Nurse and ASU graduate student taps university resources to launch health care idea

Monday, June 24, 2019

Ramona Ramadas is on a roll. In the last year, the Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation graduate student has participated in several pitch competitions, winning more than $60,000 to help bring her health care startup to life.

Her business idea focuses on serving individuals who struggle to get the personalized care they desperately need due to homelessness, incarceration, addiction or lack of insurance.  

To address this widespread problem, Ramadas created New Trails Navigators, which connects at-risk folks with peer health navigators who are uniquely qualified to guide them toward sustainable health and wellness.   

“Our peers understand these problems because they've overcome the same issues. They can establish rapport with struggling patients, identify a more whole-person set of needs, and provide support when and where the patient needs it most,” Ramadas said.

With a background in nursing and software development, Ramadas said she has never been short on ideas for tackling some of the more frustrating aspects of health care. But she was lacking something else.

“I didn’t really have a great framework for bringing my ideas to life. So when I was looking for programs to take my career to the next level, I chose the Master of Healthcare Innovation program because it provided that structure. I love the seven pillars of innovation, and I felt like it was a natural fit for me.”

Another perk is that the Master of Healthcare Innovation program is online, and Ramadas lives in Washington.

Once in the program, she was encouraged to pursue some of the concepts she was coming up with by Rick Hall, senior director of Health Innovation Programs in the Edson College.

“ASU has long supported all students with entrepreneurial aspirations,” Hall said. “While some online students might assume it’s difficult to tap into ASU’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation support remotely, Ramona embraced every opportunity to seek funding and mentorship through the HEALab, Venture Devils and more. Despite living outside of Arizona, Ramona has engaged every resource available for her venture, and she’s recognizing success because of it.”

That success started when Ramadas entered her first funding competition, which was the Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative of Schmidt Futures.

Ramadas was one of a handful of finalists selected to receive $50,000 in funding to help refine her idea.

“This program showcases some of the strongest ideas to improve lives in Arizona.  ASU and several other universities across the country have been participating in this program to improve communities across the country,” she said.

In addition, Ramadas was chosen to be part of Venture Devils. She participated in her first pitch competition through that program in November 2018 and won $7,500 from the Pakis Social Innovation Challenge.

She was also selected out of a large number of applicants to present as a finalist at the first ever "Nurse Pitch" competition at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Florida. Her pitch earned her third place and $2,500.

“It was an honor to be selected for this program! I love any opportunity to build relationships with my fellow nurses, and I am very proud to be a nurse. We are natural innovators. ASU has known this for a long time. I am happy that HIMSS and the American Nurses Association put a formal program in place to showcase nursing innovation.”

Most recently, she participated in round two of the Pakis Social Innovation Challenge on Demo Day, pitching her idea to a group of potential investors. That was in April; she ended up winning $2,500.

Each of these opportunities has bolstered her pitching skills, helped her clarify her idea and allowed Ramadas to continue to invest in her business.

“Our successful fundraising has allowed us to not only build an early prototype for New Trails, but we've also been able to secure Innovation Partner status with a program serving the Medicaid population in Washington,” Ramadas said.

Next steps include building out the components of the platform, developing and creating training for the peer navigators, possibly designing a phone app and more.

There’s still a lot to do, but Ramadas is up to the task and feels like the momentum from all of her fundraising is helping to propel things in the right direction and at the right pace.

For her fellow nurses and health care providers, Ramadas offers this insight when it comes to pursuing their own potential business ventures.  

“Keep the patient at the front of your thoughts. What do they want? What do they need?  What are their barriers to success? Keeping the patient in your vision is the most important thing you can do. Innovation should come from what you see and hear, not only what sounds exciting in technology or entrepreneurship today.”