Bentonville tech startup tackles healthcare inefficiencies

Robbie Knight, co-founder and CEO of Bentonville-based healthcare technology startup Soda Health, wants to help people overcome challenges and improve their lives.

This startup aims as it targets health plan inefficiencies and billions of dollars in wasted benefits by expanding access to essential benefits and adapting them to changing needs.

Soda Health was founded to disrupt the supplemental benefits system with a technology platform that allows health plans to reimburse goods and services that are not backed by traditional medical claims. It works with employers and health plans to help consumers pay for necessities such as healthy food, transportation to doctors’ offices and utility bills.

“What we fundamentally believe is that the existing solutions that exist today are a good fit for everyone,” Knight said. “You have broad-based benefits available that people don’t use because they don’t know about them” and don’t meet their needs.

“We take a far more personal approach,” he said. “We’re inventing the payments infrastructure that doesn’t exist to support that new application … The ability to address that needs to happen longitudinally to the member as their individual needs evolve.”

Since launching in 2021, the startup has raised over $31 million. Knight said the recently announced $25 million in Series A funding will be used to partner with retailers and expand its benefits, including providing healthy food and helping people with housing assistance or supplemental nutrition assistance programs. Better help identifying and enrolling for needed benefits. chatter).

When asked why the startup has become so successful so quickly, Knight said people are excited to solve fundamental challenges and help the company realize its revenue growth potential.

“We have heard over and over again that there is no one in the market today that is even considering the approach we are taking, which is why investors are so excited about what we are doing besides our partners We are getting ready to launch in the next few months,” he said.

Knight said Soda Health has started generating revenue, and its technology platform will begin working with its first external customer in November. An app is in the works, but a timeline for completion has yet to be determined.

Soda Health has a secondary office in Chicago and has employees in 15 states. Over the next 12 months, the company expects to serve over 500,000 people. In the same period, its employee strength is on track to double to 80, he said.

In five years, Knight said the goal is to serve 10 million people and maximize their resources. Success will be demonstrable improvements in health outcomes and savings for employers and health plans, she said.

initial objective
The company’s current focus is on Medicare Advantage and Medicaid recipients, but it also works with employers.

After Soda Health agrees with an employer or insurance company, it identifies health plan recipients’ strengths and weaknesses and prioritizes immediate and long-term needs to stay healthy. For example, the plan could provide access to healthy food for someone who is hungry and has diabetes.

Knight said the plans may not afford food benefits in the long term, but Soda Health could help people find and enroll in resources like SNAP or food stamps.

“We believe that the approach we are taking will not only provide members with better access and understanding of what their benefits are, but secondarily and most importantly, it will humanize our incentives as a service provider. aligns with who we are to ultimately serve them to help them identify and get the resources they need, which will ultimately keep them healthy, which allows the health plan and the employer to save money,” he said.

Employers and health plans pay Soda Health based on performance. Knight said that when health outcomes for consumers improve, the company does better financially. He declined to name the companies and health plans with which Soda Health will work, but said they are the largest employers and health insurance companies in the United States.

social work
Born in California, Knight lived a few years in southern Lebanon before growing up in Alabama, including Mobile and Birmingham. He was a social worker for about six years focusing on behavioral health, substance abuse and community social work.

“I have seen firsthand the challenges people face in America’s system,” he said. “After getting into social work, I wanted to make a difference.

“The challenge I saw in space was that the systems in place in today’s world create unnecessary stress that makes it incredibly difficult for people to access the basic resources they need.”

For example, he said that 40% of Medicare and Medicaid recipients eligible for SNAP do not receive benefits. These recipients can cut their medication in half to meet their needs, he said.

As he grew frustrated with the challenges of accessing essential resources, Knight set off for the private sector to learn how it worked and create a model to help people access essential resources .

About 10 years ago, he moved to Northwest Arkansas and joined Walmart. He and a few co-workers worked for the Bentonville-based retailer for about eight years before founding Soda Health.

Co-founders Daryl Risinger, president and chief development officer, and Jared Dauman, head of operations, previously held leadership positions at Walmart. Co-founder Chris Brown was an executive at digital wellness platform Rally Health, chief technology officer, which was acquired by UnitedHealthcare in 2017.

Liz Baker, vice president of customer development, worked with the co-founders at Walmart. He tried to solve the challenges that people had to face to get the required benefits but could not find a solution. Baker was asked to join Soda Health shortly after it was founded. She is working with employers and health plans to provide the necessary benefits.

broken heart
Baker works closely with healthcare consultant Jim Bailey, a retired Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield executive.

“We are a young company,” Baker said. “We’re trying to break into healthcare, which is a tough place to be.” She said the company is taking advantage of Bailey’s experience and the contacts she has developed over her career.

Bailey said he has worked with Walmart’s benefits department since 1994. He began working closely with the co-founders when the retailer established its clinic strategy. As he talked more, he said it became “a natural fit” to help Soda Health.

In 2021, Bailey formed Client Focused Strategies LLC, and is leveraging the relationships he developed over his 41 years at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to introduce people to Soda Health.

When asked about the company’s goals over the next five years, he explained post-pandemic changes in health plans and how Soda Health is trying to address health plan benefits at the member level rather than at the group level. . He expects employer-sponsored plans to eventually be addressed at the member level, especially with the increase in remote work following the pandemic.

“I’ve been involved with Alice Walton’s health foundation for some years, particularly among employers,” he said. “What is trying to be accomplished in Northwest Arkansas is not that far [from what] Soda Health is striving to fulfill. Those two efforts can complement each other.”

Baker agreed that Soda Health is focused on changing the healthcare system to focus on the member rather than the group level.

“Healthcare will change to see people as people and figure out how to recognize their unique health and well-being,” he said.

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