Why would a young, successful entrepreneur from the East Coast with zero ties to the Midwest pick up and move to Madison, Wisconsin? One word: Epic.
His name is Wes Garnett Jr. and his startup company is Kurbi, though it’s not the same business he was in when he moved to Madison in 2015. That startup developed software to interact with Epic Systems’ MyChart, the patient engagement tool used by health care providers representing more than half of the U.S. population. Madison offers a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem around health care IT innovation, and Garnett wanted to be part of it.
So why pivot to a new community and a new startup? He injured his back and became the patient. Kurbi is an app used by health and wellness professionals to improve and strengthen patient-provider relationships and outcomes. That’s the benevolent benefit. The economic incentive is that Kurbi promises to turn online visitors into leads, and then into customers.
Garnett’s path in life, he says, has always been personal. He was studying engineering and architecture in college when his mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He moved back home and took a job selling insurance and investment products, where he soon met his best friend and future business partner. Together they launched their own company that outsourced its IT work and realized “we were giving away the one thing we were making money on.” So his partner began developing software product solutions. Garnett focused on user design and experience—and rediscovered his passion and purpose.
“I really want to make the world better for people who find themselves running against problems that shouldn’t be there,” he says. “We wanted to create impact.”
Impact was indeed what Garnett was after with the business that preceded Kurbi. The Epic-related software he was working on married information on patients (diagnosed with chronic conditions such as MS) with user-generated data to improve their health and wellness.
“Information and care are so disparate,” he says. “That’s the bigger issue.”
His difficulties in finding a physical therapist to aid his own recovery gave him the insight and perspective he needed to start Kurbi. Rehab can be costly in time and money, and it doesn’t always work. So Garnett decided to find a viable way to reduce the risks and improve the experience through technology and innovation.
“If you could merge care and information together,” Garnett supposed, “you could have something really, really powerful.”
Garnett explained Kurbi’s unique value with a real-world example of a customer—an orthopedic specialist who wanted to expand the target market to reach more women. Garnett analyzed the customer’s web presence and found that it wasn’t friendly to busy moms. Garnett redesigned the pages so the content was easier to digest, or “snackable,” and the new brand promise became more clear. The average time spent searching on a website for information is 20 seconds, and 40 percent of potential new patients click elsewhere, says Garnett. The primary reasons are unmet expectations and distrust.
“We can’t handle distrust, but we can align expectations,” he says.
The 34-year-old millennial is among kindred spirits here in community-minded Madison, where he moved from Delaware with his wife, sister, brother-in-law and nephew. He co-founded his home state’s first Startup Weekend, an international program with locally organized events, as well as the first co-working and collaborative space in the city of Wilmington.
While Garnett was surrounded by a supportive family, he says he grew up in a low-income neighborhood and is grateful for the choices he made and opportunities he seized.
“My grandmother thinks I work on computers,” Garnett says with a smile, as he spoons baby food into the mouth of his bouncy, beautiful 8-month-old son Levi.
I asked him for any advice he could give to people who find themselves in similar life circumstances.
“Do something awesome because the world needs it.”
Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.