2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Odyssey, UCLA (Anderson)


UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Industry: SaaS/AI/digital health

Founding Student Name(s): Natalia (Natalie) Dranchuk (MBA ’23)

Brief Description of Solution: Odyssey utilizes AI to help underserved populations address unmet health-related social needs (such as food, transportation and housing) by connecting them to community health workers who can provide personalized support and assist in obtaining essential social services.

Funding Dollars: $200,000 + angel round

What led you to launch this venture? My journey to Odyssey had some twists. It started with my interest in software development, kindled during my first college project in Ukraine. Over seven years, I focused on AI-driven products but felt the need for a deeper purpose.

The pandemic struck while I was at Microsoft, and we created a COVID-triage chatbot for the National Health Organization in Ukraine. It was a rewarding experience that sparked my interest in healthcare’s potential.

I started reflecting on my own experience with healthcare. When I was 10, my grandma needed a potentially life-saving cardio device; at the time, it cost a lot of money for an average Ukrainian family. We had many challenges trying to pay for both the device and my elder brother’s college tuition. I still remember the stress vividly.

This challenge motivated me to unofficially specialize in healthcare during my MBA, and I started developing software to simplify healthcare administration and aid patients in securing financial assistance.

Around that time, the other major event in my life happened: the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. My entire family resides there, and I felt paralyzed initially. As the U.S. opened its borders to refugees, I questioned how non-English-speaking individuals in high-stress situations navigated the complex healthcare system. That’s when I discovered the invaluable role of community health workers. Shifting our model to support their needs felt like the right pivot for me. I met Autumn, Odyssey’s co-founder and current CEO, in a healthtech community. We started working together two days after our initial conversation, and since then, we have accomplished a lot.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with this venture? One of the most fulfilling aspects of this journey has been our direct engagement with people. In the early stages, Autumn and I served as community health workers, personally assisting individuals and connecting them with essential resources. The sense of fulfillment in knowing that what we’re building directly impacts people’s lives is truly rewarding.

Also, I’m particularly enthusiastic about the technology we’re developing. This includes our conversational AI, Argus, named after the many-eyed giant from Greek mythology. Argus acts as a robust large language model agent, a relatively novel concept. Think of it as ChatGPT on steroids. It’s capable of seamlessly interacting with your database, conducting web searches and even doing things on your behalf. As I delve into the latest research papers, almost all from 2023, I can’t help but be excited about the incredible potential Argus holds.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company, and how did you overcome it? Healthcare’s traditionally slow pace was further strained by the pandemic. Many hospitals are now operating with negative margins, and next year could be even tougher as pandemic subsidies run out. This heightened stress has made the industry even more hesitant to adopt new solutions, especially if they don’t offer a quick return on investment.

I don’t think there is a magic solution to this challenge. If you are building a healthcare startup, you must find ways to demonstrate value as soon as possible (ideally within one year), and you should expect to double your pipeline to reach pre-pandemic sales numbers.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? UCLA Anderson offers abundant opportunities for startups through the Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, various competitions, accelerators, and clubs. The school boasts a remarkable faculty, with many professors having their own entrepreneurial and investment backgrounds. I was fortunate to work with several of our faculty and leaders of community health systems while serving as a strategic consultant in one of our executive programs. This experience provided me with an in-depth view of the external environment in which we would be operating.

I made the most of these resources during my time at Anderson. One of the most impactful opportunities for me was being selected as one of the Wolfen Fellows in my class. This fellowship offers a summer stipend and weekly workshops that allowed me to forego the traditional MBA summer internship and dedicate my time to advancing my venture. It also provided a sense of community in which to engage with fellow entrepreneurs.

Another noteworthy aspect of Anderson is the capstone project. Every student can choose between working with an established company or building their venture through the Business Creation Program. Our advisors urged us to venture beyond the classroom and engage with potential customers, advisors and partners. Many budding entrepreneurs tend to postpone this crucial step, assuming that they know precisely what to build and that it will automatically attract a broad customer base. Talking with customers provided our team with invaluable insights.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I grew up in a simple family, and both of my parents held regular jobs. I didn’t have any immediate role models in the field of entrepreneurship close to home. Back in those days, entrepreneurship in Ukraine was just beginning to take root (though it has since grown significantly). As a result, my early inspirations came from the world of tech entrepreneurship. I was always fascinated by the prospect of improving things around me, which ultimately led me to study computer science. My desire was to create innovative and impactful products, and my role models included some well-known names like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. I admired their ability to recognize the potential for innovation and create elegant and powerful solutions.

Today, I find inspiration from a diverse array of entrepreneurs in my network. However, I also draw inspiration from individuals who may not necessarily be entrepreneurs but possess remarkable qualities that align with the entrepreneurial spirit. For instance, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, is essentially running the country as a startup. He’s made nearly everything accessible through the government app; I always show it to my friends in the U.S., especially when it comes to physically mailing my tax returns. And, of course, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, is a huge role model for his unwavering faith and resilience.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup, and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? One of my favorite courses was The Business of U.S. Healthcare, taught by Professor Omid Toloui, a current VP of innovation at Elevance Health. This course is like a crash course in the healthcare industry, served with a side of real-world wisdom from the professor and fantastic guest speakers.

One of the most valuable insights was how disproportional healthcare spending is. There is a lot of speculation about the trillions of dollars in annual U.S. healthcare spending; it’s not going to change dramatically if healthy people become healthier. Like Pareto’s 80/20 rule, a small amount of the population drives most of the spending. And those are often people with multiple health and social needs whom we are currently helping.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Brian Farrell’s courses had a big impact on me. I was lucky to be a course assistant for two of his courses, and learned a lot about ethical considerations in business, disruption and entrepreneurship. One lesson from Professor Farrell that particularly resonated with me was the idea that disruption no longer relies solely on having a unique technology. In the landscape of 2023, achieving a technological fortress that’s impervious to competition is nearly impossible. Instead, what sets companies up for success is their capacity to innovate within their business model. This insight has been a guiding principle for our work at Odyssey.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? L.A. is the third-largest market for startups in the U.S., so we are able to attend a lot of events with founders and investors at UCLA and beyond. For instance, LA Tech Week brings together entrepreneurs from all over the country and offers an opportunity to meet other founders, VCs and members of  entrepreneurial ecosystems.

What is your long-term goal with your startup?  We are dreaming of an IPO. Odyssey plays in a huge market and holds the potential to become a global company (e.g., one-quarter of the U.K.’s National Health Organization is dedicated to community health).


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