As part of their MBA journey at Cornell Tech, from which they graduated in 2020, Michael Kosnik and Samson Schirmer had the opportunity to compete in a global hackathon, a business-focused competition where students and professionals work together to design a solution to a problem. The Mindstate Hackathon in Tel Aviv, Israel was hosted by Ichilov Hospital, the third-largest hospital in the country. At the event, Kosnik and Schirmer’s team was challenged to craft a way to make intra-hospital patient transport more efficient.
Their team won — and later were among the winners of the 2020 Cornell Tech Startup Awards as well, receiving a $100K investment from the school. They used the funds to actualize their idea: Enroute, a platform that enables seamless patient transportation throughout a hospital by making over-capacity and under-resourced hallways easier to navigate.
It’s a timely venture: Enroute helps to optimize patient flows in hospitals overrun by Covid-19 cases, which are once again spiking in a fourth worldwide wave that comes despite the production of vaccines.
“Everyone on campus was trying to come up with new ideas to aid during the pandemic,” Kosnik tells Poets&Quants of the environment out of which enroute emerged in spring 2020. “Having something exciting to fight for during this time was pretty motivating and inspiring. We are building this system for hospital workers who are fighting Covid-19, and we decided it was important to keep working on it.”
THE ‘UBER OF INTRA-HOSPITAL TRANSPORTATION’
The Mindstate Hackathon is named for the ideation lab “Mindstate,” which brought professionals and students together for two weeks in early 2020 to solve some of Ichilov Hospital’s most pressing challenges. Kosnik, who started his career in finance and eventually transitioned into corporate strategy for a global IT organization focused on digital transformation, and Schirmer, who had previously earned a degree in engineering and worked in process operations for a multinational company, participated through iTrek, an academic and cultural trip available to all Cornell students. Besides themselves, their team contained two other Cornell Tech MBAs, two engineers from Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology, and two designers from Facebook.
While the team had a wide variety of background outside of healthcare, their combined career experience gave them the skill sets necessary to tackle the hospital’s transportation challenge with a new perspective.
The result was enroute, which Kosnik describes as the “Uber of intra-hospital transportation.” Enroute provides full visibility into how patients, personnel, and equipment move throughout a hospital in real-time through an app-based platform that integrates into a hospital’s existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Using specialized algorithms, enroute then automatically assigns transporters to equipment and patients, culminating in a smooth, trackable process.
“I had done some healthcare consulting projects previously, and Sam had the operational background,” Kosnik says. “While we hadn’t worked in hospitals before, we had some understanding of the space that was applicable to helping solve the problems.” The team learned that the patient transport problem was really a matter of logistics, and this was something they were well equipped to tackle.
REPLACING A TIME-CONSUMING & CUMBERSOME PROCESS
In this case, they found that patient transport was a manual and outdated process. Describing the old system, Kosnik recounts how a call was placed to a dispatcher, and then another call was placed to a transporter, and then the order was connected to the transporter. It was time-consuming and involved too many moving parts, he says. The Cornell team created a platform and algorithms that would auto-match incoming orders with transporters based on location, availability, and priority, speeding up the process and improving patient flow and safety.
“We showed our idea to transportation staff, pitched it at the competition, and ended up winning,” Schirmer says.
Post-hackathon, the partners have continued working with the Israeli hospital to implement their idea. The CEO of Ichilov Hospital, Dr. Ronni Gamzu, was interested in implementing enroute, and funding was being discussed — and then the pandemic hit. But rather than fold under stress, Kosnik and Schirmer pushed forward.
“Once the CEO of the hospital said, ‘I want this, it would solve a huge problem for our hospital,’ we decided to try and win Startup awards,” Schirmer says.
AN ‘UP-AND-DOWN JOURNEY’
As they launch their product, Kosnik and Schirmer continue to receive support from Ichillov, numerous advisors, and the greater Cornell community. Enroute’s expecting an exciting new milestone shortly, with plans to launch their Israeli pilot soon and a U.S.-based pilot later in 2021. The team is hoping that by showing proof of their product working, it will help accelerate future growth.
“It has been an up-and-down journey since starting,” Schirmer says. “But I can honestly say that I’ve learned five times as much doing this than I would have in a product manager role at another company.
“How do you sell a product that doesn’t have a proof point yet? How do you convince them that they need this product? It’s been a challenge, but we hope that the results speak for themselves,” Schirmer says.
Traditionally within hospitals there has been little data sharing among disparate systems, yet to speed up intra-hospital patient transfer operations, efficient data collecting and sharing is necessary. Hospitals want innovation, and new regulations around data will hopefully help spur the creation of new products and technologies in the space.
“Many big players in hospital IT outcompete startups because they own the data and relationships,” Kosnik says. “Once we roll out our pilots, it will give hospitals and investors more confidence and in turn allow Enroute the opportunity to grow.”
Despite the global pandemic that has stalled many businesses selling to hospitals, Enroute has been able to raise a pre-seed funding round through Cornell Tech, a startup Accelerator, and a number of angel investors.
A JOURNEY NOT POSSIBLE WITHOUT CORNELL TECH
Launching Enroute has come with challenges.
“You can talk to all sorts of people but there is no tried and true path to creating a startup,” Kosnik says. “There is a lot of trial and error, talking to experts and working our networks.”
Schirmer adds: “Unlike a corporate job, it’s not like you have a breakdown of how you should be spending your time.” Meeting virtually with the team has been difficult. “I always imagined I’d be in the office space we are allotted for a year after winning the Startup Awards, I imagined us being there in that environment in that ‘Hackerhouse’,” Kosnik says. “I felt like I missed out a little on that, but we adapted.” Adds Schirmer: “It’s another skill we are learning early. And it is cheaper; it reduces our overhead.”
Despite all this, Kosnik and Schirmer are confident pursing enroute was the right choice for them. “I never would have guessed how rewarding it is to start something new,”Schirmer says. “This is the best time in your life to do it. I don’t think you get a better opportunity than right after an MBA program. Even if you have a 90% chance of failure as startups do, it’s worth the connections you make to entrepreneurs, investors, and presidents of hospitals. I feel like so many doors have been opened for us.”
Kosnik and Schirmer met on the first day of Cornell Tech’s orientation day and neither expected they’d start this type of a company; however, Kosnik says as soon as he entered Cornell Tech, he felt the entrepreneurial energy. “When the program started, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to get something off the ground. You feel a sense of competition and pressure from the others who come in and discuss startup ideas – it really drives you.”
Kosnik came to Cornell hoping to start his own company, but definitely didn’t envision it manifesting from a Hackathon. Schirmer came to Cornell Tech envisioning he’d work for a tech company after attending Cornell Tech. He liked the idea of being in a startup environment, yet he never imagined he’d found his own startup.
Despite the uncertainties that still exist, both founders are adamant that their journey would not have been possible without Cornell Tech.
“Even if you’re passionate about starting a company, it’s really tough to quit your job and go for it alone during your career,” says Kosnik. “But through their tech and entrepreneurial focused curriculum, the accelerated one-year format, and the resources and community, Cornell Tech makes building a startup a lot more manageable.”