EASE Applications: A Blueprint for Success
This article appears in the October 2020 Edition of the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship newsletter.
Identify a problem, develop a solution, and test, test, test, to make sure you have a viable product. That’s a simplistic equation, but basically true for the start of a successful new venture. And, that’s exactly what Patrick de la Roza `08MBA and his co-founders did in starting EASE Applications.
It began with an anxious mother and her baby, a doctor, and a surgery. Patrick’s brother, Dr. Kevin de la Roza and Dr. Hamish Munro, anesthesiologists with specialties in cardiothoracic and pediatric anesthesiology, were preparing to sedate a baby prior to heart surgery. The child’s mother begged to have the physicians communicate with her during the surgery. She gave them her cell phone and asked if they would please text and/or take pictures for her. They couldn’t say no.
The physicians as well as Patrick realized there was a need – to keep family members connected with loved ones during surgery, and a viable solution. They decided to test the idea. Fifty families participated in a research study at Orlando Regional Medical Center where pictures were provided to the loved ones of pediatric patients undergoing surgery. The circulating nurse, the person responsible for managing all nursing care within the operating room, took the pictures. The research study was a success.
Patrick, along with Drs. de la Roza, Hamish Munro and William DeCampli co-founded a HIPAA compliant software platform that they would call “Electronic Access to Surgical Events” or EASE. The EASE system was developed, the apps were created, and on March 4, 2013, EASE Applications, a company dedicated to improving medical communication was launched.
In 2014, Patrick and the physicians entered and took first place in the Crummer Venture Plan Competition at Rollins College. They won $25K.
“This competition helped us focus and turn the idea into a viable business. We learned to articulate our idea, polish our elevator pitch, and communicate the concept standing in front of an audience. Most importantly, we were able to connect with the judges. Having been entrepreneurs and/or investors themselves, they had a wealth of knowledge to share,” said de la Roza.
As is frequently the case with early stage entrepreneurs, Patrick was working a full-time job and assisting his brother and Dr. Munro as they continued to test the concept. Then a conversation with a patient’s family member changed everything. The company had landed an account with Nemours. As Patrick was walking through the halls of the hospital one Saturday wearing an EASE Applications shirt, a man stopped him. He asked, what do you do at EASE Applications? Patrick responded, “I am one of the co-founders. The man said, you have no idea what your application did for my family. It got us through a very difficult time. We are so grateful.”
Patrick de la Roza realized the company was, “truly doing a meaningful thing in a scary time of life for many people.” His focus changed. He began working on the business in the mornings before his full-time job, in the evenings and on the weekends.
In 2017, de la Roza took a jump!
He left his existing healthcare executive position to work full-time with EASE Applications.
“It was a hard choice and scary. We had enough revenue for a period, and the future was unknown,” de la Roza recalls.
Yet, once he made the decision, he knew it was the right one.
“I felt like a fire had been lit under me. It was a true high. While I liked my prior job as a healthcare executive, it didn’t fulfill me. I love being an entrepreneur. This is my passion. I always knew I wanted to run a business. I didn’t know it would be EASE, but I knew I wanted the business to do good for others,” said de la Roza.
Later in 2017, EASE Application, sold as a subscription model to hospitals expanded beyond pediatric and adult surgery to pediatric ICU departments. However, “the journey was not linear. It was marked with land mines. The hospitals wanted to know who else was using the product before they would consider it. It was difficult. No one was doing what we were proposing,” recalled de la Roza.
They persevered, and that same year the company brought on a COO and continued to expand its offering to medical floors and emergency departments. They are now in over 80 hospitals across the country and have grown to 11 employees. Beyond the growth, there is data to show the application leads to improved patient satisfaction.
Of the many accomplishments of EASE, Patrick had been particularly proud of the fact that the company had grown without any outside investment. Then came a point when the co-founders realized they were at a crossroads. It was time to consider taking on an investor or consider an acquisition. They decided to speak to a company that was well versed in this arena; RVR Consulting. Upon meeting Joe Raymond, the managing partner, Raymond reminded him he had been one of the judges of the 2014 Venture Plan Competition. It is a small world.
“Joe and his team were awesome,” said de la Roza. “They had a great way of helping us gain perspective.”
As they began preparations for a future investor or acquirer, the COVID-19 pandemic struck our world. EASE became busier than ever, and then Vocera (NYSE: CV, a leader in clinical communication and workflow solutions (in 1,300 hospitals), approached them. In August 2020, Vocera acquired EASE Applications for $25M.
The biggest concern for the EASE Applications team was the culture fit. They knew Vocera was a great company and their application would integrate well with Vocera’s platform, but would the employees assimilate?
“There was no pretense; we got to be ourselves. It’s the perfect culture and strategic fit for us. We’ll be staying in Florida and growing the company. We couldn’t be happier,” remarked de la Roza.
Patrick de la Roza now serves as the Senior VP and General Manager of Vocera EASE and his former partners have taken on clinical consulting roles. The company plans to bring on an additional 14 employees by the end of next year. The future looks bright.
When asked about lessons learned on his entrepreneurial journey, de la Roza advises to network with everyone. Get advice from everyone and then choose what is best for your situation. The networking will give you that shot in the arm you may need. Also, genuinely love what you are doing. There will be days when you’re in the muck. When you have passion for, and love what you’re doing, those days won’t be so bad.
And lastly, healthcare is a tough business. There is HIPPA, and security and compliance laws. Make sure you have a good lawyer who thinks like a businessperson. Someone who can affirm, yes, this is scary, but you’ll be okay.
“I chose a Crummer alumni Eddie Fernandez, PA as the attorney for my business,” shared de la Roza.
“My experience during my Crummer MBA allowed me to perfect my ability to present in front of an intimidating room. I remember one of my professors saying, you’re here to mess up so you don’t do it in the board room! The experience also allowed for networking. There were people there you just had to seek them out. When you did, you found a willingness to help one another,” said de la Roza.
Speaking of helping one another, a hospital worker with the aid of EASE was able to send the family of a patient who had contracted COVID-19, a video showing him breathing on his own after being removed from a ventilator. While EASE may not have originally been Patrick’s vision, his desire “to do good” is being fulfilled.