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Startups: Rethinking Pharma


Roby Miller
“The problem isn’t that rural America is decreasing in size, rural pharmacies aren’t losing patients, it’s that the insurance reimbursements for pharmacies are declining.” –Roby Miller (photo by Rachel Jessen)

Little Village recently sat down with Roby Miller to learn more about his startup venture TelePharm and the entrepreneurial landscape in the greater Iowa City area. Miller founded TelePharm in March 2012 and serves as the company’s CEO.

Little Village: Your first job out of college was as a project manager at Pearson (the educational testing company), did you have any intention, then, to go into pharmacy or software development?

Roby Miller: When I was hired [at Pearson], I was excited to find a job that I could be proud of, but I soon became bored at the slow pace of a large company. I honestly wasn’t planning on staying at Pearson for a long period of time because I always knew at some point I was going to start a business. I really wanted to dive into a new [industry/market] and find out what was broken or inefficient that I could solve with a business.

LV: What does TelePharm do? What problems does it solve?

RM: TelePharm enables a pharmacist to perform his tasks remotely, verifying prescriptions and counseling patients. A pharmacist [in one town] could [remotely] manage multiple pharmacies [in other towns] with the pharmacy technicians [in the remote locations] filling and helping patients in the telepharmacy. We integrate with any pharmacy management system and provide all the hardware, so it’s a turn-key solution for a pharmacy owner.

In the last few years alone, 46 [rural] pharmacies have closed in Iowa and 903 [rural] pharmacies have shut down nationwide in the past six years, leaving about 6,000 total rural pharmacies still operating in the US. The pharmacy is the focal point of a lot of these rural towns, like a coffee shop. It’s an important retail storefront for that community.

The problem isn’t that rural America is decreasing in size, rural pharmacies aren’t losing patients, it’s that the insurance reimbursements for pharmacies are declining.

LV: Were there any pilot programs that preceded TelePharm?

RM: Our first telepharmacy launched in October 2012. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy granted us a waiver to open a telepharmacy [which are not legally allowed currently]. I report the telepharmacy statics each quarter for errors, prescriptions filled, etc., and once the Iowa Telepharmacy Taskforce is completed with writing the rules around telepharmacy, we’ll then be able to open telepharmacies like a normal pharmacy.

The pilots are going really well, actually better than I expected for a startup company. We have four sites in Iowa, one in Illinois and [one in] Texas. We have more coming on over the next months and we hope to be in six states before the end of the year.

LV: Where do you hope to take the company in the next five years?

RM: I’m hoping that we can solve even bigger problems so that we can make a bigger impact for people in a healthcare sense. I expect us to be in Canada and not just in the US.

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LV: What’s next for you and what do you need help with?

RM: I need to build out my team. The team is what makes the business and we are looking for more people. We’re looking for more technical people, but in the areas of marketing, support and development.

LV: You work in a pretty interesting office space in downtown Iowa City, can you tell us about your office mates and what they’re working on?

RM: There are four different businesses. Adam Ingersoll, owner of Compass Education in Los Angeles, Isaac Ingersoll, owner of GolfCenter, Aaron Boshart, owner of AppMedical and there are a few TelePharm employees, too. We were all looking for office space and joined up, it works out really well because it’s fun to have other people doing similar things surrounding you.

LV: What’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur? What are the best things?

RM: Everyday is a work day and there is no vacation time. I think that’s both the hardest and the best thing because I hate to be bored, but I also don’t have a lot of time for my friends and family. There is stress that comes along with owning a business, but that doesn’t bother me as much as the limiting time factor.

LV: What can the Corridor community do to be more supportive of entrepreneurs and startups like yours?

RM: We need more class A office space and a place for creatives to live. It’s really hard to find and if you do, it’s too expensive. We need the University, Kirkwood and cities and counties to work together to foster entrepreneurship in each stage. It’s a win-win for everyone. There are a lot of people working to make this happen and its only a matter of time before national publications start taking note of what’s happening here.

Andy Stoll is an Iowa-based social entrepreneur, media producer and co-founder of Seed Here Studio, a social good startup working to grow the entrepreneurial and creative community across the Corridor. Follow Andy on Twitter @andystoll or learn more at andystoll.net.


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