Elli Kaplan has already raised tens of millions of dollars to take on one of the biggest and fast-growing healthcare challenges we face today. Including investments from top investors like Peter Thiel. Her venture, Neurotrack, has acquired funding from top-tier investors like AME Cloud Partners, Rethink Impact, Sozo Ventures, and SOMPO Holdings.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Elli Kaplan’s top advice for other entrepreneurs
- How Neurotrack is tackling Alzheimer’s
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Elli Kaplan:
Elli Kaplan is Co-founder and CEO of Neurotrack, a digital health company dedicated to the development of a digital cognitive assessment test that will enable earlier and more effective evaluation of patients who may be at risk for cognitive decline and help advance research and treatment of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Neurotrack is also building a cognitive health product that brings together the best scientific research shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and improve overall cognitive health.
Elli has two decades of experience in the public and private sectors, including positions at the White House, the State and Treasury Departments, and the United Nations Development Program.
She also held positions with AIG, Goldman Sachs, and multiple startups, and has an M.B.A. from Harvard.
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Connect with Elli Kaplan:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Already hello everyone and welcome to the dealmaker show. So very excited about our founder today I mean she’s on this rocket ship. You know we’re going to be talking a lot about health care stuff. You know, very much needed by the way you know the disruption in this space and. And I think that you’re going to find you know the story of her founder very inspiring so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today eie kaplan welcome to the show. So originally, you know you were born there in themver obviously very cold.
Elli Kaplan: Thanks for having me.
Alejandro Cremades: But damn by yeah, so how was life growing up, give us a little of a walk through memory lane.
Elli Kaplan: Denver was great I didn’t when I was first born there I didn’t live there for very long. My dad joined the indian health service as a pediatrician really to escape the Vietnam war and so I spent the very early years of my childhood living on. Indian or native american reservations in Washington State and in Oklahoma and it was an incredible experience. I lived there until around seventh grade and what I saw was how healthcare at the most basic level is delivered and it really shaped my views. In terms of thinking about what’s important to me and the role that health care can play in. Someone’s life. Ah from an access perspective and and just in terms of what an impact it can it can have
Alejandro Cremades: Was there like ah maybe like ah a specific event that maybe you remember that they gave you that push to think you know what I think I’m gonna do something in Healthcare one day. Yeah.
Elli Kaplan: Yeah I mean it was a few things one was I remember a few different times where my dad you know was treating some incredibly sick kids. And in 1 and in 1 case ah it was a kid who who probably would have died had he not um, been treating him and the family was so grateful but they had no way to pay him. Um, and so I remember one night late at night that child’s father came over to our house and he had brought one of his cows that he had slaughtered and and cut up into steaks for us and that was his payment and. Um, it was you know it was an extremely expensive contribution for him. But um, the only way that he could and it really stayed with me. Um, and ah so that was kind of the first impetus and then the second was when I was in business school. My grandfather who was also a physician started to show signs of alzheimer’s disease and you know I was pre-med in college we had you know lots of doctors and healthcare workers in in our family.
Elli Kaplan: And despite that it was really difficult for my grandfather to get a diagnosis and to really understand what was going on with him and then to get any kind of treatment and um, you know I think what was clear to me was. That if it was difficult for us to get this kind of information about his health. Um, you know where we were So You know had such a deep understanding of how Health care works and you know get access to the very best in Care. What was it the experience like for for people who didn’t have that and then you know, thinking back on my time seeing how Health care operated at the most basic level on these Indian reservations really shaped what I wanted to do. With my career after after I graduated shortly after I graduated from business school and so um, that’s that was the genesis of of starting this company.
Alejandro Cremades: So and and we’ll talk about that in just a little bit. You know I’m wondering then you know like what got you into the direction of politics you know, which is what you ended up studying I mean do you think? maybe it was like something about navigating policy or ah, how to you know pass regulations or new laws or.
Alejandro Cremades: But got you into politics.
