Q&A: CoverMyMeds’ Alan Gilbert Discusses Startup Success in Ohio

By Jerred Ziegler

Since its launch in Cleveland and Columbus in 2008, Ohio startup CoverMyMeds has grown tenfold. This JumpStart portfolio company is one of the fastest growing healthcare information technology companies in the U.S., and has processed more than 20 million prior authorizations (PAs) to help people get their medicine.

CoverMyMeds automates the PA process and eliminates the mountain of paperwork often involved with getting patients the medications they need. In the past, the PA system was paper-based and required multiple phone calls and faxes between physicians, pharmacists and insurance companies to ensure the approval process was moving forward. CoverMyMeds automates this workflow and tracks the status of PAs as they work through the different parties involved. It is the first and only solution for PA forms encompassing all plans and drugs.

Alan Gilbert has been the vice president of engineering at CoverMyMeds in Columbus for three years. Gilbert offers advice to other entrepreneurs in Ohio to help them with their own businesses.

Q: How did CoverMyMeds get started?
A: The predecessor to CoverMyMeds was a consulting company called Innova Partners, which worked with one insurance provider in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Innova created an online prior authorization module for this company, but then noticed that the system was ineffective because it only worked for that specific provider. It’s like if Google search only worked on CNN’s website. Instead of creating one module that worked for one individual company, we realized it needed to work for all insurance companies in order for it to be convenient for physicians. That’s where the idea developed to create CoverMyMeds.

Q: You’ve seen a lot of growth in Ohio, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. You’ve also received accolades for being one of Columbus’ best small businesses. How did you get to this point?
A: We were fueled by a successful business idea that has been well-executed and well-leveraged, resulting in rapid growth. The people that work for CoverMyMeds are passionate about solving a real problem. We all want to use technology to make it easier to deliver health care. We really focus on our work culture and creating a place that our employees want to come to every day. This helps us maintain a great work environment, even with our team doubling in size every eight to ten months.

Q: What was the biggest obstacle to getting CoverMyMeds to where it is now?
A: At one point we ran out of space – that tends to happen when a company grows so much so quickly. It was extremely difficult to find office space in downtown Columbus for 140 employees, plus room for that number to double in the next couple of years.

Another big obstacle was the operational and cultural aspects of scaling. When I started, we had eight people on our tech team. We’re now up to 60. How do you grow so quickly while still keeping the cultural aspects that made your smaller team so successful? To combat this issue, we focus our employees on customer optimization. We break teams down into smaller groups and give them more manageable, individual tasks.

Q: What are some of the benefits you’ve seen to starting a business in Ohio?
A: Our company was started by natives of northeast and central Ohio. Most of our employees are also from Ohio and simply don’t want to live anywhere else. This employee retention is a huge benefit for our company. In fact, I think moving the company anywhere else would result in a loss of employees who don’t want to leave the state. When you add this hardworking team mentality to the low cost of living in Ohio and our great school systems, it’s hard to beat.

Q: What’s the best part about the startup community in Columbus?
A: CoverMyMeds has a great synergy with the city of Columbus. We have an excellent relationship with The Ohio State University’s co-op program, which has resulted in 10 employee hires, and we work a lot with the city’s Startup Week. Columbus has a great tech culture and a great entrepreneurial culture, especially thanks to Rev1 Ventures and  Ohio Third Frontier. There is a great, supportive community here that helps us propagate our story.

Q: What is next for CoverMyMeds?
A: CoverMyMeds will continue to grow, do more good in the world and create more jobs. We’re focused on organic growth, targeting new doctors, pharmacies and health insurance companies to partner with. Our mission is to smooth out the complications with drug adherence. We want to help people get the drugs they need, get those drugs covered by insurance and ensure people are taking them at the right time.

Q: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
A: Find a good mentor. Find someone who has started a business before and can give you advice. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone who was successful – failure is important to learn from, too. For someone just getting started, the entrepreneurial world is wide open and there is so much you don’t know. If you can find someone to help, someone who has tried to do what you’re trying to do, it can give you confidence moving forward. There are a ton of mentors in Cleveland and Columbus.

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