Boston born, CoPatient finds healthier climate in Portland

CoPatient Co-Founders, Katie Vahle and Rebecca Palm, outside their West Coast office after moving the company’s headquarters from Boston to Portland in June, 2012.
CoPatient Co-Founders, Katie Vahle and Rebecca Palm, outside their West Coast office after moving the company’s headquarters from Boston to Portland in June, 2012.

A little over a year ago, Scott Kirsner profiled CoPatient as one of ten start-ups worth watching. Then last June, the co-founders picked up shop and moved to Oregon. They recently got in touch, and founder Rebecca Palm offered to give an update on how Portland was treating them — and why they left Boston in the first place.

How’s Portland treating you? And almost as importantly, how is it treating CoPatient?

We’re really enjoying Portland and find that it shares some great characteristics with Boston. We’re also enjoying a break from the snow!

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You found seed funding from Cambia Health Solutions in Portland; Was this what drew you to the city?

Yes, that was what prompted us to consider the move to Portland. Once we learned more about the city though, we thought it offered other advantages as well including a wealth of talented healthcare professionals as we grow the team.

Anything else make it a good city to build a company in?

Portland has a terrific culture and a wealth of talent to offer for startups. We’ve also found it helpful to gain firsthand exposure to the differences in healthcare benefit design trends between various regions.

Did you find finding investors more difficult in the Boston area? Is there a different funding culture out west, or just a better fit among investors for what you were doing?

We selected our investors based on their commitment to our strategy of providing consumers with tools to manage the financial aspects of their healthcare. Because of our focus on strategic alignment rather than a geographic region, we ended up with investors on both East and West coasts.

Do you maintain ties with your former company, athenahealth?

Athenahealth was a great place to learn about the economics of healthcare and we are huge fans of their technology-enabled service model. We saw an opportunity to follow a similar path in a different market by working on a problem that requires more than just technology. Our services close the loop for individuals facing the complexity of medical billing; We don’t just throw technology at them, we are with them every step of the way until every question has been answered and every medical bill has been thoroughly scrubbed for accuracy. Because of that shared DNA as a technology-enabled service, several of our angel investors are Athenahealth executives including Jonathan Bush, the CEO.

Anything you miss about Boston as founders, or on a personal level?

We’ve built really strong relationships with former colleagues and friends in Boston so we try to get back often. We also have a few employees on the East coast that weren’t able to move out to Portland with us so we are in constant contact with them.

There’s a lot of talk these days about virtual teams and distributed teams. Is that something that fits well with CoPatient? Why or why not?

Our team is spread across 4 different cities at the moment so we’re extremely virtual. We do miss the face-to-face interaction, but our virtual team allows us to ensure that we always keep the right people on the team without being limited by geography. We make an extra effort to Skype or call rather than just communicating electronically so that we maintain strong ties.