Elli Kaplan: It was um, it really was this belief which I still hold though I think I’m a little bit more cynical or jaded now that you could take an idea or a set of ideas. Um. And very often that set of ideas came from a person and put them into a position of power and then have an impact on society and so you know if you think about um, ah the role that policy plays in in shaping industry in shaping you know social services. Ah it ah it comes down to people and what what they believe in and so um, it really was this idea of um of working to put someone into a position of power in order to change systems. And so I you know I worked in my last year in college I worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Um, we ah helped get him elected and then I went into the white house after graduating and it was just this sheer excitement of having accomplished. That together with this team of unbelievably smart talented energetic people and then having you know to a certain degree. It felt like the world was our oyster in terms of thinking about what our values were and how to then take those values and and turn them into law.
Elli Kaplan: Now That’s not exactly how politics actually works I mean there’s um, you know and I think I now have a a more sophisticated or or cynical depending on how you want to slice it view on on it. But you know it has a lot of applications to what we as entrepreneurs do as Well. You take an idea and that idea may be in the form of a product or a technology and and birth it and bring it to ah fruition and and and to markets.
Alejandro Cremades: Now it’s quite the jump. You know going from government you know to to business right to to to really the private sector and and in this case I mean for you, it sounds like the going to business school. You know what’s a really nice shift of gears I guess. You went to to Harvard business school. But at what point do you realize hey I think that maybe it’s time for me to go to business school and why did you decide that that was the right decision at that point in time in your career.
Elli Kaplan: Um, you know and as we discussed the early part of my career really was spent in in governments in government I worked at the un for a a couple of years I had I did have some time in in finance and private equity. But what I was really interested in after having spent so much time understanding the role that policy and large governmental or or multinational organizations can play in in design and development and and and. Creating of markets was then the flip side of that was the role that the private sector actually plays in in the world and specifically when I was. At the United Nations I was the Deputy Chief of staff for the United Nations Development program which is the largest un agency and the role of Udp is to go into these developing or emerging markets and to put in place organizations and and help governments create policies in order to. Shape the economy and um and so what was what I saw during that experience was how government or or these large international organizations interacted with the private sector in order to do that and that was really um, what got me very excited as well as.
Elli Kaplan: Looking at at the role of entrepreneurs and early stage private capital to then supplement and fuel that and so it was wanting to have more experience on the private side doing that work but recognizing that um I didn’t. You know I really didn’t have the experience that I would need in order to to get jobs doing that and so that was that was the focus of going to business goal was to sort of give me that those private sector um tools and skills in order to make that happen.
Alejandro Cremades: So entering startup world. So what was what was that you know you finish your your your your graduate degree at Harvard and then you know startups. How do you get into startups.
Elli Kaplan: Um, so I started by by first so we had moved to Atlanta Georgia at that point and um I was very interested in learning as much as I could about sort of the startup. Um, ecosystem and in Atlanta at that time it was really ah in its infancy. Um, there were a few successful startups. Ah but it wasn’t what you know Silicon Valley was um, you know today or even then. Um, but there was a lot of ah, a lot of the sort of components that you need in order to create that ecosystem so we had Georgia tech that was right there that was producing all these really brilliant. Um. Engineers and and product people we had the beginning of a sort of a venture capital network and um and a lot of you know the other sort of components that you need in order to to help. See a strong startup community and so um I was really interested in sort of understanding what was needed in order to take those different components and and help build more and so um.
Elli Kaplan: Worked at georgia tech with a few people to create. Ah the very first accelerator incubator program right in downtown Atlanta and we brought in young.
Elli Kaplan: Ah, startups from largely out of Georgia Tech and we taught them how to be startups so I had to learn What was what was really valuable and what would make a startup successful as part of starting and running that program and then once I kind of had a bit more insight into what was required I and. Had you know the personal experience of of having a loved one be impacted by Alzheimer’s and a deep understanding of how health care worked and wanting to do something at long last in Health Care. It was then that I actually transitioned to to starting neurotrack.
Alejandro Cremades: So Then let’s talk about neurotrack because obviously you know as they say I ideas you know they take time to incuate. They’re there. We don’t even know they’re there. But obviously there is certain events that push us over the edge to really take Action. You know it sounds like you know for you? The incubation of this idea you know was really personal. And team and basically you know like I I Want to ask you here I mean at what point do you realize? hey you know what? I’m I’m going to take action here. You know I’m going to I’m going to go for it.
