As healthcare is projected to account for a third of new employment in the next decade, we have the opportunity to build health into our society with new models of care and access; address the social determinants of health head-on; and revolutionize chronic disease and mental health.
Accomplishing all of this, however, calls for inclusion of varied viewpoints and lived experiences in problem solving and decision-making. This is how Onboard Health views sustainable health innovation — through the inclusion of change-makers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Onboard Health’s blog is dedicated to giving a voice to these talented individuals hard at work creating lasting change in our society. This post, featuring Javier Evelyn of Alerje, is the sixth of a Q&A series — “How I’m Building” — highlighting members of the diverse Onboard Health community.
Before transitioning to the tech industry, you were a founding member of an independent insurance agency. What was the catalyst for this pivot?
After working for the family insurance agency for a few years, learning a lot of the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, I started to see a clearer pathway.
I eventually stumbled across TechCrunch, a website dedicated to tech startup news and more, and became enamored by this fast-pace, innovative tech culture.
I also had a homie that was doing extremely well in the tech industry, and seeing an example of someone who looked like me sealed the deal for me to take that leap of faith.
From the time I got home from work in the evening to the morning, what I like to call the “Night to Five” shift, I worked on becoming a software developer via watching YouTube videos.
I eventually had that “aha” moment and said to myself, “Why not me? F$&k it I’m going to do this,” and quit my job to pursue my purpose full time.
You are also a founding member of MedTech Color. Can you tell us about your contributions there?
I was fortunate to stumble into the opportunity to improve our healthcare innovation ecosystem after an introduction from one of my Code2040 mentors to Kwame Ulmer, the founder of MedTech Color. Another one of those serendipitous moments of being connected with likeminded leaders helped me grow into my potential.
Since joining the team, we’ve organized one of the largest convenings of Black & Brown professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, etc., at our flagship event, the MedTech Color Breakfast, held during the MedTech Conference. My most recent contributions have been associated with our annual pitch competition, which was launched virtually during the height of the pandemic. We’ve partnered with leading health tech firms, including Johnson & Johnson, ResMed, Olympus, Silicon Valley Bank, the NIH, and McDermott Will & Emery, to invest our intellectual capital and around $250K towards some of the most overlooked founders in our industry. Companies from our competition have gone on to close Series A rounds, win first place of the largest MedTech pitch competitions in the country, and secure strategic partnerships to take their businesses to the next level.
What hopes do you have for the field of medical tech this year?
In 2020–2021 we saw record years for investment in digital health, medtech, etc. startups.
However, those funds tended not to be allocated toward Black & Brown-led Companies, whose population will be a majority by 2040/2050.
Beyond a correction in this funding disparity, I’d like to see increased partnerships and M&A opportunities for these companies that tend to have a pulse closer to where the industry’s future is heading.
Since your work centers around food, tell us, what’s your go-to snack?
These days I live on a plant-based diet, so anything granola, packed with protein, or if I have a sweet tooth it’s definitely allergy-friendly Partake Cookies for the win!
Rest is also an important component of moving the needle forward for change, what do you do to relax and unwind?
Early on in the journey, I was definitely part of the toxic #teamnosleep culture.
Over the past few years, I rest the Sabbath (Saturday) at minimum and use Sundays as a hybrid work catchup/prep day, tackle personal projects, learn about the crypto industry, or play basketball when I have time. Also, anytime the #1 seeded Chicago Bulls are on, I stop what I’m doing to support the future champs of the 2022 NBA season :).
What does Onboard Health’s mission — “building an inclusive health workforce” — mean to you?
This mission is near and dear to me, as I believe it’s the only way for us all to move the industry forward collectively.
This means hearing not just the health concerns of systematically excluded populations, but also taking this group seriously as it relates to building new innovations.
How have you seen the field of health equity shift in recent years?
While there was some level of progress by corporate America after the lynching of George Floyd, it hasn’t been sustained by all.
One thing that concerns me at times is what I describe as “digital blackface”, where the companies that shared a Tweet/post or two about Black Lives Matter have shifted their marketing materials to show Black & Brown faces, but lack anyone from this group in their marketing department or leadership positions.
It’s disingenuous, however it’s also the competitive advantage of companies led by systematically excluded groups.
Where are you drawing inspiration from lately?
Romans 12:2 is a verse I refer to often: Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. I’ve been told no by many investors, who said that our approach wasn’t feasible in the past, to now being “fortunate” enough for Alerje to meet product-market fit. The reality is that our empathy-driven “Proactive Patient Driven Design’’ approach was ahead of its time and has served as a foundation for how we build.
I also draw inspiration from other industries like the crypto/Web3 market, hip hop industry, etc., due to their individual mastery of building community, speed to innovation, and willingness to think out of the box to set new standards for industries of tomorrow.
Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you would like to discuss with the Onboard Health Community?
With our recent backing from the National Science Foundation, Alerje is thrilled to bring an industry first food allergy immunotherapy adherence platform to market this year. The initial feedback that we’ve received from various stakeholders, including allergists, patients, pharma, etc., has been extremely positive. Furthermore, we have commercial partnerships in sight this year for our flagship epinephrine auto-injector phone case, the OmniJect.
Stay tuned for more on this in the coming months, or visit us at https://alerje.com.
Javier, a patient entrepreneur who personally suffers from multiple food allergies, is the Founder and CEO of Alerje, a MedTech & Digital Health startup. He’s also a founding team member of MedTech Color, an organization aimed to advance the representation of persons of color in the medical device industry. He was most recently appointed to the Investment Advisory Board of the Accelerate Blue Fund which is an early stage venture fund that exclusively invests in University of Michigan licensed startups, the board of AdvaMed Accel which is a group of industry leaders collectively working to improve the ecosystem for medical device development and innovation, as well as serving on the advisory board of one of the fastest growing food allergy advocacy organizations in the country, FAACT. In 2020 Javier & Alerje were named as an awardee of the inaugural Black Founders Fund by Google for Startups. He previously made the 2019 Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 list, served as the 2017 Google x CODE2040 Detroit EIR, and served as a Millennial Advisory Board Member at First Independence Bank. Prior to these endeavors, Javier led in the development of mobile app projects for a multi-billion dollar health insurance company and pharmacy benefit manager. Before working in the tech industry, he was a founding team member of an independent insurance agency where he led in sales and management. Originally from Broadview (Chicago), IL, he received his Bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University.