In late November, EpiFinder Co-Founder Neel Mehta and Creative Officer Kristi Kietzmann left Arizona for a cross-country road trip. The journey from Arizona to Washington D.C. covered 5,504 miles over 22 days.
At Washington D.C., CEO Robert Yao and other team members joined them for the 71s American Epilepsy Society (AES) conference. There, the team held 3 days of exhibits and presented.
Why didn’t Neel and Kristi, like Robert, simply fly to the biggest event in epilepsy?
The EpiFinder road team’s mission was to spread the word about EpiFinder and what we do. On the way to the Potomac River and back again, Neel met with 18 epilepsy professionals, not including the many meetings of the conference itself.
Meeting with Experts
From Oklahoma to Pittsburgh, Neel and epilepsy thought leaders exchanged ideas. Nearly everyone we met found EpiFinder’s potential intriguing. That potential grows as we prepare to release our patient tool, the next step in EpiFinder’s growth. This tool will bring a new level of convenience, utility, and information to epilepsy diagnosis.
“Instead of a nurse practitioner or doctor inputting all the information,” Neel says, “patients will be able to put in info from the comfort of our homes.”
We are proud to announce that the Kickstarter campaign for our patient tool surpassed its goal of $10,000. (Thank you to all who contributed!)
Neel and Kristi drove east from Arizona into New Mexico. Dusty flatlands, brush, railways, and the occasional town appeared on the wide-open roadside. They stopped in Albuquerque and soon crossed into Oklahoma. The first meeting in Oklahoma City proved to be strongly positive and gave our team hope for the road ahead and the future of epilepsy.
Epilepsy affects 1 in 26 people. More than 100,000 Americans are diagnosed with the neurological disorder every year. Given epilepsy’s prevalence, there’s a good chance you know a few people who live with it.
We need progress in the fight against epilepsy. But lack of resources has slowed us down. Unfortunately, epilepsy is stigmatized and there isn’t enough funding. This was a subject that numerous thought leaders raised with Neel.
The lack of funds, lack of epilepsy doctors, and the need for innovation have created a gap in epilepsy diagnosis (and treatment). EpiFinder hopes to fill this gap by harnessing patient data.
After Oklahoma City, Neel and Kristi drove to Memphis and then Nashville. By then, the plains and shapes of cacti and Palo Verde were long gone, replaced by grassy hills and the stark, leafless trees of late fall. Buoyed by a spate of Kickstarter investments, the EpiFinder road team held three successful meetings in Nashville, the final major city before Washington D.C.
American Epilepsy Society Meeting
Medical professionals and scholars from all over the world attended the 71st meeting of the American Epilepsy Society. It’s the biggest epilepsy conference. The schedule of symposia, lectures, exhibits, and dinners spanned five days.
We shared our mission with epileptologists, neurologists, researchers, students, doctors, nurses, lab scientists, and university representatives.
EpiFinder’s team of five—Neel, Kristi, Robert, research project manager Edgar Salinas, and business development executive Daniel Messick—enjoyed a prime spot on the exhibition floor. As neighbors, we had Cleveland Clinic, CURE, and Mayo Medical Laboratories.
The Mayo clinic connection has been an important one for EpiFinder. Neel and Robert co-authored a paper with Mayo Clinic professionals. It describes details of how EpiFinder improves epilepsy diagnosis. Neel and Robert gave a presentation on this paper. It was well received.
Some 250 conference-goers stopped by the EpiFinder booth in the course of three days. Some even spent two hours with us, often leaving for a presentation of special interest and then returning later to learn more about EpiFinder. We were very happy to meet new people. We learned so many incredible stories and talked about collaborating on projects with so many interesting professionals.
After many meetings, presentations, dinners, and happy hours—after spreading the word about EpiFinder among the epilepsy community, making new friends, and forging new relationships—EpiFinder hit the road again.
On the Road
Neel and Kristi drove to Maryland and then went to Pittsburgh for a meeting. From the steel city, our road team ventured to Columbus, Louisville, and then back to Ohio for a meeting in Cincinnati.
As we went, Neel met with local professionals to follow up on conference discussions. Other times, he went out on a limb and contacted local foundations. He initiated the dialogue for the first time and met with professionals once we reached the town.
The goal of meeting with so many professionals across the country was, first, to spread the word about EpiFinder. Neel and Kristi also hoped to find the right groups to partner with EpiFinder for future studies. These would accumulate further data showing the usefulness of our tools.
We also seek opportunities to collaborate with epilepsy professionals, from IT Directors at hospitals to heads of local epilepsy chapters. Neel and Kristi hoped to benefit the people of the states to which we traveled. Our tool could make a difference for them.
After leaving the Rust Belt, Neel and Kristi traveled south to St. Louis. In the “Gateway to the West,” Neel had a busy slate of five meetings, culminating in a networking event for entrepreneurs. A pleasant visit to a brewpub capped off an exciting day, one of many local experiences on the road that added texture to EpiFinder’s trip.
In the next stop, Kansas City, Neel and Kristi enjoyed the barbecue and a hard-earned night out. Kansas City was the site of EpiFinder’s final meeting on the road.
Three weeks after setting out, the EpiFinder road team started for home. A 21-hour drive spanning two days and half of America brought Neel and Kristi back to the southwest. They saw the sunrise near the border of New Mexico and Arizona, where the Saguaro and sagebrush had appeared once again.
After 5,504 miles and 22 days, the EpiFinder team touched down in Phoenix.
A Great Adventure
“It was the first of its kind,” Neel says of our road trip. “As a startup, it was a great way for us to connect with people in different cities and states, to learn more about what they are doing and the challenges they have, and how we fit into their ecosystems.”
Neel also expressed gratitude to the towns that showed him and Kristi hospitality. He was happy he was able to, as his parents had always advised, dissolve into local places like sugar into milk.
“Driving versus flying really put things into perspective,” Kristi adds. “When you’re flying, you kind of entering a different world. When you’re driving, you say ‘this place is only five hours away and it’s totally different,’ whether the culture or the weather or the food.”
The road trip came with its share of difficulties. “But when you encounter these difficulties,” Neel says, “you understand that these are comparatively nothing next to the challenges somebody faces who has epilepsy.”
He feels proud that EpiFinder can help these people. “We have a great tool and an application. Now it’s just a matter of identifying the right fit to have this throughout the nation.”
Neel, Kristi, and the rest of EpiFinder want to thank all the kind people we met on the road. We look forward to speaking with you in the future, and to collaborate on projects that improve the lives of those with epilepsy. We are excited to share more about EpiFinder’s journey with you.