Elli Kaplan: Um, you know it was the encouragement of a lot of people that I was talking to who said, um, you know this is something that is so deeply needed and if you don’t do it who is going to do it. Um, and so. It was a leap I had never you know I think um had I known then what I know now about about starting a company but also starting a company in the health care space and certainly um, you know for a disease that is. As complex as Alzheimer’s is I still would have done it. But I you know I think it would have um my eyes would have been a little more open. Um, but it really was this view that the world needs this and. Um, no one else is doing it and so why don’t I give it a try and you know as you as you know so often you you start these things and you don’t really have a sense of where it’s going to go? Um, but in this case, all of the important trends. Were there So You know we had an aging population that it was clear was was going to continue grow to grow at at um at a very rapid rate we saw where technology was going and it was early days of Digital Health and really this.
Elli Kaplan: Understanding that ah technology was going to play a different kind of role when it came to to both Healthcare products and health care services.
Alejandro Cremades: So so in this case for you I mean what were the early days like because I mean building a company like this is is very complicated. You know I think that you know first and foremost I guess for the people that are listening to really get it. Why didn’t that up being the business model of neurotrack. How do you guys make money and then also. What were the early days like
Elli Kaplan: Yeah, so the business model has shifted significantly over time as the alzheimer’s space has grown and changed. Um early days. We started with a digital. Diagnostic or assessment tool. So the first iteration of our product was ah a digital test and and it still exists but in a slightly different format a digital test that uses eye tracking to assess impairment in. Part of the brain called the hippocampus that stores memory and so because we could identify this impairment and um, ah you know, really be able to find people who were at the very earliest stages of of alzheimer’s. Um, it was clear that the market for us would be working with pharmaceutical companies who at that time had very robust alzheimer’s programs or cognitive programs and trying to you know to develop drugs that were considered what they call. Disease modifying so that would actually either stop the disease or significantly slow its progression and so early days of the company and go to market were completely aligned around working with biotech and pharma to help them.
Elli Kaplan: Better developed drugs for for Alzheimer’s Disease What? um, happened shortly after a lot of those contracts kicked off was that the drug started to fail and in fact, every drug every drug that was in the pipeline and every company that we were working with their drugs failed. So We were suddenly left with this very Great. You know, strong Diagnostic tool but no, no Market. Um, and you know the the pharma companies shut down their programs. It was you know they were done and and what. Resulted was us really sort of taking a step back and thinking about okay if there is no therapeutic market for our diagnostic and and you know in Healthcare What is needed to scale a diagnostic tool is a therapeutic program. Um. What else might exist and it was ah then that we started doing work around the role that Lifestyle can play in slowing the progression of of Alzheimer’s disease and um. And the science is now very well established I mean we were part of some of those very early studies that was looking at the role that diet and exercise and sleep and stress play in mitigating mitigating risk for Alzheimer’s and ah built a product and so essentially created our own therapeutic.
Elli Kaplan: Um, but you know that was that was that was what caused that that breakthrough. So.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case, you know you guys have raised quite a bit of money you know, sixty sixty million and you’ve had you know like incredible investors jumping in I mean legends legends like for example, Peter Thiel um how has been the capital raising. Um, side of things here I mean what? how how has been that journey going from one cycle to the next to raising you know this amount of money and also from such great investors too.
Elli Kaplan: Yeah I mean um, fundraising is never easy right? We have phenomenal investors with very deep pockets who really believe in what we’re trying to do but also understand. Just how complicated it is I mean you know in health care alzheimer’s is really considered the greatest unmet health care need and so there’s this understanding that if you win in this market which we believe we will then you know it’s worth. Ah. It’s worth the time that it will take and and sort of the complexity of that path to to ah to to to go for um and so I would say you know fundraising is always challenging. Um, but I think when you find the right set of investors who who understand and take the time to really dig into the problem. It makes absolute sense and and now um, we’re at this moment when that you know honestly we’ve been waiting for. The last ten years I mean I would say that where we are today is um, we’ve been planning for for the entire lifetime of the company and we can talk a little bit about that. But that certainly changes ah the the um.
