While I was attempting to recover from a deadly cold yesterday, Google Ventures announced that it was leading a $130 million investment round in Flatiron Health Inc., a startup that produces cancer treatment software. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s Google’s largest investment in a medical tech company to date.
The first reason I wanted to highlight this story is that Flatiron makes a nice counterpoint to the vast majority of startups you see reported on. For one, it doesn’t have a meticulously misspelled name. More importantly, it’s trying to solve a significant problem that happily has nothing to do with the social needs of single, twentysomething males. Flatiron says that only 4 percent of cancer patients participate in clinical trials, which leaves doctors with little readily accessible information about the other 96 percent. The company wants to gather that far-flung data and make it easy to analyze so that oncologists can make better treatment decisions. When we imagine a future of smarter, more efficient medicine aided by computers like IBM’s Watson, we’re also imagining the work of companies like Flatiron.*
Mostly, though, I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes. Flatiron was founded by Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, who also sold a digital advertising company to Google for $81 million. And, as it happens, Weinberg and I were high school classmates. Rumor had it that when he got his acceptance email to Wharton’s undergraduate program, he stood up in the computer lab, threw up his arms, and shouted, “I’m rich!” I later found out that he'd made good on that prediction, thanks to his first company's big sale, late one night while sitting at a rest stop in Delaware, where my Bolt Bus had broken down. Suffice to say, I’m less than upset to be skipping Hunter High's 10-year reunion for another pressing engagement.
*Correction, May 9, 2014: This post originally misspelled the name of IBM's Watson computer.