See the pitch deck that an ex-Goldman partner and a public-health doctor used to convince Verily and Venrock to pour $8 million into a startup taking a new approach to fighting disease outbreaks

  • The Public Health Company wants to help businesses and governments navigate public health crises.
  • The startup plans to use data to help track viruses and make decisions about office openings.
  • Venrock and Sweat Equity Ventures invested alongside Verily, Alphabet’s secretive healthcare arm.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As some Americans eye the end of the coronavirus pandemic, a California tech company is just getting started.

The Public Health Company promises to help governments and businesses navigate the current pandemic and prepare for future outbreaks, using public and proprietary data sets. On Thursday, the startup raised $8 million in seed funding from Venrock, Sweat Equity Ventures, and Alphabet’s Verily.

Although named for a public health service, The Public Health Company will sell its software directly. Dr. Charity Dean, The Public Health Company’s cofounder and CEO, told Insider that she compares public health preparedness to cybersecurity measures that ramped up in the wake of highly publicized data breaches over the last few years. 

“After a number of high-profile attacks, it became apparent to all entities that the ability to prevent them and respond to them was something they had to have,” Dean said. “We believe very much that disease control and the ability to prevent, detect, and contain disease threats will very much undergo the same perspective shift in the US and the world.”

Dean declined to elaborate on how it charges companies for the analysis tools and software The Public Health Company can offer, and also declined to specify where the company gets its data for its recommendation engine. Using the example of norovirus on a cruise ship, however, she mentioned that the company’s software would evaluate elements such as port cities and overall cruise passenger demographics to create recommendations for cruise-bound health officials.

It’s a need companies and governments have even once the coronavirus pandemic fades in the US, although Dean, who is a former California state public health official, maintains that COVID-19 will be top of mind in parts of the country for years to come.

“We absolutely believe the capability of our platform is sadly needed in the private and public sector for years to come,” Dean said.

Here is the pitch deck Dean used to sell investors on her vision for a privatized public health system to combat future pandemics.

It focuses on managing businesses' legal and financial risk from infectious disease outbreaks. For example, it would help businesses revisit language in their employment agreements that could leave them legally vulnerable if an employee caught COVID-19 at the office.

The goal, Dean said, is to let business executives and government officials make decisions quickly on their own, instead of contracting out to a third-party consultant or waiting days to gather information before moving forward.

Dean was previously the assistant director of the California Department of Public Health, and said she learned how useful a tool like The Public Health Company's could be while she was working on the state's coronavirus response task force. She said getting accurate information quickly from multiple sources was one of the biggest challenges she faced.

Dean's background in microbiology helped her develop a tool that navigates the "wonky" elements of pathology and policy, she said, without having to overload CEOs or government officials. The Public Health Company sells its services to both public groups and private companies, and will also work with hospitals, she said.

The first product Dean and her team built is based on genomic sequencing to better understand the source of potential outbreaks. Dean said she had been aware of the potential for the coronavirus to mutate and variants to spread, and decided to focus her energies on developing a tool to track them.

She gave the example of an outbreak at a newly reopened office building. The HR department would have to know whether the outbreak originated in the office or from community infections to decide on what to do next. Sequencing the employees' infections would help the company gather the information to make that determination.

Mutations are expected among infectious diseases, Dean said, and more spread within a community increases the likelihood that a virus will mutate. Mutations can be small adjustments to the disease that make it easier to catch, as has happened with several coronavirus variants.

If the outbreak was suspected to come from a lapse in infection management protocol recommended by The Public Health Company during the reopening process, the HR department could then identify where the lapse occurred and fix it quickly.

If the outbreak was suspected to come from the community, the HR department could find recommendations on how to best limit spread among employees, Dean said.

Another use case for The Public Health Company's software is for professional travel companies like cruise lines, Dean said. In that situation, the software would rely on location- and demographic-specific information to predict the likelihood of an outbreak of a specific disease.

The Public Health Company would look at diseases common at port cities, how they're transmitted, and how prevalent the disease is in a given area. She said knowing that an area is experiencing a cholera outbreak, for example, could inform decisions about where a cruise docks or what it should monitor in its passengers.

In the US, Dean is closely tracking coronavirus variants that could impact local and statewide reopenings. The Public Health Company plans to work with local health departments to report new cases and will help other businesses comply with state requirements for reporting.

Dean declined to specify how it markets and sells its different types of services to companies and governments but said the software works best when all the options are used together.

Unlike a consultant, The Public Health Company wants to provide recommendations quickly that leaders like public health officials or HR departments can act on quickly. Dean likened it to removing the middleman by giving those groups access to data she wanted to have but struggled to get as a public health official.

"It's as if they had a public health officer standing next to them," Dean said of The Public Health Company's recommendation engine. "It goes back to the issue of, technology revolutionized so many sectors, but public health and disease control were not. We're looking at an old problem a different way."

"The tech revolution that happened to other sectors has come from the tech innovation that was birthed from the private sector," Dean said. So instead of forming The Public Health Company as a COVID-19-specific nonprofit or working within her role as a public health official, she decided to start it as a venture-backed company late last year. Over time, she hopes to broaden the company's scope beyond COVID-19.

Dean said that she was impressed by Silicon Valley tech companies' willingness to help California's coronavirus response task force last year, and realized that much of the software and tools her team was using came from outside government. The government's software, on the other hand, was slow and clunky, she said.

She met Dr. Bob Kocher, a general partner at venture firm Venrock, and Todd Park, the cofounder of Devoted Health, on the task force, where both were working as volunteers.

When she told Kocher and Park her idea for The Public Health Company, which is compliant with state and federal data privacy regulations, they expressed support and eventually signed on to invest or advise. Bryan Roberts, a Venrock partner and Kocher's colleague, introduced Dean to Brian Levine, who became her cofounder. Levine is a former partner at Goldman Sachs.

Dean assembled an executive team that she trusted and who she felt embodied the company's mission rooted in integrity. She brought on a former executive from primary care company One Medical and two former Chan Zuckerberg Biohub scientists.

She assembled a board of directors that went beyond public health officials.

She did, however, pull public health and infectious disease experts from her former roles to join The Public Health Company. She hired experts from UCSF, California Health and Human Services, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

The company says it will use the $8 million in seed funding to develop its software and expand its offering.

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