Seattle teen entrepreneurs sell their health-tech startup and take a break from college – GeekWire

Sage Khanuja, left, and Nikolas Ioannou, the founders of Seattle-based Spira. (Spira Photo)

The news: Seattle entrepreneurs Sage Khanuja, 17, and Nikolas Ioannou, 18, have sold their telemedicine startup Spira to Galileo, a New York-based healthcare company.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think much or ask about their age,” Galileo CEO Tom Lee said of the teens. “I generally evaluate technology and teams based on their capabilities and potential. I think the only surprise for us was having to get parental permission on the final agreement.”

The tech: The co-founders built a backend, no-code tool which makes it easy to create digital “smart forms” that utilize machine learning algorithms to enhance patient screening and adapt to patients over time. Their work seized on the growth of telemedicine — even before COVID-19 ushered in a wave of acceptance for the practice.

How they got started: Khanuja and Ioannou met after they both enrolled at the University of Washington as early entrance students following 10th grade. They bonded over their shared interests in tech and health, calling existing technology in the space “lackluster.”

“We saw a lot of inefficiency,” Khanuja said. “If you’re a patient, before the doctor visit, there’s so much information that can be captured and synthesized to make the doctor’s visit more effective.”

Khanuja and Ioannou released a SMS COVID-19 tracker in March 2020. Their company’s initial focus was on respiratory health, and Spira — derived from “respiratory” — developed tech using a phone’s microphone to conduct a cough and auscultation test.

Spira evolved into a broader tool to meet the growing demand for patients’ multi-touchpoint experiences.

“20, 30 years ago, even five years ago, you would go to the doctor once a year and that would be it,” Ioannou said. “But now what we’re starting to see with digital health is it’s more of recurring relationship. It’s becoming very seamlessly integrated with the patient’s life. The whole idea is that smart forms are another way to interface with the patient.”

Product screen grabs for Galileo, the company acquiring Seattle-based Spira. (Galileo Images)

An interested buyer: Lee, a Seattle native who graduated from the UW School of Medicine, founded One Medical, a membership-based primary care provider with a heavy emphasis on technology, and he created the medical reference app Epocrates. Lee launched Galileo in 2018 to provide 24/7 mobile access and care directly to a wide range of patients, as well as through sponsorship by employers and health plans.

Galileo founder Tom Lee grew up in the Seattle area and studied at the University of Washington. (One Medical Photo)

“Sage and Nik are intelligent and wise beyond their years,” Lee said. “They see where healthcare is going and realize what types of design and technology will enable better healthcare decisions and outcomes.”

Khanuja said it’s challenging to grow a healthcare product and a patient base. He and Ioannou wanted Spira to have as much impact as possible and seized on that opportunity by joining Galileo, which could deploy its product quickly to a large and growing patient base.

The acquisition is Galileo’s first and terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Looking ahead: Khanuja and Ioannou have both taken a leave of absence from the UW and are working remotely for Galileo now, incorporating Spira’s tech into Galileo’s product solution.

When asked whether they will be returning to college, the boys chuckled over a Zoom call.

“You want the answer that our parents want us to say or the ones that we want to say?” Ioannou asked.

“I think we found what we really enjoy doing,” Khanuja said. “At heart we’re entrepreneurs. We’ll see where that leads us.”