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Horn Entrepreneurship

Horn After 10: Kenny Eck

HE-2022-10-year-Kenny-Eck (600 × 315 px)

Kenny Eck started his first company when he was just 7, and his sixth startup hits a huge milestone this year: a consistent revenue stream, along with plans for a physical office and new services.

“It’s about hard work, determination and grit,” said Eck, noting that he doesn’t clock his hours running Patient Sortal, a healthcare-data company that he founded in 2018. (And for several years at the start, he didn’t pay himself as CEO, either.) 

It’s also about the leadership, management and entrepreneurship that he learned while studying at Horn Entrepreneurship, plus the work ethic and the public speaking skills that he refined at Horn.

“Horn is focused on customer discovery,” he said, referring to the process of finding the needs of real people and then creating the services or goods that fulfill them.

The story of Patient Sortal also involves pivoting, referring to evolving into a new business sector. There were two important pivots: one for his own career and the other for the company.

Eck was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and grew up on his family’s 2,100-acre farm, “where he learned the importance of hard work and giving back to the community,” he writes in his company bio.

A lifelong history of entrepreneurship

His first company involved raising and selling livestock, a business that succeeded for a decade. He was 10 when he founded his second company, this time with his brother. They made duct-tape wallets, offering custom colors and styles to their middle-school market. No. 3 involved firewood (maybe that was not the safest idea for a 16-year-old, he reminisces). 

At 18, he became a landlord, buying a 3,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house in Rock Hill, South Carolina. By doing so, he qualified for lower in-state tuition at Winthrop University (where he earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2016) and earned money from renting the other rooms.

His academics and personal interests led to No. 5 (the data-driven personal training company, Ecksperience Fitness, where he worked as a clinical exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer) and No. 6 (Patient Sortal). 

Eck had started college majoring in biology, planning to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. As a clinician, he worked with more than 1,200 patients before stepping away from that childhood dream to found Patient Sortal because he saw the need to provide healthcare data management, care coordination and continuity of care for underrepresented populations. 

“I built friendships with them and became a part of their lives,” he told the Delaware Prosperity Partnership in a 2020 behind-the-scenes profile. “Understanding the problems they encountered during their healthcare journey was something that mattered to me. One problem that stuck out was the management of the health information between patients and their care providers.”

He came up with the idea for Patient Sortal in 2017, just after he earned his first master’s degree at the University of Delaware (an accelerated program in clinical exercise physiology). He followed with his master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Design at Horn in 2018, which gave him knowledge through traditional classes and connections for networking through Horn activities.

Patient Sortal in its short life has received a lot of attention. Part of the reason is that it’s in the intersection of healthcare, which represents almost 20% of the American economy, and technology, an industry known for disrupting many other industries.

How Horn helped

“ Horn took my ideas and incubated them to fruition,” he told the partnership. “They have done an excellent job finding subject matter experts, entrepreneurs and brilliant minds to fill the walls of the Venture Development Center. This has built the ideal environment for turning solutions to problems into businesses.”

“In 2018, Kenny participated in Summer Founders, Horn Entrepreneurship’s pre-accelerator for students to earn a stipend and work on a venture,” an update at Horn Entrepreneurship reported. “Through the experience of Summer Founders, Kenny was able to refine his value proposition and build contacts to leverage his success and knowledge into potential clients and business partners.”

Throughout the company’s growth, Eck is pitching his ideas “constantly” to potential partners and customers, and he has earned exposure, in-kind services and awards in three pitch competitions: two editions of Hen Hatch (UD’s premier startup funding competition) and DelawareBio’s Pitch to Partnership. By early 2022, its funding hit $400,000, as a result of SputnikATX optioning total investment rights along with other ATX angels.

“Eck has also worked with UD (on navigating behavioral health services and proposing a system for students to share information between UD and other providers) and New Castle County Police (an assessment on managing documents between case managers and the behavioral health unit),” Delaware Business Times reported in 2021.

Patient Sortal at first focused on children with chronic diseases, and their voluminous records, and children moving on from pediatricians’ care to adult care. Caregivers were receptive. Medicaid and insurers weren’t. 

Eck decided he “needed to demonstrate the value of his solutions. This led him into a quite different market equally hungry for solutions: prisons,” according to the profile.

‘Set up for failure’

He had researched managing the data associated with transition of healthcare at the end of prison terms. This market had a large and steady stream of users (people at the end of their prison terms and re-entering society) but a small and manageable client list (Medicare and Medicaid).

“Returning citizens are often set up for failure,” Eck told Delaware Business Times. “No job, no house, no car.” And often a lot of health issues, coupled with broken relationships with healthcare, family and society at large. “The real issue is in managing information.”

