Entrepreneurship and Representation in Healthcare Technology with Gulé Sheikh
Today we speak with developer turned health-tech founder Gulé Sheikh. We discuss her innovations and entrepreneurship at a leading tele-health company, her experience in technology, and the importance of representation.
In the early 20th century, women led computer programming and made huge contributions to the field. From Ada Lovelace’s algorithm and Grace Hopper’s pioneering work on COBOL to World War II codebreaking at Bletchley Park and Katherine Johnson’s calculations critical to NASA spaceflights. Yet, when Gulé started her career 23 years ago, she was one of only 5 women in a class of 300 Computer Programming graduates. Gulé went on to found a successful health-tech company which she scaled 1000% and sold in 2019 after 7 years of running it. Join us as Gulé reflects on her experience in the tech industry.
About Gulé Sheikh
Gulé Sheikh is a technologist by trade and former executive that founded the health-tech company eazyScripts, a top telemedicine software provider focused on the virtual care space. She developed the only proprietary algorithm for price transparency at the point of care in the US. She was interviewed by Melinda Gates as one of the few health-tech startup owners that raised over $2MM in the Midwest. Gulé is a passionate technologist with 22+ years in IT, and is now the Senior Strategic Success Manager in Healthcare at Salesforce.
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Hey everyone. Thanks for joining us on from Lab to Launch today. I'm Kelly from Qualio, and it's my pleasure to be your host and introduce you to these innovators in life sciences. If you haven't already please subscribe and give us a review on Apple or Spotify. We'd love that. And it helps other people find the show. If you want to be on the show, please see the application linked in the show notes. We've had a lot of people reach out to us and it's been our pleasure to connect with you. Today, I'm excited to talk to Gulé Sheikh. Gulé is a technologist by trade and former executive that founded a healthcare company focused on the virtual care space, scaled it by a thousand percent and then sold the company after seven years of running it. She was interviewed by Melinda Gates, is one of the few health tech startup owners that raised over $2 million in the Midwest. She developed the only proprietary algorithm for price transparency at the point of care in the U.S. Thanks for joining us today, Gulé. It's really nice to have you on.Gule Sheikh:
Oh, thank you so much for having me.Kelly Stanton:
We love hearing about our guests' backgrounds and you have a very extensive and impressive one. Can you tell us about yourself and your journey?Gule Sheikh:
Yeah, so believe it or not, I actually was an art student back in the back in the early nineties and, I kind of just came across, when I was trying to figure out my career, I came across computer programming and it was sort of a newer space, a newer degree. And I basically took the plunge, went into that. Didn't really look back. And that was more than 23 years ago. So I've been in now technology for 23 years. It has evolved tremendously. I started off my career, mostly in the FinTech space. So a lot of customers around implementations. And your technology started off like with COBOL and the Y2K projects, and then went into like other enterprise wide and global institutions for implementations. And then about, I would say 15 years ago, I got into the space of healthcare. And from that point I would say, I really truly found my passion. The purpose and the drive behind all the fragmented systems and helping to shape that and innovate and see it through for the future. And then also being able to quantify the results that you get from it, which is, you know, bettering people's lives, saving lives and just improving technology as a whole. So that's a bit of my background when it comes to my career path and how I got.Kelly Stanton:
That's interesting. It's funny. I know quite a few people in the healthcare space that have completely unrelated college degrees, but we all sort of meander our way over here and, and find ways to help people and, and love it. So I love that story. That's great. You founded a healthcare company called eazyScripts. Can you tell us about the idea behind this? What led you to start this company?Gule Sheikh:
Yeah. So I moved to the us from Canada in 2012. And at the time I was working for an insurance company that was working on the Affordable Care Act integration. And you know, it kind of opened up my eyes around a lot of the issues in the U.S. And at that time I also met my who became my business partner, later on, but I met this friend through another mutual friend and we just started speaking. He was an MD. He was also very passionate about technology in the healthcare space. And so we just started chatting about some of the issues that are arising, and we got into the topic of telehealth and virtual care and the digital front door, and some of the challenges around that. And one of the initial challenges were that U.S. regulations were coming out, that all physicians had to prescribe medication electronically. And that started off with New York. And I said, well, that just makes complete sense. But the regulation hadn't been solidified in all the other states. And so we saw an opportunity and said, well, if if the state of New York regulated this other states are going to follow suit, so we should get on board because it makes absolute sense to do this. So we then went, we had to apply for a license. We got the last license that was available. That was a SAAS license in order to build a software around electronic prescribinbg and integrate it into health systems after our license was. Made out no other company, like any other company that wanted electronic prescribing, they would have to either use us or some of the other companies that existed or build it themselves.Kelly Stanton:
Wow. That's exciting. So eazyScripts went on to be voted the best tele-health services company. That accomplishment.Gule Sheikh:
So that it was, you know, it was a very long ride. We built the software initially bootstrapped and went through all the challenges that entrepreneurs go through in terms of like getting developers and getting meeting the regulations and going through audit processes and then scaling it and getting customers. Because we designed, I put a lot of energy and effort into the user design and the user experience and that being the physicians and the clinicians that were using the software would be able to use it effectively, do their job in less than six clicks, be able to send a prescription and an under 20 seconds, the prescription would be sent off. So because we did that and the learning curve was very minimal, the software was easy to use and they had all the information that needed right at their fingertips. As soon as they open up the software that actually grew and ended up becoming impactful and valuable in the telehealth space because telehealth providers, I don't know if you've ever done a session... typically, they last about 10 to 12 minutes. So the clinician does not want to be fumbling around with software. They don't want to be learning something new. They don't want to be searching for anything. They want focus on the patient and they want to get their job done as fast as possible. So because of our software user interface and the complexities that it simplified, it basically grew in popularity. And we, then we got voted best telehealth software.Kelly Stanton:
That's exciting. A lot of software, too, I think doesn't focus enough on that user experience. So it's great to hear.Gule Sheikh:
Yeah. And especially in the healthcare space, it's very, very difficult.Kelly Stanton:
It is. It is. Yeah. And doctors, for sure. I've had some experience with this myself, and dealing with them and like clinical trial software. They have to click more than twice to find something they're not, they don't have time and, or the patience for that. And so that's that's great. I really appreciate that you guys have focused on that so much. You developed proprietary algorithm for price transparency at the point of care in the U S can you tell us a little bit more about that concept? And process.Gule Sheikh:
Yeah, so when we built the software and we started scaling it, one of the things that we looked at was, okay, so now we've got the software out. The patient can get their prescription. Now what? And we started digging into the data and realized that only 50% of the population was actually picking up their medications. And although that wasn't my problem to solve, I became very curious and interested into why that was the case, because it's so easy to get your prescription at this point, you know, it's actually very it's a very important part of a healthcare plan to get your medication and get healthier. So as we started digging into it, we found out that a large majority of the reasons that patients weren't doing this was because of the cost. They did not know whether it was due to prior authorization, their copay or lack of insurance, what the price was going to be once they went to pick up their medication. And at that time price transparency was a very taboo topic. This is, I'm talking like, nine years ago at this point. So it was a very taboo topic. No one was talking about price transparency, no one wanted to disclose the cost of the medications at the pharmacy. And so it was a very difficult thing to solve. And anyone who tried to get in that space was just not getting anywhere. So we started digging through and this turned into my five-year rabbit hole. I went through and worked with different PBMs and pharmacies and manufacturers and companies in the back end. And then we basically built out a system where we did not have the requirement for the doctor to do anything different than they would already do. And the patient didn't have to do anything different than they already do, meaning that the patient could go to the pharmacy of their choice. And the doctor would prescribe normally as they would. The only difference was once the prescription was submitted, the patient would have the option to use a best pricing option at the point of care, sorry, at the point of pickup. And so, and they would know that right away and that then actually helped a lot more patients get their prescriptions and, you know, fulfill their medications.Kelly Stanton:
Yeah that's important. That's important to know.Gule Sheikh:
And I do want to add on to that. Like now in the last two years, price, transparency has become a lot more advertised and discussed, especially at the Congress level. And I think they've now put a bill. I think it was January, 2020 that hospitals must list their services and they must list their prices so that patients can. Shop around and get better options for pricing and whatnot. And I mean, I think this is really a really great thing for everyone. The patients and also the hospital systems that are trying to focus on patients you know, getting better care and not focused on arguing over bills because they can't afford the bills or not. So, that's like a great direction. I think that we're headed in.Kelly Stanton:
Definitely. Yeah. It puts a little touch of, of free market back into our healthcare system. You know, I think people have a perception that we have that in fact, we don't, if we can't shop around for pricing and if they won't disclose that, we can't vote with our dollars. Right. So So you were interviewed by Melinda gates about eazyScripts. Can you tell us about that experience?Gule Sheikh:
Yeah, that was a very interesting experience. I got a call from an incubator that I was associated with here in Chicago at 1871. And they reached out and they said that Melinda Gates was interested in speaking to a few founders that had raised over $2 million, specifically female founders in the Midwest and discuss some of those challenges. She was writing her book at the time. And so she was kind of going across the country, trying to navigate what challenges, female founders face, and also what what the investor landscape looked like in the Midwest. So, you know, very interesting. I would say, if you didn't know she was Melinda Gates, you would never know she was Melinda Gates. She was very humble. Asked very curious questions. It felt like a conversation. It felt like I was just speaking to a friend, really just discussing some of the roadblocks and setbacks. We've had in some of the areas that are opportunities for not just female founders, but investors and startup founders in the Midwest in general, because the Midwest is a very conservative market when it comes to raising capital and we discussed, you know, all things related to that. And then some of the challenges around healthcare too, like why it's so important to put a lot more focus on the healthcare space.Kelly Stanton:
