Two Millennial Students Couldn’t Find Health Care Providers. So They Created an App for That.
When Vanderbilt University School of Nursing PreSpecialty students Ashley Allington and Sara Moran arrived in Nashville in August 2018, they noticed a problem that kept popping up for them and many of their female friends: How do you find a health care provider in a new city where you don’t know anyone?
Google reviews or Yelp can be great for finding new favorite coffee shops and restaurants, but navigating the health care system in a strange city can feel completely overwhelming. The arduous process means that many new residents put their health on the back burner.
“I remember saying, ‘Sara, why isn’t there an app for this? There’s an app for everything out there. If you need something, you can go on the App Store on Apple, and you can find it.’ But this was something that we really found to be a specific need,” Allington said.
Convinced of the need, Allington and Moran made the bold decision to create an app themselves, and in a few months Sparkwell Health was born. In fall 2019—just after they’d started their specialty year at VUSN—they entered a pitch competition hosted by the Wond’ry at the Innovation Pavilion, Vanderbilt University’s on-campus innovation center that supports students and faculty with novel business ideas. Sparkwell Health won the top prize.
Allington, by then an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP student, and Moran, a Women’s Health NP student, found key mentors at the Wond’ry and became entrepreneurs on top of their nursing school commitments. “It is no surprise that building a business is no easy feat, but I was surprised about the grind that it entails. It’s similar to health care in that it’s not a 9-to-5 job—it’s something you do around the clock,” Allington said.
Moran agreed, adding, “My background is in psychology and biology, so I have loved learning about the business world. It has been really overwhelming at times, but I have really enjoyed learning and connecting with others who have different backgrounds than I do.”
One mentor from the Wond’ry who has been especially instrumental to Allington’s and Moran’s success is Stryker Warren, a longtime health care services consultant and entrepreneur. It was a great fit, as Warren says he is most intrigued by business ideas that arise from entrepreneurs’ personal experiences. But Warren soon found out it was more than just a great idea: He has been impressed by the students’ work ethic, too.
“These two nurse practitioner candidates—Ashley and Sara—have demonstrated an indefatigable commitment to customer discovery and product development, while maintaining impressive academic responsibilities at Vanderbilt,” Warren said. “They embody both the aspirational and the requisite, practical aspects of execution while leveraging their considerable creative talents.”
The students’ vision for the app interface is similar to those of simple dating apps, but with medical providers instead. The user answers a few basic questions, and then the app populates with 10 or so providers. The user then can swipe either right to select a provider or left to move on. Users can even schedule their first appointment within the app.
Another critical aspect of the app in development is the inclusion of evidence-based health content for users. Allington and Moran are passionate about using their education to increase the general public’s understanding of health issues as part of the app’s features.
“We want it to be a safe place for women to come to, and a place where they’re able to connect with preventative health care services, and in addition, get easy-to-digest evidence-based health care,” Allington explained. “Unfortunately, a lot of people in our demographic go to Instagram and other sources that aren’t as reputable to get their information. We wanted to make
this a one-stop shop for health care for female millennials trying to navigate this market.”
By focusing on a smaller market of female millennials in Nashville first, Allington and Moran have already built an impressive website and Instagram following. “We definitely have go-getter mentalities, so we wanted to start big. However, we have learned that starting much smaller and then growing as you go is really the best way to build something,” Moran said.
The app is set to launch in Nashville later this year. Allington will take the reins to keep building Sparkwell Health’s Instagram presence and focus on funding efforts, while Moran concentrates on her first year as a WHNP.
The impact of Sparkwell Health could be enormous. “It’s really about confidence and convenience,” Warren said. “Sparkwell will succeed by raising awareness, breeding self-confidence in health care decision-making, and by ensuring young women are proactive in their self-care. No longer, ‘I will think about my health tomorrow’ when the app is in her hands right now.”
Find Sparkwell Health at sparkwellhealth.com, on Instagram at sparkwell_health and on Facebook at facebook.com/sparkwellhealth
by Allison Whitten