Brandeis International Business School

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur”

A conversation about the future of health care with Asper Award winner and startup founder Stephanie Tilenius ’89, MA’90

Graphic showing Stephanie Tilenius as the winner of the Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship

Stephanie Tilenius ’89, MA’90 is the recipient of the 2022 Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship.

The pandemic brought unprecedented growth to the telehealth industry

But even before COVID-era restrictions accelerated this digital transformation, patients were already expecting more from their health care providers, according to Stephanie Tilenius ’89, MA’90, founder and CEO of Vida Health.

"We saw that there was a huge demand," said Tilenius. "The future of health care is largely virtual. It's day-to-day, continuous care. And it's integrated, looking at both mind and body."

Vida Health is a virtual care platform with therapists, nutritionists and coaches serving Fortune 500 companies, large insurance carriers and health plans.

On March 29, Tilenius received the 2022 Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship during a virtual event sponsored by the Office of the President and the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship. The award is given annually to a person who best exemplifies Brandeis International Business School's values of entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking.

Tilenius recently shared her thoughts on launching a health care startup, Brandeis’ core values and building digital products that people use every day.

What was your motivation for founding Vida Health?

Prior to founding Vida Health, I struggled with how to best help my father, who had multiple chronic conditions — obesity, depression, diabetes, COPD and CHF. I knew that what he needed most was someone with medical knowledge to help him manage his conditions, day in and day out, and make the necessary changes in his life that would put him on a path to better health. Instead, he got lost in an opaque and impersonal health care system, like so many do today.

I saw that, although my dad had multiple conditions that really seemed to play off of each other, he wasn’t being treated as a whole person — each condition was being treated in a silo. After that experience with my father, I started Vida Health. Vida is the only virtual care platform that was designed from the ground up to treat multiple chronic conditions at the same time, through a balance of machine learning that personalizes each person’s treatment and a human connection with real-life health coaches and therapists who bring the empathy and accountability people need to reach their goals.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the company?

Like many companies in the virtual health space, 2020 and 2021 has been a whirlwind of growth. In 2020 we doubled our growth from the year before and in 2021 we’ve doubled again. We had a 1,043 percent increase in the number of total consults from April 2020 to October 2021, and an 8,030 percent increase in the number of therapy consults from the same time period. Because of this our team has also seen significant growth. We’ve more than doubled our workforce of not only clinicians but of product, marketing, sales — you name it, every department has grown significantly since the onset of the pandemic.

How did your experience at Brandeis prepare you for this role?

I think the notion of social justice and solving for social inequities is the ethos of Brandeis. Every community member I met had some initiative that they were thinking about to make the world a better place. When I left Brandeis I was really focused on economic policy. I was encouraged by my professors to get a PhD. And I really thought I was going to go down the academic route for a while. But then when I realized how slow the pace was, I just instantly got frustrated and went into tech. I've always been an entrepreneur but it just came out naturally. And as I matured in my career, there was always this sense of, "I want to do more."

How am I going to have impact? What impact are we having? I always was asking that question. So when my dad was sick and I saw that there was just this complete gap in service in this area, and then I started researching chronic disease and the things we needed, I realized this is where I could really have an impact. So it took me a while to get there — it wasn't like I did that right after graduating. But I always had that sense that this is my mission, and that I have to do something that has impact and solves for social inequities. And I think that's what originally attracted me to Brandeis to begin with.

What lessons from earlier in your career are you applying now?

My background at Google, eBay and PayPal greatly inform my work at Vida. I typically start from a product perspective. We pride ourselves on a great product experience and have an 80 Net Promoter Score. That’s part of our DNA, it’s of the highest priority to us and we have hired a lot of good product people.

Another way that my early career informs my work is something that I learned from my former boss, Google’s co-founder Larry Page. He used to talk about the Toothbrush Test, saying: "If you can’t build a product people use daily, what’s the point?" The majority of our users use Vida five to seven times a week. So we’re very much a part of their lives and we measure activity daily. Monthly, we look at everything they're doing to understand how they’re managing their diseases, how they're improving and how we can help them more. We run predictive analytics against that data and apply the results to improve the product and the experience for people — bringing together technology, clinical and digital therapeutics with devices for humans. The high human touch also comes from the experience I have in bringing these things together for a strong product experience and ecosystem.

What advice would you give someone looking to launch their own startup?
Understand the problem you're setting out to solve. Be passionate about what you're doing. Build the right team. And raise the right capital.

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