Success Stories are a deeper dive into the engagements that drive our members forward. We’re telling these stories through a case study format – complete with an abstract, introduction, method, analysis and conclusion – illustrating how BigCos and startups come together under our one roof.
In 2016, Humana was standing at the edge of their own burning platform. Faced with the decision on whether to stay and become engulfed by the raging blaze or jump into uncharted and icy waters, their time to decide was running up.
This “burning platform” was a collective storm of many parts. One part was an impending merger with Aetna. Another was the presidential election. Last, there is the general “stormcloud” that always surrounds healthcare. Humana was in dramatic need of a radical change in behavior.
For company the size of Humana, innovation does not come easy. But due to the cloud of uncertainty and a need to focus on operational efficiency, a new idea was growing.
In 2016 alone, Humana reported over $50 billion in revenue and insured more than 13 million Americans. Numbers this large are the perfect fodder to maintain the status quo. However, that’s exactly what Spry Labs sets out to disrupt.
Spry Labs, the venture building studio arm of Cintrifuse, is built around the idea that solutions to big hairy problems inside corporations can come from within. Designed with a focus of rethinking healthcare, Spry uses agility and adaptability as an asset under a “fail fast” motto. Spry likes to say that they’re “problem-obsessed.”
“We set out on our mission by accepting that our rules aren’t always in book,” said Emily Geiger, Managing Director at Spry Labs. “Using what Google Venture Studios as a guide, we’re changing the game in healthcare by opening the eyes of the corporate world to what’s possible.”
Open eyes aren’t easy to come across. But Humana was willing to take a look.
The process behind finding a new dentist was broken. Moving to a new town resulted in a burdensome process for Humana members to find a new dentist. No one in the space had quite figured out a solution, but it was time to give it a try. Furthermore, the process of connecting, updating and ensuring accurate data when comparing in-network versus out-of-network dentists was askew. The trouble was expressing itself, too – through high call center volume, dentist frustration and poor access to general data. Through a partnership with Spry Labs, Humana began the quick – but not painless – process of opening up their doors to innovation.
As layers of the onion were peeled back, Spry and Humana grew increasingly closer to a method to crack the case. With tens of millions of customers the amount of data that any given insurer has is nothing short of an enormity.
Hopping off the bandwagon is exactly what Humana did. Through the guidance of Spry Labs, it was decided that Humana would open up its problem to third parties. However, the information that Humana owned was valuable, private and of vital importance to its customers. Opening that up to a “hack-a-thon” environment wasn’t quite right. In steps the Spry Labs Data Jam model.
Hack-a-thons make great headlines. It’s what Mark Zuckerberg used to build some of his team at Facebook. It’s a way to make anyone feel like they can play. More than anything, maybe – it’s trendy.
“Hack-a-thons were a great way to introduce the world to the gritty nature of “fail fast” innovation,” said Geiger. “At Spry, we’re rethinking what’s out there. That’s how we established our Data Jam model. However, hack-a-thons don’t always address a focused big problem with a well-versed end goal.”
Spry’s Data Jam, according to Geiger, is an event that brings in cutting-edge technology teams from across the country to meet with Humana’s innovation team and participate in activities not too different than what takes place at a hack-a-thon. In a Data Jam, however, Spry Labs recruits teams for their corporate partner (in this case, Humana) and vets applications to make sure that only the best and brightest teams are in attendance. Humana also plays an important role in the process. Humana’s innovation champions are in the room and in the building to provide real-time feedback to the event’s participants that came from both inside and outside of healthcare.
With a Data Jam brief created, a field recruited and a date set – Humana was prepared to meet the participants. Among them was Veda Data Solutions, a small team from Washington, D.C. that wasn’t even positive whether or not they would attend the Data Jam on the days leading into the event.
“This was not an easy decision for us” said Megan Buck, CEO at Veda Data Solutions. “We didn’t have a primary focus on healthcare. I didn’t want to take my teams off of their timelines to experiment. But in the end, Spry Labs really pushed their conversation with us and convinced us to enter.”
In a room full of talent, Veda and other teams broke to work after receiving the prompt from Spry Labs and the data from Humana. It wasn’t too long into the 48-hour sprint that Veda noticed something about the problem laid out in front of them.
“We started to get really inspired by the things we were seeing in front of us,” said Bob Linder, CTO at Veda Data Solutions. “We realized pretty quickly that we could make a difference in the field using the core technology we had already developed at Veda.”
Upon this realization, Veda started to think about how far their technology might be able to go at Humana. This wasn’t just about winning the Data Jam. This became about disrupting an entire system of healthcare. Veda pulled out of the competition. Their proprietary solutions were the exact tools that Humana was looking for.
“The Data Jam was a total blast,” said Linder. “Humana just gave us the data and said ‘go.’ It was their openness that delivered us the opportunity to plug in our solutions. This is what allowed us to withdraw with confidence.”
It was a good thing they did. Even though they did not win the $5,000 prize, the relationship was established and a foundation had been poured, both parties were eager to work with each other again. “Again” was a loose term – as well. In just a couple short months Humana and Veda had inked a deal to to move forward to a proof of concept on their dental finder solution.
A proof-of-concept contract in less than three months is miraculous enough in itself. But Humana and Veda didn’t want to stop there.
Veda’s team was just as blown away with the speed of the process as well – even though they brought a smaller, more agile team to the table.
“Usually a sales cycle is working through a network, arranging meetings and bothering people,” said Linder. “It likely would have been nine months to a year to get where we are after a few months with Humana.”
A first proof-of-concept was only the first step, too. A second followed shortly after and eventually resulted in a pilot.
“I can tell you honestly that we wouldn’t have even approached Humana if it were not for Spry Labs,” said Buck. “We were probably 18 months ahead in our timeline based on going to the Data Jam. We anticipated a 2018 transition and pivot into the healthcare market and now we’re here with a full pivot to healthcare.”
Veda’s growth into a partnership with Humana was not a lightning strike – Humana’s team was ready to replicate it again. Blown away by the successes and speed of the first Data Jam, Spry and Humana’s innovation team set their sights on even loftier goals. For a second Data Jam – less than seven months after the first – Humana would tackle the insurance underwriting experience. The initiative presented teams with the a unique of contemporizing the approach to identifying, predicting and pricing future health risks, and delivering underwritten quotes to agents and employers faster and with less stress.
Corporate innovation was never meant to be easy – Spry Labs never set out to make teams feel “comfortable.”
With their feet held close to the close to the fire, the only way for the Humana to make a splash from their burning platform was a jump into unknown waters.
When Humana was faced with opening up their data to a Data Jam, blazing a trail in the healthcare field, they knew that they were taking a risk. When Veda decided to use valuable hours to fly to Cincinnati to “hack” into a market they were completely unfamiliar with – they took their own risk. That’s what Geiger wants to do with Spry’s customers.
“We’re waking people up on both sides of the table.”