Vincere Health's journey helping underserved populations quit smoking

Vincere Health's journey helping underserved populations quit smoking

Shalen de Silva's curiosity around using financial incentives to drive behaviors led him to explore the idea of rewarding people when they reduce smoking

His journey took him from the Singaporean banking industry to founding Vincere Health, a smoking cessation and behavioral health platform for underserved populations. 










While Shalen was studying Public Health at Harvard University, he became interested in innovation and behavioral science. This led him to find his community within the startup space and explore solving a public health problem with his co-founder, Jake Keteyian.

Shalen and Jake wanted to address some of the problems in U.S Medicaid focusing on the underinsured population. They identified smoking as a problem with large medical expenses, loss of productivity, loss of life and a huge risk factor for other chronic conditions. Furthermore, Shalen understood the problem growing up in Australia and the UK in a time where it was cool to smoke. He knew the dynamics of trying to quit and was curious about behavior change and some of the science around incentives and motivations.

How did they test and validate their idea?

Shalen's curiosity around using financial incentives to drive behaviors is what led him to explore the idea of rewarding people when they reduce or quit smoking. Most of the methods used to monitor smoking included peeing on a stick and people were only rewarded weeks or even months later via mail or gift card.

They researched ways to measure smoking levels and found a company that manufactures remote monitoring devices. They bought one such device to test if people would engage with it and share their smoking levels in return for cash.

They asked friends, family and colleagues who smoked along with people they found hanging around construction sites and the salvation army to take the device home, take screenshots of their results after smoking and in return get paid $20 via Venmo that week. To their surprise they found that most people were happy to share their results. 

They realized that this wasn't going to be a scalable experiment, but they thought that if they could find a ceiling cash incentive then they could reduce the cost by improving the product and figuring out what worked.

What was their go-to-market strategy?

They initially thought self-insured employers would want to pay for their solution that incentivizes people to reduce or quit smoking with instant financial incentives. They later learned that these employers were getting tons of vendors trying to sell them solutions and unless you have a compelling solution with evidence you won’t get far as a new startup with nothing more than a slide deck.  

The biggest challenge was getting already time constrained clinicians to add yet another tool to their toolkit. They realized that they have to become a provider themselves with a direct to consumer health care offering.

If Vincere Health could prove that they can activate, engage and generate outcomes for patients, even with this narrow vertical, there's greater value in being able to do that for the payers or risk-based providers that really struggle with this underserved population.

How did you work with healthcare partners to obtain clinical credibility?

Shalen shares that in healthcare the currency of progress is evidence and data with clinical credibility. Employers want to talk to vendors who have evidence to suggest that what they're doing is working.

As a team they've leaned on partners and collaborators to leverage their skills and budgets to achieve common goals. They started to build relationships with partners early on, earning their trust and making their lives easier. They shared what they’ve learned and how their work could benefit them.

Partnerships and good relationships have helped Vincere Health run their studies and build clinical evidence for free.

Check out Vincere Health and follow their journey:

Chat with VerroBot to build your impact startup: