Lessons Learned

From Healthcare Makerthon curiosity to VirtuCare

Meet Lisa Ganguzza, MS RD CDN, a Registered Dietitian with a Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics from NYU Steinhardt.

She is currently working at NYU Langone Medical Center as a Research Dietitian with both the Cardiology Clinical Research Center and the Department of Population Health’s Center for Healthful Behavior Change. Her research is focused on diet and heart health, as well as remote education using mobile health technology in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Lisa has worked in a variety of clinical, community, and corporate settings with a wide range of patient populations. She is interested in utilizing evidence-based methods as a means to substantiate insurance-sponsored programs to allow a wider range of individuals affordable and convenient access to healthcare professionals. Lisa also teaches Nutrition as an adjunct faculty at NYU Steinhardt.

From Healthcare Makerthon curiosity to VirtuCare

We sat down with Lisa to learn a bit more about her business venture, VirtuCare and her experience in participating in the first-ever Healthcare Makerthon, a new initiative aimed at identifying opportunities to improve healthcare, facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration, and launch new ventures.

In a nutshell, what service does your business provide? 

VirtuCare is an interdisciplinary virtual care coordination platform designed to improve health outcomes and reduce operational inefficiencies for patients and providers. VirtuCare can be utilized in a wide range of patient populations to manage care coordination for both treatment and prevention of chronic disease. VirtuCare clinicians, including physicians, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, and physical therapists are specialized in the area that best meets the needs of the patients enrolled. We are currently focusing on the Cystic Fibrosis patient population.

How did you get started with this venture and/or what was the motivation behind it?

I attended the first annual Healthcare Makerthon in the Fall mostly out of curiosity, and excitement that NYULMC was working with the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute to engage my colleagues to think outside the box for solutions to issues we face at the medical center. Oftentimes we’re so busy and set in our ways that it takes an opportunity like this to pause and give careful consideration to what could be improved upon. The idea of being supported in a team environment, with opportunities to connect with others who may have complementary skill sets, was exciting. I was interested in the challenge presented by Pfizer to tackle the issue of anticoagulation therapy management. I met Mary Jo Vetter, a Nurse Practitioner and Faculty at NYU School of Nursing, and we had similar ideas about approaching the issue. Within 24 hours of meeting, we came up with our “pitch” to address the problem from a virtual care management perspective. We were excited to be invited to join the next phase of the Makerthon in the Spring to continue to develop the idea.

How did you do customer discovery/market research to determine the focus of your business?

We interviewed a wide range of patients, providers, and stakeholders in our initial customer ecosystem, which allowed us to understand the multifaceted issue from a number of different perspectives. We synthesized this information to better narrow in on what would be most useful to patients, providers, and payers alike. Based on our customer discovery and market research, we tailored the concept to address low-volume, high-cost disease states, including Cystic Fibrosis. We made some great additions to our team with members Karyn Jonas, a Nursing Informatics student, and Christine Mavaro, the Adult & Pediatric Coordinator at the NYU Cystic Fibrosis Center.

As first-time entrepreneurs, what role did NYU's entrepreneurial eco-system play in your journey?

As an NYU graduate and current employee, I feel very fortunate to remain under the NYU umbrella, and to be included in inspiring initiatives like the Healthcare Makerthon. I also participated in the NYU Stern Entrepreneurs Challenge, and was indescribably impressed by the support from not only the Entrepreneurial Institute team and Berkley i-lab staff, but also by the prestigious network of alumni who remain involved as mentors. From seminars and networking events, to meetings and work spaces, there’s an abundance of opportunity provided by the teams. These resources were not available in the organized fashion, as it is now, when I was a student at NYU – I encourage all students (faculty, and staff!) to take advantage of what is likely one of the most supportive and well-connected entrepreneurial networks in the country. It’s also a lot of fun!

What are some of the lessons you learned along the way that could be helpful to other entrepreneurs?

Listen to learn. There is always something to learn – listen to your target audience, listen to other entrepreneurs, listen to mentors and staff who are giving you their time. You don’t necessarily have to use or implement all the information you hear, but you have to hear and understand it. If you don’t understand something, ask questions to clarify. It’s very difficult to make useful decisions without a clear understanding of the environment surrounding your model. While it’s important to eventually be an expert in the area of your concept, it’s crucial to listen to others to develop that expertise.

Always follow-up. If you meet someone, or someone spends time with you, always follow-up with a hello or genuine thank you. When possible, offer to return the favor – if you can ever be a help to someone else, do it. Notice others generosity of time, and be generous with yours to the extent you’re able to.

Plan ahead. There are 24 hours in a day – think about how you want to spend them. There’s always time if you make time for it. Oftentimes failing to plan in advance results in wasted time.

Step outside. Managing multiple projects, with multiple team members, can sometimes be stressful. In a particularly stressful moment, take two minutes to walk around the block and consider the opportunity. It’s important to remain positive – work is serious, but it’s also fun. Regardless of what the crisis may be, we’re at NYU’s e-lab – things could be worse!

In your perspective, what is the single most important trait for entrepreneurs?

Always show up! Even if you’re “so tired,” or “so busy,” don’t miss the opportunity to attend a relevant meeting or event. Even if you don’t have the time or energy to be a major contributor, just being a fly on the wall can ultimately be useful. You never know what you’re going to hear or whose name you could pick up. One small mention or contact made could lead to something much greater. Even if it doesn’t seem relevant at that moment, take notes and file away these names and tidbits – it’s always nice to follow-up in the future with an anchor of time and place of either meeting someone or learning about something.

Lessons Learned