Interview Series: Jen Horonjeff, The Brains Behind Savvy Cooperative

We are excited to share our interview with our Patient Entrepreneur and 2017 Lyfebulb Novo Nordisk Summit 3rd place winner, Jen Horonjeff. As a lifelong patient, healthcare researcher, and human factors consultant, Jen is improving the patient experience by empowering patients to be an active part of developing future innovations through Savvy Cooperative.

Hi Jen! Tell us a little about yourself.

I was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis when I was an infant, and have gained a laundry list of other diagnoses since then. As an adult, I also had a brain tumor removed that resulted in my development of diabetes insipidus, which eventually resolved. I was always interested in health, behavior and the human body and got my Masters in Ergonomics and Biomechanics and my PhD in Environmental Medicine.  I am a patient-centered outcomes researcher at Columbia University Medical Center, a human factors consultant, and a Consumer Representative for FDA advisory committees. Being able to use my experience as a patient in a meaningful way completely changed my life. I hope that I am able to give other patients the opportunity to find the same sense of purpose.

What drove you to start Savvy Cooperative?

In order to make more patient-centered solutions, there must be a clear understanding of the patient experience. When my professional colleagues found out I was a patient, they kept coming to me to serve as the patient representative. While happy to help, I felt they needed to hear from more diverse patients as well, but they cited the many challenges to doing so. So I began to reach out to my own network to see if other patients wanted to participate and they jumped at the opportunity to have their voice heard.

“This signaled to me there was a disconnect between the two sides, one that could be solved by creating a platform where innovators could seamlessly request patient input and participation.”

When thinking about what would become Savvy Cooperative, I wanted it to make sure it wasn’t just patient-centered, it was patient-driven! That’s why Savvy is a patient-owned co-op, where patients can buy-in and become co-owners, each with an equal vote and an equitable share of our profits. As I reached out for feedback on the idea, I spoke to my friend Ronnie Sharpe, a fellow patient advocate who has cystic fibrosis. When I shared my vision for a patient co-op with him, it immediately clicked, and he eventually became my co-founder.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krLP3czRX9U ]

With the trends in healthcare and thought leadership from those like Lyfebulb, we know patient insights are going to become more sought after. So we feel a sense of urgency and obligation to make sure that as the patient insights market develops, it is done in such a way that fairly values patients, rather than exploit them.

Why should people use Savvy Cooperative?

Whether you’re a patient or family member and part of our Savvy Crowd, or a Savvy Company looking for patient insights, Savvy has something for you! Savvy helps patients and family members gain a sense of purpose by using their experiences to improve future innovations, and we help them get paid for doing so. We help companies and innovators get the diverse insights they need to build more meaningful solutions for patients, and get them to market faster. And everyone can feel good knowing they’re working with a patient-owned co-op!

How do you feel about being a winner of the LBNN17 award?

We are thrilled and humbled to have been selected as a winner. We worked really hard to get there–and I don’t just mean the flight delays and missed connections. While we are still early in our journey with Savvy, a lifetime of experiences brought us to that moment, standing on stage telling the world that they should see patients as valuable partners in innovation. Thank you to Lyfebulb and Novo Nordisk in recognizing all the amazing patient entrepreneurs and furthering what we patients already know–that patients are savvy!

What does this award mean for you and your company?

Winning this award has been incredible. Companies have already reached out after learning about us from LBNN17, wondering how they can utilize our services and work with a variety of patients. The feedback has been tremendous. It’s also validating that the need we saw for this service and the value it brought in our own communities of arthritis and cystic fibrosis is also being recognized in other conditions. For me personally–as a ballet dancer, turned engineer, turned PhD, turned entrepreneur–this win tells me I’m on the right track to making the biggest impact to improve the lives of patients. And that’s invaluable.

What is next for Savvy?

We realize Savvy is still in its infancy, but we’ve got big plans! We have been exploring strategic partnerships, with one example being how we can work with incubators and accelerators to help their early stage companies get the user feedback they need early and often in their development. We are also considering to open funding round (stay tuned!) to help us scale Savvy and improve the lives of patients everywhere.

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