Bentonville tech startup tackles healthcare inefficiencies

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Robby Knight, co-founder and CEO of Soda Health, a Bentonville-based health tech startup, wants to help people overcome challenges and improve their lives.

This is the startup’s goal as it targets health plan inefficiencies and billions of dollars in wasted benefits by increasing access to needed benefits and adapting them to changing needs.

Soda Health was founded to disrupt the extended benefits system with a technology platform that allows health plans to reimburse goods and services not covered by traditional medical claims. It works with employers and health plans to help consumers pay for necessities, such as healthy foods, transportation to doctors’ offices and utility bills.

“What we fundamentally believe is that today the existing solutions that are in place are one size fits all,” Knight said. “You have large-scale benefits that people don’t use because they don’t know about them” and don’t meet their needs.

“We take a much more individualized approach,” he added. “We’re inventing the payment infrastructure that doesn’t exist to support this new application…this ability to respond longitudinally to the member as their individual needs evolve.”

Since launching in 2021, the startup has raised over $31 million. Knight said the recently announced $25 million Series A funding will be used to partner with retailers and expand its benefits, including the provision of healthy foods, and to better help people identify and register for necessary benefits, such as housing assistance or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAPSHOT).

When asked why the startup became so successful so quickly, Knight said people were excited to help solve fundamental challenges and realize the company’s revenue growth potential.

“We’ve heard time and time again that in the market today no one even considers the approach we’re taking, which is why investors have been so excited about what we do, in addition to our partners. We we are preparing to launch over the next few months,” he said.

Knight said Soda Health has started generating revenue and its technology platform will begin operating with its first external customer in November. An application is in the works, but a timeline for completion has yet to be determined.

Soda Health has a secondary office in Chicago and has employees in 15 states. Over the next 12 months, the company is expected to serve more than 500,000 people. During the same period, its number of employees is on track to double to 80, he said.

Over five years, Knight said the goal is to serve 10 million people and maximize their resources. He said success would be demonstrative improvements in health outcomes and savings for employers and health plans.

INITIAL PURPOSE
The company currently focuses on Medicare Advantage and Medicaid beneficiaries, but it also works with employers.

Once Soda Health agrees with an employer or insurance company, it identifies health plan recipients’ strengths and weaknesses in healthy living and prioritizes immediate and long-term needs. For example, the plan can provide access to healthy food for someone who is hungry and has diabetes.

Knight noted that plans can’t afford the long-term food benefit, but Soda Health can help people find and sign up for resources, such as SNAP or food stamps.

“We are confident that the approach we are taking will not only enable better use and understanding by members of their benefits, but secondarily and most importantly, it aligns our incentives as a service provider with the human being that we are. sums ultimately serving to help them identify and have the resources they need, which will keep them healthier, which will save the health plan and the employer money”, a- he declared.

Employers and health plans pay Soda Health based on its performance. Knight said the company does better financially when consumer health outcomes improve. He declined to name the companies and health plans Soda Health will work with, but said they were among the largest employers and health insurance companies in the United States.

SOCIAL WORK
Born in California, Knight lived for a few years in southern Lebanon before growing up in Alabama, notably in Mobile and Birmingham. He was a social worker for about six years, focusing on behavioral health, addictions, and community social work.

“I got to see firsthand the challenges that people face in the system that we have in the United States,” he said. “Going into the field of social work, I wanted to change.

“The challenge I saw in space was that the systems that exist in today’s world create unnecessary tension that makes it incredibly difficult for people to access the fundamental resources they need.”

For example, he said 40% of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries eligible for SNAP do not receive the benefits. He said those beneficiaries could cut their medication in half to make ends meet.

As he grew increasingly frustrated with the difficulty of accessing needed resources, Knight left for the private sector to learn how it worked and create a model to help people access needed resources.

About 10 years ago he moved to northwest Arkansas and joined Walmart. He worked for the Bentonville-based retailer for nearly eight years before he and a few co-workers started Soda Health.

Co-founders Daryl Risinger, president and chief growth officer, and Jared Dauman, chief operating officer, previously held executive positions at Walmart. Co-founder Chris Brown, chief technology officer, was an executive at digital wellness platform Rally Health, acquired by UnitedHealthcare in 2017.

Liz Baker, vice president of customer development, worked with Walmart’s co-founders. They tried to solve the problems people were facing in accessing needed benefits, but could not find a solution. Baker was invited to join Soda Health shortly after its inception. She works with employers and health plans to provide them with the necessary benefits.

BREAKING IN
Baker works closely with healthcare advisor Jim Bailey, a retired Blue Cross and Blue Shield executive from Arkansas.

“We’re a young company,” Baker said. “We’re trying to break into health care, which is a tough space.” She said the business relied on Bailey’s experience and the contacts he had developed over his career to succeed.

Bailey said he has worked with Walmart’s benefits division since 1994. He began working closely with the co-founders when the retailer established its clinic strategy. As they spoke, he said it became “a natural fit” to help Soda Health.

In 2021, Bailey formed Client Focused Strategies LLC, and he leveraged the relationships he developed over his 41 years at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to introduce people to Soda Health.

Asked about the company’s goals over the next five years, he explained the post-pandemic transformation of health plans and how Soda Health is trying to address health plan benefits at the member level rather than at the corporate level. band. He expects employer-sponsored plans to eventually be addressed at the member level, especially with the increase in remote working in the wake of the pandemic.

“I was involved with the Alice Walton Health Foundation for a few years, particularly with employers,” he said. “What’s trying to be accomplished in Northwest Arkansas isn’t too far [from what] Soda Health is trying to accomplish. These two efforts can complement each other.

Baker agreed that Soda Health is focused on changing the health system to focus on the member rather than the group level.

“Health care will be transformed by seeing people as people and discovering how to identify what drives their unique health and well-being,” she said.

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