This Tech Company Is Making Clinical Trials And Info On Meds More Accessible For African Americans And POC, On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
prescription meds review site
Melanie Igwe | Image provided by Melanie Igwe

This is one in a Moguldom original series that shines the light on the founders featured on MogulWatch, a comprehensive list of startups that have received venture capitalist funding. Find out news and data about their company. 

Underrepresented populations are often ignored when it comes to participation in clinical trials.

That makes it difficult to know if medications actually work for their genetic makeup. For instance, asthma control medications don’t always work for African Americans and Puerto Ricans. And the blood thinner drug Plavix doesn’t work for 75 percent of Pacific Islanders, according to a 2015 report shared on NPR.

What if a tech company could come up with a way to help African Americans get better access to clinical trials and better understand how their meds work differently because of their race?

Melanie Igwe and Kwaku Owusu have done it. This month they launched Drugviu, a company that’s focused on making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color.

This is a second company for Igwe and Owusu. Their first — Ilerasoft — was launched in 2017 to help hospitals turn medical equipment-use data into actionable insights that save hospitals money.

Igwe and Owusu successfully scaled Ilerasoft, raising close to $1 million from venture capitalists including Arlan Hamilton‘s Backstage Capital.

Igwe believes hospitals can cut their medical equipment costs by 30 percent with the Ilerasoft technology. They do this by assigning an efficiency score, which is like a credit score for medical equipment.

Forty percent of the U.S. is racial or ethnic minorities. But globally, we represent 85 percent. That means we have been left out of medications, and, ultimately, healthcare in general, globally.

Melanie Igwe, co-founder of Drugviu, a tech company that’s making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color, and Ilerasoft, a tech company that helps hospitals save money on medical equipment.

The top 25 hospitals with the highest medical and surgical supply costs spent more than $1.2 billion on supplies in 2017, according to Definitive Healthcare, a healthcare analytics provider. The average hospital could save around $9.9 million on annual spending by streamlining their supply-chain activities, consulting company Navigant reported.

Since launching, Ilerasoft has partnered with EPSi’s Allscripts, a publicly traded company. Their algorithm extracts data from purchasing and asset-management solutions to determine an efficiency score for medical equipment. Once providers know the efficiency score of their equipment, they can make decisions to improve use and budgeting.


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Igwe shares with Moguldom her journey and vision for inclusion in healthcare data.

We were invited to the FDA to talk about medical devices and safety. There was a lot of energy around what we were doing but we realized that when it comes to doing what’s right — the altruistic part and making sure that patients are safe — hospitals were only attracted to the bottom line.

Melanie Igwe, co-founder of Drugviu, a tech company that’s making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color, and Ilerasoft, a tech company that helps hospitals save money on medical equipment.

Moguldom: Why did you start Ilerasoft?

Melanie Igwe: In my role as a data analyst at a hospital for a really large health system, I would oversee making sure medical devices were well maintained and safe. If the manufacturer or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration ) had any recalls, we knew where the devices were located if we needed to pull them to ensure safety of patients. I also had to review capital planning and budgeting which is essentially around what kind of devices or medical equipment (is) needed to purchase to (meet) demand. The way we were making decisions was really in the dark. There was no intelligence on what kind of brands to choose when making those purchasing decisions or if we were actually utilizing our devices to the best of their ability before we purchased a new one, or think about renting them. Many times, hospitals are actually 30-percent oversubscribed to the number of medical devices they have. Seeing all the data of the different kind of waste going on with medical equipment, I thought that there has to be a better way to manage devices, ensure that they’re safe and purchase them in a smart way. I met my co-founder, Kwaku Owusu, and we founded Ilerasoft.

We changed our business. We identified the medical device manufacturers (as being) most interested in having this kind of feature added to the device … We actually found a new customer to scale our business.

Melanie Igwe, co-founder of Drugviu, a tech company that’s making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color, and Ilerasoft, a tech company that helps hospitals save money on medical equipment.

Moguldom: What has been a memorable challenge with starting and scaling Ilerasoft?

Melanie Igwe: When we started off, we were invited to the FDA to talk about medical devices and safety. Anytime we spoke we would see there was a lot of energy around what we were doing, but we realized that when it comes to doing what’s right — the altruistic part and making sure that patients are safe — hospitals were only attracted to the bottom line. We ended up having to change our approach and see how much can we save a hospital money. When we realized that, we changed our business. We identified the medical device manufacturers (as being) most interested in having this kind of feature added to the device, or standalone software that could help their current customers or even future customers make better purchasing decisions, understand the utilization of those devices, and ultimately make sure that the devices are safe. We actually found a new customer to scale our business.

Moguldom: Can you share any notable wins that you had since starting Ilerasoft?

Melanie Igwe: We have been able to raise $950,000 so far so I guess, almost up to the million-dollar mark which is great. Thanks to our private angel, Backstage Capital, New Age Capital, and Lightspeed Ventures. Our company’s birthday is this month. We started Ilerasoft two years ago. We have a partnership with all EPSi’s Allscripts which is a publicly traded company. There are in 956 hospitals and they are selling our solution as we speak. That was really exciting because our news was announced by NASDAQ.  

