STARTUP SPOTLIGHT

CEO of Austin’s Iris Telehealth’s says he’s balancing careful clinical care with startup growth

Posted February 7th, 2017

Here is something you don’t often hear from the CEO of a startup: “I don’t know what I’m doing.” 

It’s refreshingly honest, but it only tells part of the story of Tarik Shaheen’s company Iris Telehealth, which relocated to Austin late last year. 

For one thing Shaheen is a board-certified psychiatrist. So obviously, he knows some things. But he’s referring to the challenge of running a quickly growing business, one that allows treatment of psychiatric patients remotely via a secure videoconference line. 

He knows a lot about that, but is still learning the business side. “There’s lots of things I don’t know,” he admits. “I love learning and I want to do well, to do better.”

Whatever it is that Shaheen doesn’t know, it seems to be working. The company, which had its origins as part of the University of Virginia’s telepsychiatry program, now operates in 15 states and has about 60 clinicians working for it.

Josh McBride / ContributedTarik Shaheen is the founder and CEO of Iris Telehealth, which provides remote psychiatry services and recently relocated its headquarters to Austin.

WHAT THEY DO: The company provides remote psychiatric service, giving access to clinical care that might not be otherwise available, especially in rural areas. The company does not offer this directly to consumers; it’s available through clinics, including Baylor Scott & White Health, which just partnered with Iris Telehealth. This is done through secure videoconferencing technology. Shaheen says the company hasn’t had problems expanding due to state regulations or restrictions from medical boards; limitations on expansion tend to have more to do with whether insurance will pay for the service.

WHO THEY ARE: Shaheen describes himself as having been heavily influenced “like a lot of good first-generation (American) kids” to pursue medicine. He studied at the University of Virginia and fell in love with psychiatry and soon saw the potential for helping underserved patients through telepsychiatry. Virginia allowed Shaheen to spin off the work he was doing at the university into a business. The company’s employees are mostly full-time staffers. 

Last year, Shaheen and Emily Furnari, the company’s director of implementation and IT services, decided to leave Charlottesville (the two are a couple) and move the business to Austin. “We just knew in our gut that this was the right place for us. You can get incredible tech talent here at a much lower rate than San Francisco,” he said.

INVESTMENT: "We’re completely bootstrapped, which makes us really unique in the space,” Shaheen said. “All the money I made practicing I put into the business.” Shaheen said he’s careful to make sure that individual contracts are profitable, so the problems are less about cash flow and more about managing growth.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The biggest worry going into this is that in medicine, there’s this undertone that administration and business is bad. That’s the pulse when you’re on the clinical side,” =Shaheen said. He said he thought he’d have to choose between providing good care or making money. “What I’ve found is that the better care we give, the more the money seems to come. That’s something I’ve been incredibly happy about,” he said. 

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About this series

The Startup Spotlight highlights early stage Central Texas technology companies. To nominate a startup for the series, email technology reporters Lilly Rockwell at lrockwell@statesman.com, Lori Hawkins at lhawkins@statesman.com or Omar L. Gallaga at ogallaga@statesman.com.

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