Founder Feature: Gautam Nayak

February 25, 2023

Meet Gautam Nayak, MD (he/him). Gautam is a Cardiologist and the Co-Founder and CEO of Coltrain. Coltrain is a free and secure mobile app that helps medical providers easily communicate, abiding by HIPAA regulations, to colleagues and specialists from rural areas to larger cities to ensure the best care possible for patients – including saving lives!

Gautam and his Co-Founder and CCO, Sanjay Khicha, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, are both busy physicians that found a common pain point amongst medical providers and sought out a solution. We interviewed Gautam and, well, read from his own words about how Coltrain started, their biggest motivator and inspiration, and the advice he’d give to a budding tech startup entrepreneur.

Tell us about your startup:

Coltrain is a free, simple, secure mobile application that enables any healthcare professional, in any location, to communicate easily with their colleagues to take care of patients. It has become a common clinical collaboration platform, allowing medical providers in rural areas to easily connect with each other and with specialists in larger centers to ensure patients get the best care possible, regardless of where they live or happen to present for their medical needs.

We are a team of six people of varied backgrounds working for over two years to build this product, inspired by making healthcare better for everyone, especially those in underserved regions. We were self-funded until we were fortunate enough to get the EIA Founders Fund philanthropic grant award to improve our beta product for broader release.

Gautam Nayak & Sanjay Khicha, Co-Founders of Coltrain

What inspired you to start this startup?

I am a cardiologist in rural north central Washington. It is an amazing place to live and practice medicine, but our healthcare system is fragmented and communication modalities outdated. I still carry a pager and my hospital uses fax machines as the primary mode of communication with other hospitals and clinics. It’s frustrating to use technology from the 1980s to do my job, when I carry amazing innovative technology in my pocket. My co-founder Sanjay Khicha, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Wichita, Kansas, had the exact same pain point, and unfortunately, we both had patients die as a direct result of our inability to quickly communicate with our colleagues.

We recognized that rural healthcare providers are on an island, and nobody was coming in to solve this problem. When patient lives are on the line, and colleagues are dependent on your expertise in critical moments, you want to be able to help in the safest, most efficient, fashion. Coltrain enables direct, secure, patient-centered communication within our rural region, saving times and saving lives.

What ONE thing would help you out the most with moving your startup to the next step?

Engineers! Sanjay and I are busy physicians, and have little expertise on the technical side of things. While we have amazing technical advisors with strong backgrounds in software and HIPAA security, the coding and architectural expertise required to make an incredible product for healthcare providers is vast. We are lucky to have some terrific contract engineers, but we need a team dedicated to our mission and willing to bring the latest tech advances to healthcare. If you’re reading this and have technical expertise, Coltrain (and healthcare) needs you! – Reach out at Gautam@cognitionmed.io.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before starting your startup?

The importance of accountability. As a physician, I’m at the top of the medical food chain, so to speak. One of my biggest roles is to foster education amongst those that work with me to care for patients, such as nurses and medical assistants. My training and clinical expertise can’t be replicated, but my team needs to have an integral knowledge of what I do to help me care for patients, so I am constantly teaching. It’s all about patience, grace, and ensuring my staff is learning and growing from my knowledge.

Building a company is different. You have to rely on experts in technology, marketing, product, and finance. As a physician, I can inspire them on the vision, but I literally cannot do their job for them. In the beginning, my tendency has been to approach this team as I approach my clinical staff – allow for mistakes and hope they continue to grow. But in business, you have to hold your team and contractors accountable at each step. Meeting goals and showing progress is critical when you have a limited budget and limited time. Accountability is crucial, and is a sign of mutual respect. It has taken some time for me to really understand how this works in business, and I’m still evolving, but it’s been an amazing journey.

What was your biggest mistake (aka learning opportunity) when you VERY first started?

Focusing on the “how” of our beta product rather than “why” it had to exist. Healthcare is complicated and very local. My goal early on was to get a beta product done and in the hands of my colleagues – it was very tangible and goal-oriented, but it took time to truly lay a foundation for our company. In retrospect, focusing on why Sanjay and I could build the right team to create a better rural healthcare ecosystem would have enabled a more efficient path for us. That being said, without our Coltrain beta, I’m not sure anyone would have believed us!

Gautam Nayak signing new providers up on Coltrain in Omak, WA

What impact on your community are you hoping that your startup has?

Great healthcare is a team sport. Clinical collaboration is important, especially when patients need urgent or higher level care. Coltrain is already having a huge impact for patients in Washington and Kansas, enabling medical providers to collaborate without any barriers. When doctors communicate with one another, patients win. We are already seeing many lives positively impacted with Coltrain – it’s amazing how a simple app can bring a community of healthcare professionals together. In today’s world, a healthcare team is spread out and overlaps different systems (each with their own electronic health records), often stretching across a state or even the country. I want Coltrain to become THE common platform for communication amongst all medical providers, irrespective of location or healthcare system.

Name your biggest motivator/inspiration to continue doing the work that you do.

A few weeks ago, Coltrain was used to get a patient on a life-saving cardiac medication in a rural, critical access hospital that wouldn’t typically deliver this medication. But with direct, real time clinical collaboration through Coltrain, the entire team at the rural hospital and the specialists in a bigger center could work together seamlessly to help a patient in need. Coltrain is enabling rural hospitals and underserved healthcare professionals to deliver more advanced care, essentially scaling specialty services to hospitals that might not otherwise be able to deliver this care. Amazing stories like this are happening daily with Coltrain, and this inspires me and my team to keep doing what we do.

One piece of advice that you would give to a budding tech startup entrepreneur.

Focus on your team from day one. Bring in motivated co-founders who can amplify your vision and provide you with energy and resources to bring your dream to reality. Sanjay and I were lucky to have each other and an aligned mindset. Our incredibly talented, selfless team has enabled us to take the next step.

Anything else that you’d like to share with the Find Ventures and tech startup community?

Within 2 months of release of Coltrain version 2.0 in mid-November, 2022, we had over 300 healthcare professionals in Washington and Kansas collaborating with one another. The uptake has been incredible and we continue to grow.

We will soon embark on a pilot with an industry partner to deliver educational resources to healthcare professionals at the point of care through Coltrain. Our goal is to transform how busy medical providers stay abreast of the latest technology to help their patients while integrating critical knowledge to empower their careers

Connect with Gautam on LinkedIn and keep up with Coltrain on socials: Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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