We were astonished to find less than 6 percent of all clinical trials included people of color. When you see how we are underrepresented in these pharmaceutical clinical trials, we just thought this has to change. So we created Drugviu to essentially be the world’s first crowdsourcing prescription medication review site.

Melanie Igwe, co-founder of Drugviu, a tech company that’s making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color, and Ilerasoft, a tech company that helps hospitals save money on medical equipment.

Moguldom: You and your co-founder just launched a new business venture. Can you please share more about Drugviu?

Melanie Igwe: Kwaku and I were looking at the end-to-end process for medical devices. We thought if we’re going to really be able to share our business expertise in terms of optimizing and making sure facilities can save money around medical devices, it was important for us to understand how they were made and a lot of other factors. When we were evaluating that process, we really focused on clinical trials from a medical devices perspective. We saw there was a lack of representation when you review clinical trials. You can see the people that are responding to them are not proportional to the world’s population. In college, I studied physiology and anatomy and knew there are differences between African American, Latinos and Asians. We were astonished to find less than 6 percent of all clinical trials included people of color. When you break the size of each these group’s population within the world and see how we are underrepresented in these pharmaceutical clinical trials, we just thought this has to change. So, we created Drugviu to essentially be the world’s first crowdsourcing prescription medication review site. Patients from around the world can share their experience with medications and learn how to be a part of clinical trials. The site was created to be experienced by and tailored for communities of color – Asian, black, Latino, Native American, and indigenous people. We’re looking forward to the site empowering people to get involved in their healthcare and to really have these communities be able to help look out for themselves.

On building a team: We look for what we do not have, and we really try to find people we believe will fit the culture. The way they think is important to us. The problems we’re trying to solve are big ones. We need people that can provide a fresh perspective we may be able to implement quickly.

Melanie Igwe, co-founder of Drugviu, a tech company that’s making clinical trials and drug experience information more accessible for communities of color, and Ilerasoft, a tech company that helps hospitals save money on medical equipment.

Moguldom: Running two different companies with different employees sounds challenging. Can you share your thoughts on how to build a good team?

Melanie Igwe: A huge thing for Kwaku and I when building a team is going through an exercise of evaluating ourselves. We really look for what we do not have, and we really try to find people we believe will fit the culture. The fit is really important. The way they think is important to us. We are more system and design thinkers because the problems we’re trying to solve are big ones. We need people that want to work hard to solve these problems with us and can provide a fresh perspective we may be able to implement quickly.

Moguldom: Are you bootstrapping Drugviu or do you plan to also seek outside funding it that as well?

Melanie Igwe: We are bootstrapped right now. We plan on raising soon. That’s going to be another exciting process — fundraising. The funny thing is, people say fundraising is hard and it is but by going through the process of fundraising, we were able to learn so much. We were able to understand how to really position ourselves well for investors, despite the fact that we’re founders of color. It’s a real thing being founders of color. It’s harder for us to raise large amounts. I also think that for us to raise, there is an extra level of pressure where we have to really know our value proposition and our market. I almost feel excited to fundraise for Drugviu which I know sounds crazy. But I’m excited because there are all of these things I get to learn, plus I almost feel like I have a secret arsenal of knowledge on how to position and approach investors this time around.

Moguldom: Why do you feel it is more challenging for you both being Black and African? (Igwe is American born to parents from Nigeria. Owusu emigrated to the U.S. from Ghana.)

Melanie Igwe: There is a principle that was always established in our household, and probably most African households. If you strive to be better than the best, it is going to pay off. You do well in school, get your degree and those efforts will pay off. That is not true in the world of business, nor in the world of venture capital. You can believe you are doing your best, and due to the color of your skin or your gender, or if you’re like me and you’re at the intersection of both, people treat you differently. I think the way that Kwaku and I both have been able to overcome that challenge is by understanding this is not a race, it is a marathon. Yes, you need to be great at what you do, but it’s really about relationships. You need to have relationships with people that can help you get to the next level and get to that next step. It’s been challenging, but I do feel that going through this experience has taught me a lot about how to move in business in the U.S. Also, I learned how to approach things going forward. Because the metrics and standards that we’re judged by are not the ones many investors judge others by. So, you have to be very careful about who you’re getting your advice from because if they don’t have your kind of shared experience, it’s probably going to be inadequate advice.

Moguldom: Where do you see Ilerasoft and Drugviu in five years?

Melanie Igwe: I see both as global organizations. In particular, I see Drugviu as really being able to help the global population. When you think about it, 40 percent of the population in the United States are racial or ethnic minorities. But when you look at that globally, we represent 85 percent of the globe. That means we have been left out of medications and ultimately healthcare in general globally. I see Drugviu as a tool and a resource to help people that are a part of communities of color. We want underrepresented people to understand how the medications they’re taking work differently because of their race and that they can find racial health specific content that’s focused on them. Because if you try to look for how to manage your type two diabetes as an African American woman, you’re going to come up short over if you do that for some of our counterparts. I really want us to be a global health resource for communities of color, that can help in all facets of health from understanding medications and management of care.