Regardless of your stance around the gender gap in the tech and venture world, the fact is there are fewer female founders out there. One such founder, however, is right here in Boston making strides in the healthcare technology and life sciences space. You might not be as aware of Zoe Barry as you are the gender gap, but that’ll change soon.
Barry is the Founder and CEO of ZappRx, a secure collaborative online platform that allows patients, physicians and pharmacists to work together to improve patients’ access to treatment for rare and orphan diseases.
If you have the opportunity to sit down with Barry and talk shop, take advantage. All of 30 seconds into the conversation and you’re sold – on whatever she’s selling. I suspect that’s exactly the way Atlas Venture, SR One, several angels, Scott McKay (CTO) and the other ex-Google employees she poached to form the ZappRx tech team, felt when she came knocking on their doors.
This powerful first impression is nothing new for the Columbia grad, who while volunteering at a charity event as a student at the Ivy League school, raffled off her resume to attendees. One donor, John Dawson, shelled out $100 for that resume and offered Barry a job on the spot because; “That’s the best $h*! I’ve ever seen - you’re hired!” he told her.
The position was a create-your-own role at a charter school Dawson ran in Bridgeport, CT. In true startup fashion, upon arrival, Barry polled the students to find a widespread problem – a lack of athletic programs. She raised thousands of dollars, received donated equipment and expanded the program.
While at Columbia studying anthropology and history Barry, born and raised in New York City, was also “nearly Pre-Med,” she told me, and had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian (she even spent time in Alaska saving bald eagles). Around the same time, Dawson offered her a role as an analyst at his hedge fund, Dawson Capital Management.
“You’d be crazy to pass on this opportunity to go study to be a scientist,” Barry’s parents told her.
So, Barry was off to Wall Street, where she’d become Dawson’s protégé. “I was often given the chance to grill CEOs and CFOs, including the CFO of Sam Adams,” she told me, seeming still a bit shocked at her responsibilities at such a young age (early 20’s at the time).
As the market began to turn and Wall Street’s appeal waned, Barry headed to Cambridge for post-baccalaureate coursework in healthcare programs at Harvard.
“I saw healthcare as an industry on the rise and wanted in,” Barry proclaimed.
Eventually landing at athenahealth, a company Barry knew was making strides in the industry, she was charged with mapping the company’s flow of services and working directly with doctors to transition them to EMR.
It was then, in 2011, the industry would take on an entirely new meaning for Barry.
Do It Yourself
As often is the case with entrepreneurs, a problem hits them right in the face, be it business or personal, and the only way to get it solved is to go it alone. Barry was no different.
Barry’s younger brother was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. She became witness to the real struggles facing patients and caregivers in such situations. Due to delays (on average, patients wait 6-8 weeks to receive therapy) in acquiring proper medication and therapy, Barry and her parents saw his condition worsen and lead to other problems, such as learning disabilities. As Barry dug deeper, she realized this problem was not unique to her family.
“I became obsessed with prescription workflows,” she told me. “I couldn’t escape it.”
After leaving athenahealth Barry raised friends and family funding and focused on creating a platform to close gaps between doctors, patients and pharmacists.
With the traditional prescription retail market an endless field, Barry was advised by industry executive Jay Silverstein (Founding Member of Oxford Health and advisor to ZappRx) to focus on the specialty market - which is an umbrella term covering many indications in the Rare and Orphan Disease category. Rare and Orphan diseases are defined by the FDA as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, treatments for these diseases are critical as these patients are ultra high risk in the healthcare system.
“While volume-wise (1%) this is a much smaller market, drug spend on specialty drugs accounts for 30% of all dollars,” Barry explained to me. Adding, “50% of drugs in development today are for specialty products, many treating rare and orphan diseases. It’s a $100 billion market today and expected to be $400B by 2020.”
With her niche established and a functioning product, ZappRx raised a $1 million seed round in September of 2013, led by Atlas Venture and included several notable angels. Another $1 million in funding was added in January 2014 and included new investor SR One, the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline. At the time of the funding, Jens Eckstein, Managing Partner at SR One said the following regarding ZappRx:
“As an evergreen fund backed by GSK, a major manufacturer of specialty medications, we are acutely aware of the high cost associated with manually processing specialty orders. We believe ZappRx has the ability to alleviate these inefficiencies. As an investor who strongly identifies with this problem, we want to be part of the solution.”
ZappRx is now serving as a one-stop-shop for doctors. Barry explains it as, “Amazon 1-Click for specialty drug orders.” By eliminating inefficiencies, faxing and paperwork, ZappRx enables patients to attain necessary medication and therapy in a matter of days, not weeks.
The platform keeps doctors, pharmacists, patients and caregivers intertwined and engaged. It streamlines processes and eliminates the delays and red tape often associated with ordering and fulfillment.
Accelerating Growth and Catalyzing Women Entrepreneurship
2014 was a big year for ZappRx. A partnership was formed with biopharma company Zafgen that was formally announced in tandem with a $5.6 million round of funding from SR One, and Atlas Venture (life sciences arm, not tech).
Thus far the funding has helped grow the team with top talent, helping Barry to recruit away from the likes of Facebook and Google. The team, who is working out of WeWork South Station, now stands at 20 and Barry expects to double the team by year-end. She is currently recruiting C-Suite roles, specifically a CFO.
Furthermore, Barry, who spends a lot of time advising aspiring women entrepreneurs, has built her team with 50% female employees.
Barry, who was recognized in Inc.’s 30 Under 30 earlier this year, is well aware of the challenges facing women entrepreneurs – some externally, some internally. She’s working with young women to break through the internal barriers and mental hurdles, like seeking and accepting funding or getting the point of just going for it.
“The time I spent on Wall Street fed into my pursuit of becoming a startup CEO,” Barry said. “It gave me the opportunity to realize I had the chops to play with the big guys. I realize not everyone has that experience, but so many are sitting on the starting line with an amazing idea. They just have to take the leap.”
As for the external barriers, Barry told me those too have changed. “Since I started out a few years ago, I’ve noticed a major shift. VC’s are much more apt to meet with and invest in women founders. Many are actively seeking to do so.”
While the closing of the gender gap is a debatable topic, the need for confident, inspirational and successful women founders like Zoe Barry willing to lead the movement is not. Nor is the fact that Barry’s ZappRx is on the rise.
ZappRx is just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished and with some of the biggest players in healthcare right here in Boston it won’t be long before Barry locks down the next major partnership.
Until then, keep a close watch on ZappRx and Barry specifically, as she is sure to become an influential staple and leader in Boston’s startup community.
*photo credit: Lauren Kallen