Meet the Harvard Doctor Who Won Startup Weekend DC
This post originally appeared on blog.up.co
Dr. Charlene Brown has spent her life immersed in medicine. Her mother, both of her godmothers, and most of her mother’s friends all worked as nurses. She was drawn to their profession early on. But she also had fixed notions of gender roles that were challenged at a childhood checkup.
“My pediatrician was a man, and I somehow formed the view that only men could be doctors,” Dr. Brown recalls. “When my mother took me to the hospital clinic as a child, I met a physician who was a woman for the first time.
“My mother tells me that I was confused and refused to be treated by the physician because I was certain that she was a nurse and I wanted to see the doctor. Once it finally sunk in that she was actually a doctor, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor shortly thereafter.”
Dr. Brown didn’t miss a beat. Her academic excellence in New York City led her to major in chemical engineering at Princeton University. She went on to earn her MD at Harvard Medical School and her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her career highlights include Deputy Commissioner for Medical Operations with the Baltimore City Health Department; Medical Officer at USAID; and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Emory University School of Medicine.
Now, she can add CEO and Co-Founder to that list. Dr. Brown led a team of 5 to pitch and prototype ReciproCare --an online platform and mobile app to bridge service gaps for home care agencies while expanding work opportunities for home care workers. Dr. Brown and her team built ReciproCare at Startup Weekend's Flip the Ratio event in Washington, DC, from September 25-27. ReciproCare went on to win 1st place in that weekend's competition.
Dr. Brown had been honing this idea with her co-founder, Faran Negarestan, for several months prior to Flip the Ratio. Their concept -- initially called ReciproCall -- kept pivoting in the months beforehand. Eventually, it became the pitch that Dr. Brown gave for ReciproCare on Flip the Ratio’s opening night. That first pitch involved persuading attendees to join her team and build her idea. It was a turning point for Dr. Brown. She assumed that since most participants were younger, a tech solution for elders care would not interest them.
“I was wrong,” Dr. Brown says. “Our pitch resonated with many participants who shared their personal caregiving experiences with me and others on our team throughout the weekend. Our incredible team included people with a diverse range of skills that perfectly complemented my own.
“I was joined initially by my partner from ReciproCall, Faran Negarestan; he is a talented, full-stack developer with a commitment to work that can make a difference in people's lives. Next, Vince Natale, who has both a strong background and training in sales and home care industry knowledge, joined our team. He was followed by Evan Taylor, who brought an ideal fusion of insightful design and project management skills to the table; she kept us on task throughout the weekend using Scrum.
“Finally, we were joined by Roy Morris, who brought a combination of personal experiences as a former adult caregiver for his father, an extensive background in business, and experience as a startup advisor to our team. I felt incredibly humbled by the dedication and talent of this team and was absolutely thrilled to work so intensely and collaboratively with them on ReciproCare.”
ReciproCare beat 9 other teams to win Flip the Ratio -- an event held to increase female tech participation. There was roughly a 50/50 gender split among attendees; ReciproCare’s own team consisted of three men and two women.
Their success serves as a sobering reminder that most founding teams do not look like them. A mere 14% of leadership roles at S&P 500 companies are held by women. But repeating this number disguises deeper problems. While gender diversity is abysmal, racial diversity is even worse.
14% of the U.S. population is black -- but there are four black CEOs in the Fortune 500. The problem is so severe that when former Brown University President Ruth Simmons joined Square’s Board of Directors, she became its second woman and black director -- an extreme rarity. Tech giants including Facebook and Apple have no black board members at all. Nor do 74 companies on Standard & Poor’s 250 index.
Statistics like these are why events like Flip the Ratio exist. But for her part, Dr. Brown never joined Startup Weekend to make a statement. She first fell in love with hackathons after joining a healthcare-themed one in Boston. She joined the Startup Weekend mailing list and kept an eye out for events in DC. Flip the Ratio was the first event that worked with her schedule -- but it was not her first time as an entrepreneur.
Dr. Brown previously started her own real estate and healthcare companies within the past decade. She has seen how tech can transform healthcare to break down barriers in a bureaucratic business. As part of their Flip the Ratio grand prize, ReciproCare won a of their own booth at DC Tech Day on October 6. Dr. Brown says it was just the start of her burgeoning business.
Her current focus is expanding customer development efforts to home care agencies. She cites a recent Department of Labor ruling that will slap home care agencies with increased workforce expenses. Dr. Brown wants to help new and existing home care agencies comply with federal requirements and reduce costs while improving care. She plans to work on ReciproCare full time, and cites Startup Weekend as the catalyst that propelled her forward.
"We made so much progress and had so many iterative, micro-pivots over the weekend that I was stunned at the scope and quality of our outputs," Dr. Brown says. "For anyone who wants to start a company, I strongly recommend finding people with complementary skills who are as excited about your concept as you are and building on the power of teamwork.”