Elli Kaplan: Environment for fundraising. Um, you know I won’t lie like at times it has been challenging. Ah, you know alzheimer’s is a scary disease. It’s a complicated disease and all we have seen is failure I mean the road is littered with drugs that have failed with other diagnostics that have failed. Um. So not for the faint of heart. But if there is 1 thing I have it is a grit and perseverance and um I am not going to stop until until we are successful.
Alejandro Cremades: So give us a little of um of of an insider you know, lens here you know when it comes to fundraising you know I know that when you met 1 of the first investors there Peter Thiel you know founder of Paypal early investor in Facebook I mean like incredible legend in the in in silicon valley how is it like to get someone like that. You know that caliber to literally just go for a short meeting and then all of a sudden this person clears. The calendar for the remainder of the day. How do you do that.
Elli Kaplan: Um, you know I think first and foremost I will say you know when you are fundraising. Do do your research and understand who you’re pitching to and what they care about. We went into that meeting with with Peter knowing that he was. Deeply interested in longevity that he had been making some investments in in this that space. It was early days for him from an and both an investment and an understanding perspective and you know alzheimer’s is a huge barrier. To living a very long and full life and um so when we went in we were initially scheduled to to meet for 30 minutes um vcs are often very busy and he was a little late and came in and sort of you know said, give me your pitch and what was.
Elli Kaplan: Fascinating was watching him while we were pitching because it was clear that a light bulb went off for him kind of midway through and what that revelation was was um, the fact that. If you’re in the mode of developing drugs and he had been making some investments in in early stage alzheimer’s drugs that if you’re in if you’re if you’re developing a drug. You need to be able to test that drug on the right type of individual so you know you’ve you’ve. You’ve got to very carefully select someone who is the appropriate candidate for that drug trial and I think the epiphany for him was in recognizing or realizing that the development of alzheimer’s drug drugs hinged on. Finding people who were early enough in the progression of the disease such that the drug could really have an impact and that that wasn’t happening and so it was an um, an important parallel investment so you know in order for the drugs that he was investing in. To be successful. They they needed our tool and so our 30 minute meeting quickly went to a full day and he brought in his partners and you know 24 hours later it was a classic iconic Silicon Valley story you know 24 hours later we had a term sheet and we were off to the races and you.
Elli Kaplan: Bring in somebody like Peter Thiel and and it doesn’t it’s not very hard to then fill out the rest of the round and have a successful launch.
Alejandro Cremades: So now I guess for for what you guys are apt to do you know when it comes to you know taking a look at what’s going on and and the market you know there’s concerns about the ah growing you know size of the senior you know folks in the in the Us.
Elli Kaplan: Um, yeah, um, well you know the seniors are the baby boomer population. It’s the fastest growing part of our population every single day 10000 people become medicare eligible.
Alejandro Cremades: Why is that the case.
Elli Kaplan: Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the aging and it has a high prevalence among people over the age of 65 so you take a a large group of people who are suptible susceptible to this disease without any real solutions. That becomes ah a huge problem from ah both a cost cost and a care management perspective. So um, you know I think it’s It’s a problem but it’s also an opportunity and I think it has taken the fact that. Um, this moment where Alzheimer’s you know where there’s such a large population and Alzheimer’s is such a significant portion of ah of the cost related to caring for that population to really create the the Healthcare Market. That we’re now going after um and that is one of diagnosing and managing this disease better. Um, and to to do so at scale. Such that anyone anywhere gets access to the kind of information and then treatment that they need in order to to manage the disease.
Alejandro Cremades: So as worth thinking about now neurotrack for the people that are listening to get an Iv on the scope and size I mean anything that you can share in terms of number of employees or anything else that you feel comfortable sharing.
