the opportunity to be the Chief Human Resources Officer of a nonprofit organization. I learned that I really enjoyed leading and inspiring teams to collectively achieve social impact. This experience directly motivated me to found STEPS, a revenue-generating education nonprofit. In this role, I realized how important it was for me to take on an irreplaceable role in anything that I put time and effort into. I liked knowing that as a founder, there is no one more knowledgeable about your idea and innovation than yourself, and that you’re leaving a unique footprint on the world. I didn’t find this same sense of personal fulfillment when looking at the different clubs I could join when I first came to UMD. This is why, when I had the idea for Vitalize, I knew I had to take action and it was a no-brainer that I wanted to invest my time and effort into making it successful. Through Vitalize, I have the unique opportunity to transform healthcare through innovation and creativity.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Andhavarapu: Last summer, Vitalize launched an unpaid pilot with Midland Health. We were able to convert this pilot into a paid annual contract with their entire system, where we’re now launching to 2000 staff members in January, 2023. Yes, this means we’re officially post-revenue! With this progress, we’ve also accepted investments from several VC funds and angels including Conscious Venture Partners, StartUp Health, and Dorm Room Fund.
DC: What’s the most important thing you are working on right now and how are you making it happen?
Andhavarapu: As the Chief Product Officer, I am currently working on ensuring that our product and coaching pipeline is ready for the upcoming health system launch. I currently manage a outsourced development team of 5 engineers and meet with them daily to ensure that we’re staying on timeline and building our product efficiently. I also coordinate all communications and onboarding of coaches to ensure the service-side of our product is ready-to-go. Finally, I work with our Director of Mindfulness to ensure that our library of on-demand content is also ready for launch.
DC: As a student business owner, how do you define success?
Andhavarapu: Success means answering the following three questions that must be answered with a resounding “yes”:
- Am I addressing a problem that I care deeply about with a solution that has potential for grand impact. In my opinion, poor mental health of healthcare workers is one of the largest problems in healthcare, and building Vitalize allows me to be a part of the solution.
- Am I continuously learning new skills, gaining knowledge, learning about myself, and growing my network. I have arguably learned more from building Vitalize than most of my classes, and I got to meet amazing founders, healthcare executives, and clinicians throughout my journey.
- Is my time and effort translating into meaningful traction milestones or learnings for the venture? With Vitalize, I have the opportunity to set new goals each month and work towards them.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Andhavarapu: Customer discovery is one of the most important skills in your toolkit, and it remains on your to-do list regardless of the stage of your venture. If you have an idea that you are looking to pursue, it is important to conduct several unbiased interviews with all the potential stakeholders (customers, payers, partners, etc). Customer discovery is a great way to validate assumptions and de-risk your startup before investing too much money and time into a potentially flawed concept.
Also, don’t be afraid to talk about your idea! So many people are concerned about someone stealing their idea, but talking about it is the only way to get the feedback and advice you need to continue building the business.
Finally, don’t confuse funding for traction. Ultimately, what determines a success trajectory for a startup is proving value and willingness to pay for customers. Funding is amazing and can help you achieve these milestones, but funding alone does not progress the venture.
To learn more about Vitalize, please visit the website here.