Turning Risk into Reward

For some entrepreneurs, taking an unexpected opportunity all the way really pays off. is an online platform created by Brandon Welch that allows doctors to visit with their patients online through video calls, for free.

In 2012, Welch was a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah in biomedical infographics. While working on a project in obstetrics and gynecology, Welch discovered a gap in the market: patient visits by video. Women that did not need in-person visits, but wanted to speak with their doctor, couldn’t. Even though Welch was tied up in his Ph.D. program, he decided to investigate anyway.

“I looked for HIPAA compliant telemedicine solutions that were free and simple to use, and there was nothing! I thought it was crazy,” he said. “This was a side thing for me, but I thought I’d just put the idea into the Bench to Bedside competition. I got a couple medical students and other graduate students to help build an initial prototype of the app, just kind of threw it together and went to the competition.”

The product won $3,000 in the medical-innovation competition at the U, and Welch decided to run with the idea. They invested the money into building a better prototype, and went back to place in the top 10 in the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge and Opportunity Quest, two competitions hosted by Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. Welch and his business partner, Dylan Turner, an entrepreneurship student at the U, then began working with researchers at the U to improve their product, adding new features like a waiting room and custom branding as they were requested.

The process of guess and check went on for a year and a half, until Welch graduated with his Ph.D. Although the product had only been used in Utah, Welch and his partner decided to take another leap.

“We thought we’d just see what happened,” Welch said. “We made it available in May and spent a couple hundred bucks on Google Ads. Someone found it and put it on their directory of telemedicine platforms and it was the only free one on the list. We got more traction from that, and it’s really grown by word of mouth — people use it and tell their colleagues, and then they use it and tell their colleagues.”

The biggest risk, though, wasn’t going to market. The technology itself was a risk. ran on WebRTC, a new open-source, peer-to-peer video technology embedded into browsers. When started, WebRTC only supported Chrome and Firefox browsers, which at the time only represented about half of the browser market. The cheaper technology allowed to provide the telemedicine solution for free, so they stuck with it.

“It was a better technology and a lot cheaper to run,” Welch said. “Initially there was pushback: ‘It doesn’t work on Internet Explorer or Safari so we can’t use it’ and we said fine, don’t use it. Chrome and Firefox were growing, and we recognized that. We rode the wave of a free telemedicine product along with the shift in the browser market to the point that most people use Chrome, and it has now become a non-issue. We made the right technology bet at the very beginning. The cost to us was pennies compared to other technologies.”

The company received more grants, including a Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH) for $225,000, that assisted them in extending capabilities into the clinical research market. The company uses a “freemium model” to generate revenue, with professional versions including premium features like three-way calling, screen share, payments, shared rooms and more. Now, the company is earning sufficient revenue to sustain operations on its own.

As a result of the low cost and shift in the browser market, skyrocketed. The user base has over 22,000 clinicians, and in the past month alone delivered over one million minutes of telemedicine through the platform.

“The entrepreneurship mentality at Utah is very unique and special. Now that I’m at a university in South Carolina, when I talk about business and spin-out companies I’m met with blank stares — they don’t get it,” Welch said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the resources at Utah. The product wouldn’t be where it’s at today. I’m the first to say that is here because of the U and Lassonde programs.”

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About the Author:

Jacqueline Mumford Jacqueline is a master of accounting graduate from the University of Utah. Specializing in tax, she works as an accountant studying the intersection of government and business. In her free time, she runs, plays Candy Crush, and reads novels. Twitter: @jacqmumford and LinkedIn here.

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