That's fascinating. What has it been like to be a woman leader in tech?Gule Sheikh:
So it's interesting. I would say, so when I started my career 23 years ago, so when I graduated, I was five of 300 students that were female and then joined my company at the time I started working for EDS. So that was my first company I worked for professionally and they, there, I was part of a team of 60 people and I was the only female. So things have evolved and changed drastically since then. And now, and I think one of the things back then was lack of representation. So as a woman going into tech, it wasn't a common field that was known. Although like in history, a lot of women have been involved in tech. If you look at historic historically, You know, NASA developers and a lot of scientists were actually women, but you know, it wasn't the norm. So one of the things I would say was back then, the representation lacked. And I don't think I even knew or noticed what that lack of representation would mean or how. How it feel because I knew nothing different. I was working with 60 different men and that's all I knew in my school. It was mostly majority men. That's all I knew. I never questioned that I'm a woman and that's a man. And, you know, are there biases here, potential biases? Am I going to be treated differently? I didn't think of that at all. It was just more, I've chosen a field. That's a male dominated field. And so I need to just kind of be the same level as the men are and you just get used to it without even thinking about it. Fast forward to now, 20 years later, you know, I work on a team and I think majority of the people on my team are women. So it's very different. Like the representation has changed drastically and, you know, although I do think that there needs to be more women in the field and more guidance and mentoring of women.in STEM, I'm seeing the change and I'm seeing a lot of diversity in terms of backgrounds, experience, voices that are being brought forward. And it's just, it's really refreshing. It's really great to see.Kelly Stanton:
I've experienced a very similar evolution over the left 23 years in industry as well. Started my career in QC QA. You know, in life sciences, definitely mostly women doing testing all men in the engineering departments. And then as I worked my way kinda over into engineering, all of a sudden I was one of maybe one or two. And so yeah, but much like you, we don't know any different. There's a few moments here and there. I think where it is you do notice I can certainly tell some stories there, we should do that another time. It's good to see things changing. What advice would you give to other girls or women wanting to enter into the tech world?Gule Sheikh:
So advice I would give to women entering the tech world would be that, you know, I actually want to go back to the representation thing. I wanted to add one more thing there. So one more thing on representation, I would say. I didn't actually realize this until it happened was when Kamala Harris was voted in to Congress as vice-president. That actually was a very impactful moment to me. For some reason, I didn't realize how impactful it would be, but seeing a woman there, a woman of color, a minority, you know, being sworn in. You know, you just, you've never seen it before. And I think like I've never thought about it before, but when that happened, I was just like, wow, there is someone now that represents me as a woman that represents me as a minority. And now other women, other girls are watching this and they don't know any different. Now. Now they see that, you know, it's not just a white, it's not a male dominated place to be, it's a place where anyone can go. So I think that representation was very, very impactful and itself and, and because it was maybe right in front of my face and on TV, you know, it was like a moment in history that we were witnessing as opposed to the tech industry. It's been a gradual representation that's been growing. So it's almost like the frog in the frying pan. Like we didn't notice, how things are gradually changing until it's there in front of you.Kelly Stanton:
Definitely. That was an amazing moment.Gule Sheikh:
Yeah. So the answer to, so going to what advice would I give to women in stem and women in healthcare or women in tech? I would say, you know, you have to find your reasons of why you want to do this and just focus on that, focus on why you're doing this, what your purpose is and what impact you can make. As opposed to listening to the noise outside of saying, this cannot be done. This has never been done before. You know, there's a lot of noises out there that will give you opinions and that's all they are, they are opinions, but as long as you know, in your heart, what you want to accomplish, then just go after it and do everything that you can along the way to make sure that you are striving to be the best at whatever you're trying to achieve.Kelly Stanton:
I like that advice. I would tell myself something, if I could go back something similar to start off my career. At the start of your career, then would that be what you would share?Gule Sheikh:
Yeah, I think it would be something similar. I would say something similar. I always felt a very strong "why" towards doing what I was doing. I loved innovation and I love learning. And technology has been changing a lot over the past 23 years and actually a lot more. So I would say even the last decade, and then it's accelerating faster as we are aging. So there's constant learning. There is a lot of problem solving and that's what I really enjoy. I enjoy problem solving. I enjoy healthcare, but I'm also passionate about the space that I'm in. So now I'm kind of marrying the two areas together of passion for helping people and for them having better lives and also using technology to do so.Kelly Stanton:
So where can people go to learn more follow, along, and connect with you?Gule Sheikh:
I'm on Twitter. I'm also on LinkedIn, so you can find me there. And if you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out. I always love chatting about anything related to healthcare and technology and merging the two together.Kelly Stanton:
That's great. Gulé, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a real pleasure chatting with you.Gule Sheikh:
Thank you so much.