When you, like me, have an idea, you probably jot it down, set it aside to “look at it later” and then pretty much forget about it. When Paula Jagemann has an idea, she finds a partner, launches an online company and after a while sells it off for big bucks.
Back in early 1998, when no office-products companies were online (Staples.com started that same year), Jagemann partnered with United Stationers and started Online Office Supplies. After selling that, she founded eCommerce Industries Inc., which produces software to help companies create vertical markets, whatever that means.
By then it was 2007 and ECI was being sold off. “I did all right,” says Jagemann, who began her tech career as secretary to the legendary John Sidgmore at UUNet, which became the world’s largest Internet service provider, with 8,000 employees (“I was employee No. 33, John was No. 34. He never let me forget that–they did it alphabetically”).
So the now-retired tech entrepreneur went home to Frederick, Md., and joined the board of trustees for Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick. But apparently you can take the girl out of tech but you can’t take the tech out of the girl. One day, looking at the “discharge kit” given to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, Jagemann saw that the kit included a much-photocopied list of products the patients needed to buy.
“These were not off-the-shelf items,” she says now, finishing her coffee at the Chevy Chase Pavilion Starbucks. “These were ‘shower shirts,’ compression garments…. A hospital doesn’t want to recommend specific products because of liability issues,” she explains, “but it would take five hours to find all those things–not something a woman just diagnosed with breast cancer would want to be dealing with.”
Jagemann’s answer to this perceived problem? SomeoneWith, launched in 2009. The online boutique SomeoneWithBreastCancer.com sells turbans and other soft hats to conceal post-chemotherapy hair loss; special compression bras and camisoles; bras that can accommodate post-surgical drains; breast forms; lymphedema sleeves and gauntlets– and other things you don’t need to know about until you do.
The site also offers a closed registry, like a bridal registry. But this is a medical registry, and nosyparkers can’t simply browse through your list and find out what’s going on. Only you can give someone access. “It’s up to [each woman] to decide,” says Jagemann.
With that up and running, Jagemann says, “I thought, okay, I’m done.” Only there was this other thought creeping into her head.
In the American healthcare system, she says, only three entities are tasked with paying your medical bills: you, sometimes through your employer; the government (through Medicare, for instance); and a hospital through charity. The rest of us can’t pay someone else’s bills. And that doesn’t even get close to the enormous out-of-pocket expenses patients usually have.
So now Jagemann has taken on the health and the banking industries together, devising a financial-services arm of SomeoneWith. A patient can join a Circle of Friends, and receive a debit card that friends can load up with cash. The funds are restricted and the card can be used only at specific merchants.
“The application for our card is rather unusual,” Jagemann notes. “In addition to the usual information like annual income, we want to know the square footage of your house, is it handicapped accessible, which pets do you have.” That’s because the card matches each patient up with any available state, federal or philanthropic money the patient might qualify for. For a $49 annual membership, “you get $500 worth of service.”
Jagemann is now scouting around looking for partner institutions to co-brand the card. MasterCard, which sponsors the debit cards, is happy to make its usual percentage off transactions. Hospitals are interested “because they want to get paid,” Jagemann says, and not lose the money that hard-pressed patients may not be able to cover. “I’m going for 35 hospitals,” she says.
She has two already, and when all is said and done, I wouldn’t bet against her.