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Updated: November 27, 2023 On the Record

On the Record: Portland startup aims to ‘disrupt’ how employers approach health care benefits

Photo / Jim Neuger Colleen Kavanagh is the founder and CEO of SoulBeing, a Portland-based startup that connects employers with a network of alternative health and wellness providers as a holistic benefit for employees.

Colleen Kavanagh is the founder and CEO of SoulBeing, a Portland-based startup that connects employers with a network of alternative health and wellness providers as a holistic benefit for their employees. The entrepreneur, who started her career at GE Healthcare, envisions an integrated health care structure that is accessible to all.

Mainebiz: At GE Healthcare, what was it like working for a large conglomerate?

Colleen Kavanagh: I ran various business units in imaging, including managing relationships with academic hospitals. I worked with brilliant people thinking strategically about health care and working to make a positive impact. The work started to feel increasingly disconnected from the mission, which led to my desire to do something more disruptive.

MB: What sparked the idea for SoulBeing?

CK: At GE, I learned that 70% of people being treated in hospitals today have preventable conditions. I started seeing alternative providers to manage my own chronic stress and experienced the effectiveness of working with a great provider, but they were often difficult to find. I obsessively researched the reasons these services – considered health care in other countries – were treated as luxury services here. That’s when the work began.

MB: What was the original business model when you launched SoulBeing in 2019?

CK: SoulBeing was originally a storefront and networking group for providers. The challenge that surfaced was that patients were having trouble finding and paying for services. The need became apparent: We had to make it easier for patients to navigate and pay for care options outside of a hospital while continuing to create meaningful connection points for the community.

MB: What’s the business model today?

CK: We set out to create an infrastructure that treats complementary and alternative medicine services as health care and leverages virtual care. We are structured as a health care benefit that offers a network of additional, Health Savings Account-eligible care options. People access our vetted network through their employer and use our care navigation platform to match with providers in over 50 service categories.

MB: How have you funded your startup costs to date?

CK: A group of angel investors has been supporting our mission from the beginning. We are also backed by Maine Venture Fund and Maine Technology Institute.

MB: How do alternative providers like yoga instructors and acupuncturists fit into the modern health care mix?

CK: All services in our network are both complementary and alternative, meaning they can be used in addition to conventional (hospital-based, pharmaceutical) approaches, or instead of these options – think physical therapy instead of, or to recover from, a surgery. They can also be prevention-focused or for condition/symptom management. By leveraging these resources, other more expensive and high-risk services become a last resort rather than a first line of defense.

MB: What’s your pitch to employers and potential clients for working with SoulBeing?

CK: Health care costs continue to rise, but your people are not getting healthier. Improve health care access with more providers, and help your employees find lower-cost care. Attract and retain talent through a culture of meaningful support for the physical, mental and emotional health of your team. You don’t have to choose between generations, onsite versus remote, or enrollment status of your employees. You can support them all with SoulBeing.

MB: Anything you can share about what you charge employers for your services?

CK: By keeping our prices very low (under $10 per employee per month) we can maximize health care access while knocking utilization metrics [for health care benefits] out of the park.

MB: What’s next for SoulBeing?

CK: We are expanding nationwide to accommodate our client base, as well as a strategic partnership with Walgreens. A round of fundraising is on the horizon for early 2024 to resource ourselves appropriately and establish a physical footprint in the Greater Portland area. We are thrilled to root and grow our business in the community that we call home.

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