Elli Kaplan: Um, you know we keep that pretty quiet. Ah, but um I would say you know we’re still small at this point less than 100 people but working hard to to. Ah, to scale and and grow as is needed to in order to really you know tackle the size of the problem that we’re going after.
Alejandro Cremades: So I was worth thinking about the size of the problem scale growth. You know, obviously that has to do a lot with the vision right? So if we if I was to give you the opportunity of going to sleep tonight and you would wake up in a world where the vision of the company is fully realized.
Elli Kaplan: Yep.
Alejandro Cremades: What does that world look like.
Elli Kaplan: Um, what it looks like is that neurotrack is the new gold standard for how we assess diagnose manage and and treat ah people who are at risk for cognitive decline in alzheimer’s disease. And from a tactical perspective that means that we are working inside the primary care offices of anyone who is treating a patient, a patient population of older people. Um, and ah, we’re having an impact. And that impact is in actually improving outcomes so people are understanding what their risk level is where you know their memory is not at all times but frequently. And they have the tools that they need in order to to manage that condition. Um, you know you think about where diabetes or cancer was ten fifteen twenty years ago and where it is today. You know you get at a diabetes diagnosis and. 1 you find out that you have diabetes you get that diagnosis and then two you get everything you need in order to manage it same with any other significant health care condition that doesn’t really exist for alzheimer’s today you know we like to say that um that ah.
Elli Kaplan: That you know, standardizing cognitive health care. There is no standard and we will become the standard um and and so the vision or what we’d like to wake up tomorrow morning and I’m I’m really hoping Alejandra that that ah this does happen tomorrow when I wake up but that um. But that that has changed dramatically and that people when you get a diagnosis of alz summer’s it doesn’t feel like idescent. It feels like something that you and your family are are able to manage.
Alejandro Cremades: Wonderful now we’re talking all the future here. So if we are able to talk about the past and talk about the past with you know some reflection because I mean you’ve been at it now you know with this company for 10 years you know 10 years startup you know years? that’s like.
Elli Kaplan: With that.
Alejandro Cremades: Like dog years right? I mean it’s absolutely unbelievable, right? A lot of battle I mean a lot of battles you know constant battlefield for 10 years that’s incredible now if I was to give you the opportunity of going into a time machine and you’re able to go back in time you know you’re able to go back in time to.
Elli Kaplan: But I should be like yeah eighty years old at this point.
Alejandro Cremades: You know, perhaps that moment where you were experiencing. You know that challenge you know with with with Alzheimer’s you know in the family and and you were able. You know, let’s say you know at that moment where you were thinking about like what to do about it if you could go back in time. And have a sit down with that younger eie and give that younger Elie one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Elli Kaplan: Um, oh gosh. So I mean so many lessons right? Not just one piece of advice. But I think um, it would be a team matters more than anything else. It’s all about the people. And having a team that is completely aligned around the same vision. Um, never compromising on that and so you know if there’s somebody who’s not working you got to move on and move on quickly I would say to have your. Um, have your village in the last I would say 3 or 3 years um I have slowly developed a network of other female ceos and founders who are working in health care. And we have each other’s back like nothing else and you know when there’s a problem. They’re the first group that I reach out to because as you know, being a a Ceo and a founder is a really lonely job and um, historically there haven’t been as many women. Founders and Ceos particularly of healthcare startups and so it’s taken a little while to pull that village together. But now that I have it I think it’s it is game changing and so to the degree that I could have told myself to get that group together sooner. Um, you know I think that would be be very valuable.
Elli Kaplan: And then you know the last one is ah is to not ever compromise on on what is most important to you and I and I have never compromised on what’s most important to me and you know what I think is most important to. To the patients that we will be helping in terms of you know, having clinical products that are deeply scientifically validated and developed and that was something that. That we never compromised On. We never will compromise on but it’s it’s harder when you when you have to take the time and put in that investment to make that happen. So know what your values are and stick with them.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it now. Italy for the people that are listening that will love to you know, reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Elli Kaplan: Yeah I love it. They can email me Elli eELL I at neurotracck dot com.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Elli thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.
Elli Kaplan: Thank you! This has been a lot of fun Alejandra. Thank you.
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