Health Tech

INVEST Pitch Perfect Spotlight: How One Company Is Empowering Individuals through Social and Financial Support

Samaritan provides financial and social support to those without a home. The company was recently crowned winner of the payer/provider track of MedCity News’ INVEST Pitch Perfect contest.

From left to right: Arundhati Parmar, Editor-in-Chief at MedCity News; Jonathan Kumar, CEO and founder of Samaritan

Jonathan Kumar, CEO and founder of Samaritan, understands what it’s like to struggle financially. His parents immigrated from South India to Buffalo, New York, in the late 1980s. At the time, his mom wasn’t working and his dad was a student. They were living off a student stipend of about $600-$800 a week. But they had a lifeline: a local church stepped in and offered them financial, social and legal support.

Later on, Kumar was working for a startup in Seattle and trying to determine his next career move. He wanted to better understand the challenges faced by people without a stable home and ways he could build a product that could help. So he began having conversations with them. He realized that a key difference between their situation and his own was that his family had been given a team of supporters.

In came Samaritan, a startup that offers financial and social support for people without a home. Last month, the Seattle-based company was crowned winner of the payer/provider track of MedCity News’ INVEST Pitch Perfect contest. A total of five companies participated in the contest.

“Samaritan got started because I fundamentally believed that for every person on the street, there was that team of people, both professional and regular everyday folks, who could help that person elevate themselves and reach their housing, income, health and educational goals,” he said in an interview. “I believed that existed and I could develop some technology given my background to try and bridge those people together.”

Samaritan works with Medicaid plans, hospitals, human service organizations, corporate groups and faith groups to reach people in need of support. Individuals who join the platform are given a smart wallet and share their goals, needs and action steps. Each time a user works towards an action step — like going to the job center or completing a referral to a community health center — they receive an incentive payment of up to $20. This money comes from a mix of Samaritan’s customers and volunteers who donate money. 

In addition, Samaritan members get access to an online network of people, local businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that can help them with their needs. As well as donating money, volunteers can send encouraging messages, drop off needed supplies or invite them to an event.

“We just see that when people have this layer of financial and social support around them, their capacity rises to do the things that they want to do for themselves,” Kumar said. “And when that happens, we see people stabilized. When we see people stabilized, we see them in the hospital and the emergency department a lot less often.”

Samaritan is currently operating in six cities: Baltimore, Louisville, Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Seattle and Oakland. The company has raised about $4 million, including from the California Healthcare Innovation Fund and the American Heart Association. It’s currently looking to raise another $2 million, Kumar said.

The company was selected as the winner of the Pitch Perfect contest because it is “tackling a complicated, but imperative problem to solve engagement and health coordination for some of the most unengaged patients in the country,” said Jane Rho, director of fund and AI at DaVita Ventures, in an email. “We were impressed by the passion and effectiveness demonstrated by the model so far. Samaritan is well poised to make an impact- we are excited to see how this model can scale, change behavior in a lasting way, and engage its members.”