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Innovator founder profile: Tagnos’ Neeraj Bhavani

In this Innovation Lab interview series, Bhavani discusses becoming a patient journey AI company, surviving a long sales cycle, and why trying to raise money with PowerPoint slides is a terrible idea for entrepreneurs.

Health Evolution | January 12, 2021

Tagnos’ Founder Neeraj Bhavani’s ultimate vision for the company is to assist patients and their families by creating a frictionless experience across the care continuum.

Prior to founding Tagnos, Bhavani served as a Vice President of Corporate Development at RoundWorld Solutions Big Data Security & Governance Solutions, President of the TiE SoCal non-profit network of entrepreneurs, and in other roles at various companies.

Health Evolution interviewed Bhavani about securing corporate partnerships with the likes of Honeywell and Zebra Technologies earlier in the startup funding phase than is typical, aligning with channel partners to position Tagnos for growth, pilot testing Amazon Alexa at a county hospital, and more.

What inspired you to found Tagnos? Or what is the origin story?
Bhavani:
There are a couple things. One, my father was admitted to a hospital at one point. He was taken for an x-ray, on the same floor — but no one in the hospital could tell me where he was. He was in his late 70’s, I was walking the floor, talking to nurses, and more than an hour later we found him two doors down the hallway. It was interesting to see how the hospitals operated once you got in and how patient flow is not visible to others. The other part is I went to UCLA and they have a good public health, engineering, business school, that all come together in a health care consortium. There are ideation workshops where professors help launch ideas in health care. When I presented this idea to improve patient flow there was support. UCLA Foundation is one of the seed investors.

What should Founders know about the technology? Not so much the machine learning algorithms but a high-level of what can be done with it …
Bhavani:
The way we describe Tagnos in any customer meeting is we say we are a workflow orchestration company that takes real time data of patient movement inside the hospital and then we also take historical data to learn from the past and put those together to give next best actions. In patient flow orchestration, we help make the operating room (OR) room turnover better, improve on-time starts, time from admission to discharge, reduce the number of patients leaving without treatment in the Emergency Department (ED) — all to deliver a better patient experience.

How, if at all, has the COVID-19 outbreak changed your strategy?
Bhavani:
We gained more traction both inside and outside health care. We were already heavily invested with Cisco, Zebra and Honeywell so they are interested to take us into proximity tracking, contact tracing not just in health care but other industries. We are also gaining traction with other supply chain businesses. New opportunities have arisen because we had use cases around proximity tracking for infection control and being able to tell who came in contact with an infected patient.

Don’t try to raise money using PowerPoint slides. If there’s a way to get a minimum viable product, get at least one customer to use it, and focus on customers. The trick to building a company is to do both sales and fundraising — but always remember sales is a different kind of money than venture capital.

Neeraj Bhavani, Tagnos

What should current and prospective customers expect from Tagnos in the next 18-24 months?
Bhavani:
We’re doing a few things. One is work with a county hospital in Southern California that came and asked us if we can implement the OR turnaround solution with Amazon Alexa, not necessarily using RFID band. We are always looking to become more and more software heavy and lighter and lighter on the hardware because it’s more effective to scale those kinds of businesses. So we’re piloting Alexa. The second is getting into block utilization inside the OR for scheduling surgeons. The blocks are quite interesting to manage in a hospital. The software we have built and are piloting could be an independent module we put on the cloud and scale quickly. We’re also getting into inpatient bed flow, not just ER and OR, getting downstream. And I’d say the biggest thing we are looking at right now is AI to predict length of stay for patients in the hospital. Typically, people stay 3-5 days so being able to predict the length of stay and provide guidance for hospitals to work on this bottleneck so patients can leave faster because sometimes they’re scrambling to get patients out the door.

And what about further down the road, say, three to five years?
Bhavani:
We’re becoming a patient journey AI company. That’s what I tell investors and customers. The ultimate vision is assisting the patient and family for a frictionless experience across the continuum of care. That starts with reminding people that surgery is coming up, reminding them not to eat the day before, to arrive at the hospital in a timely manner, and when they leave the hospital we work with them on what they need.

What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bhavani:
For me, the Tagnos journey has been a great experience. Being able to solve significant problems inside health care with viable product is the obvious answer. And working with corporate partners such as Zebra and Honeywell to invest in our company at such an early stage — these strategic alignments usually come much later, so the alignment with channel partners has been a bright spot for Tagnos and I’m proud of that.

As a founder, what would you say is the hardest challenge you’ve overcome?
Bhavani:
When I look back it’s the long sales cycle. Solving that problem is a big challenge. You can raise millions of dollars in VC money but burn through it fast because of the long sales cycle. We overcame it by working with our channel partners. Taking the investment money from channel partners, we were able to accomplish that in the Series A stage and that is bearing fruit now because it takes a lot of time to get channels to work. But now that it’s on track, we’re set to grow in the next 12 months.

As an entrepreneur, what advice would you share with peers, founders, and others?
Bhavani:
The first thing is don’t try to raise money using PowerPoint slides. I see a lot of entrepreneurs trying to raise money via slides. If there’s a way to get a minimum viable product, get at least one customer to use it, and focus on customers. Fundraising never stops, selling never stops. The trick to building a company is to do both sales and fundraising — but always remember sales is a different kind of money than venture capital.

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About the Author

Health Evolution, Staff Writer