Shradha Agarwal on Entrepreneurialism, Health Tech, and Investing

September 21, 2016

6:37 pm

Many would argue that the health tech industry is not the most exciting. But with its consumerization it’s becoming an unavoidable topic. Today at Innovate! and Celebrate, Tech.Co cofounder and CEO Frank Gruber held a fireside chat with Shradha Agarwal to discuss how her company, ContextMedia, has been on the cutting edge of the industry. Chicago based ContextMedia is a widely-acclaimed company that is helping to deliver health condition-specific programming at doctors’ offices and other points of care.

ContextMedia is part of the rapidly growing Health Tech industry. From connected care or electronic medical records, to personalized medicine and how any drug uniquely affects each person, to telehealth bringing health advice right to your phone. These changes and advancements are pushing what was once a boring industry into a consumer driven approach, which put patients in more control of their health data.

When Agarwal and co-founder Rishi Shah launched a decade ago, they were sub-20-year-olds looking to convince an otherwise tech-adverse audience to digitize health information. Between their ages, experience, and a highly regulated industry, ContextMedia faced constraints that incidentally directed them to becoming a bootstrapped success story.

Ten years later, Shradha Agarwal is the successful Cofounder and President of a more than 400 person team with a $100 million run rate, which doubles in employee growth each year. In addition to her role with ContextMedia, Agarwal has been recognized as Tech Woman of the Year in Chicago, 40 Under 40 by Crain’s, a White House Champion of Change, and Best Female Founder at the United Nations. In 2012 Shradha Agarwal cofounded JumpStart Capital, a VC fund that focuses on health startups in the Chicago area. To date, JumpStart Capital has distributed about $20 million to startups.

Scaling as a Bootstrapped Company

Organizational growth and acquiring customers are one of the largest challenges for a startup, especially when they don’t have outside funding to support their initiatives. According to Agarwal, the ContextMedia duo used a two prong approach to acquiring their first customers: listening and persistence.

By listening to medical professionals in the industry they were able to not only adapt their solutions, but also their strategy and way they positioned their offerings. “Some of the best product features were built out of having conversations with the industry,” said Shradha Agarwal.

With a minimal viable product approach they were also able to turn these experts into advisers and in some cases customers. Beyond listening, the team was persistent. In one extreme example, they called one particular contact 17 times, only to finally land a positive response on the 18th attempt.

It Takes a Village

One of the reasons ContextMedia gives back to the Chicago community is due to the support they gained and still continue to receive. It’s “support during your most vulnerable moments, and Chicago has been there for them,” said Agarwal. Beyond a VC fund, most of their team works in the Chicago area, with additional offices in New York City and international locations.

The Role of Company Culture

The company has five core values that not only affects how they conduct business, but also how they evaluate their employees.

  • Scrappy excellence
  • Communally competitive
  • Humble invincibility
  • Happily tenacious
  • Bold service

“It’s the foundation,” said Shradha Agarwal on the importance of company culture. “You are signing up for the journey. Every startup is a messy kitchen. You might as well be honest about it upfront. Transparency is a huge cultural tenant for us as well.”

From customer centricity, or doing whatever a customer needs within reason, to humble invisibilities and knowing your weaknesses, ContextMedia intertwines each of these values in their five-step hiring process.


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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.