"The $10,000 we got was monumental for me. It was able to help us launch and then sustain Vitable for a year. It’s hard to overstate the importance." —Joseph Kitonga, Founder & CEO, Vitable Health
Where Are They Now? Q&A With Vitable Health Founder Joseph Kitonga
Since the Inc.U Competition officially launched in 2015, it has produced 10 winning teams and provided $120,000 in prize money.
Vitable Health is one of those 10 startups, which have all grown, shifted, and encountered new challenges and successes. This is the fifth in an article series which explores where some of the winning teams are now, how the pandemic has impacted their businesses, and what the next big steps for their companies are.
Business name: Vitable Health
Vitable Health is an on-demand healthcare coverage company that provides acute and preventative coverage to the 40 million uninsured and 38 million under-insured Americans. The business has rethought how healthcare should work by vertically integrating acute care. Vitable sends Board-Certified providers either directly to members’ homes/places of work or via telemedicine, providing a transformative healthcare experience and dramatically lowering the cost of providing acute and preventative care.
Business location: Philadelphia, PA
Name and title: Joseph Kitonga, Founder & CEO
Q: What stage was your company at when you participated in the Inc.U Competition?
At the start of the semester, I didn’t know if Vitable Health was even possible – the idea was Uber for urgent care, where we’d bring the provider to you. I didn’t know if I could hire providers, I didn’t know corporate practice of medicine laws, there were just a lot of variables I didn’t know.
In fall of 2018, I built the tech product that would enable Vitable, found a lawyer, and applied to Inc.U. I remember going to the taping the next semester, and that was the first week we’d launched.
Q: How has your business model shifted, if at all, since participating in the Inc.U Competition?
At that time, we were doing on demand urgent care, and quickly it shifted to being an urgent care membership service. Members pay a monthly fee and get access to our network of providers.
The people who were initially signing up at a mall kiosk we had set up were everyday workers. The reason they were signing up was because they didn’t have healthcare, and this is an affordable way for them to get health coverage they can actually use. We then decided to sell to small employers as well. So, now we’re this primary and urgent health care plan – when you become a member or your employer offers it, you get access to our network of providers that come to you.
Q: How did participating in the Inc.U Competition impact you and your company?
The $10,000 we got was monumental for me. It was able to help us launch and then sustain Vitable for a year. It’s hard to overstate the importance. I think that when most companies are founded, there’s this gap between when they are founded and when they raise seed funding, and Inc.U really was a godsend at that time. I was able to invest $2,000 on buying equipment and paying for liability – things I never even thought about. It enabled me to hire a full-time sales representative, which in turn enabled us to grow. Building the business wasn’t just building an app, and I needed some upfront capital that my $5,000 in savings wasn’t enough for.
Q: What successes have you had since winning?
I went through Y Combinator with Vitable, and I’m a sole founder. I don’t have co-founders, and Y Combinator accepted Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and a lot of other big names, so it was a privilege to me to get that opportunity. I had interviewed three times over three years, and I finally got in. Soon after going into Y Combinator, at the end of the three months, we were able to raise $1.5 million from investors. It’s been quite a memorable and eventful few months. I now have a team of six people, when only eight months ago, it was just me.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted or shifted your business?
We’ve been doing in-home COVID tests since March. People were afraid of going into a doctor’s office to get tested. We quickly started free COVID testing for all our members. We were able to provide value for a population that was really suffering within the five counties in Philly that we operate in. By doing rapid COVID testing for front line workers putting their lives on the line – homecare workers, and restaurant workers – we are helping these business owners take care of their employees and keep them safe, completely free. It’s really hard to get a rapid COVID test — we are one of the few places in Philly able to offer it, and we cover dozens of employers, thousands of lives.
Q: What is the next big step for your company?
We’ll be expanding soon outside of Philadelphia, and that’s super exciting for us. We continue to expand within Philly, and the next big step is expanding outside. We also continue to grow with the businesses we work with. Our core focus right now is on businesses.
Q: What advice do you have for future participants of the Inc.U Competition?
The advice that I got as a student entrepreneur was very impactful: build for the sake of building, don’t build for outcome. Fall in love with the process.
When we started, we were making like $1,000 a month, but I was so bought in, I wanted to make it work. It wasn’t about the money; it was about building something that mattered and doing something for our members. So, build something for the sake of building it, not for the outcome, and then fall in love with the process, because it’s not the easiest of journeys but it’s the most fulfilling if you stick around.