“When continuity of care is disrupted, returning citizens become new patients within the healthcare system and without previous records, Medicaid and other coverage providers spend an additional $2.6 billion a year for duplicate healthcare services, previously provided during incarceration,” according to a 2021 white paper posted on the Patient Sortal website and written by Eck and Thomas Stretch, the company’s chief technology officer and co-founder.

“To continue the treatments provided during incarceration, returning citizens must manage their own medication management, chronic conditions management, infectious disease management, mental health care treatments, substance abuse treatments, and other physical healthcare needs that were identified, treated, and maintained during incarceration. If these healthcare needs are not met within 30 days post release, a discontinuation of care occurs that results in failed community reintegration, decreased quality of life, decreased public safety, and increased risk of recidivism.”

North Carolina, for example, only provides a seven-day supply of medications upon release.

The numbers in various government analyses of inmates and returning citizens are staggering. 80% have substance abuse problems. 66% are taking prescription medications. About half have mental illnesses. 40% have one chronic condition; 24% have multiple conditions. 

Prison living tends to exacerbate some medical conditions, Eck said, including asthma and tuberculosis (from poorly designed buildings, overcrowded conditions and poor ventilation), back pain (from sleeping on a metal bed with a thin mattress), diabetes (from the starch-heavy diet) and dermatitis (from the limited supply of soaps, lotions, and cleaning products). That’s part of the reason why medical care in incarceration costs America $12 billion a year. And those conditions spill over into post-incarceration lives.

Up to $2 billion in savings for taxpayers

Each year, more than 630,000 people are released from a correctional facility – prison, jail or juvenile justice facility – back into the community. About 45,000 are released from federal prisons.

“While incarcerated, inmates receive long-term care for medical, dental, mental health and substance abuse,” he continued in the profile. “This includes assessments, medications, interventions, treatments, and healthcare costs of up to $7.6 billion per year nationwide. This is paid for through government spending, the same budget Medicaid is derived from.

“It cost Medicaid an additional $390 million for these 45,000 federal inmates because of duplicate assessments, appointments, medications, interventions and treatments,” Eck said. “These services were already paid for during incarceration, but due to ineffective transitions of care from prisons to community providers, this information was lost and duplicate services had to be completed. This is where Patient Sortal will step in to streamline these transitions, improve continuity of care, improve public safety and decrease health-related recidivism rates.”

Eck told Delaware Business Times that Patient Sortal might save America’s taxpayers up to $2 billion in duplicated Medicaid spending. 

“Patient Sortal’s market has four key components: prisons, which he considers potential partners; returning citizens, which he considers beneficiaries; governments, which don’t have the funding to pay Patient Sortal; and private Medicaid coverage providers, which control the cash because so many returning citizens are financially needy,” Delaware Business Times reported.

Government guidelines for transferring medical records start at $2 a page, with the price going down with quantity. Patient Sortal’s work is entirely digital.

Expanding to in-office healthcare

Patient Sortal was generating revenue by 2019, but the pandemic derailed his growth plans.

It is servicing the needs of returning citizens in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Texas. This year, it is adding Colorado and Delaware. He figures that the company will be handling 8,500 patients in 12 months. “We’ve proven the model” of the power of aggregating medical records, he said. 

Now it’s time to scale. Including Eck, Patient Sortal now employs 10 people and is “hiring like crazy,” he said. The staff is scattered around the country, with a core group in the Philadelphia area.

Eck is reaching out to prisons in other states (his services start up to 12 months before release), county prisons and jails. The potential market is huge: America’s federal, state, local, and tribal systems in early 2022 were holding almost 2 million people, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

It’s also time to expand Patient Sortal, which has two subsidiaries: one providing management services and another providing healthcare.

The company is now looking for a Philadelphia office to provide healthcare, with the selection process favoring a site readily accessible by public transportation and near probation and parole offices that the returning citizens are already visiting.

“We plan to persevere because we have tested several markets, identified patient touch points, and created a market within a unique transition of care that nobody else is managing,” Eck told Delaware Business Times. 

While their sentences have ended, “their healthcare journey must continue within the community in order to achieve successful community reintegration,” Eck and Stretch conclude in their white paper.

About Horn Entrepreneurship

 Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at the University of Delaware. Currently ranked among the best entrepreneurship programs in the US, Horn Entrepreneurship was built and is actively supported by successful entrepreneurs, empowering aspiring innovators as they pursue new ideas for a better world.

Topics: entrepreneurship, alumni, innovation, 10 Year Anniversary