Garrick Kreitzer of Bearhug Technologies

Garrick Kreitzer founded Bearhug Technologies to bridge a technological gap between electronic medical records and behavorial health providers. With a history working in the beahvorial health industry, Kreitzer recognized the need to update how patients' records are compiled and shared, thus working to provide Bearhug Technologies' primary function—to serve as a web-based platform for connected care.

What were you doing before starting Bearhug Technologies?

Directly before, I was running my behavioral health consulting/counseling practice, The Great Ascent Consulting Services. But I’ve worked in various behavioral health settings over the years, including in social service agencies, in correctional facilities and in hospitals.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

Having come from the behavioral health field, I always knew there was a problem with the disconnect between behavioral health and primary care. But only until I started my own practice and began to delve into the national behavioral healthcare scene did I realize that the disconnect wasn’t just between behavioral and primary healthcare, but also between behavioral health providers themselves.

Even with all the healthcare technology coming out, such as electronic health records, all of it was targeted at primary medicine. Behavioral health is very specialized and no one was developing any technology for us that effectively met our needs or solved the disconnection problem specific to our industry.

It’s unfortunate in that when behavioral health providers are using archaic methods to clinically connect with each other and with other healthcare professionals outside of their immediate setting, the inevitable result is a breakdown of care coordination, and therefore, an absence of a continuum of our patients’ care. Our patients are the ones to take the hit.

Even though HIPAA complicates things as does the stigma surrounding behavioral health in general, I was still dumbfounded that this problem was going on unaddressed. 
Then, while waiting for someone to develop an adequate solution, I had a client pass away as a direct result of this disconnect and lack of coordinated care. So I quit waiting for someone else to develop the solution and began working on one myself.

What local resources did you utilize and how did they help?

Honestly, there is no way I could have come even this far without the help of all the local resources we had to help us along the way. And I wasn’t shy about asking for help either! In fact, the number of resources we had access to in the Northern Kentucky region surprised me.

The people at the Northern Kentucky E-zone have been incredible. Their guidance and mentorship has been invaluable. They helped me, a behavioral health clinician who speaks in clinical jargon and is horribly long-winded, to conceptualize and then present Bearhug as a business, and to do so using direct, understandable language. They are very “hands-on”.

The Northern Kentucky branch of the Small Business Development Center has been amazing as well. They were one of the first to actually believe in us and validate our product’s concept and model.

Northern Kentucky University has helped immensely as well—a class from the MBA program wrote a market research report for us, basically what we would have hired a consulting firm to do if we had an excess of funds, which of course, startups don’t have. The Center for Applied Informatics has helped us with the more technical aspects of our product.

What would you do differently if you started your business again?

That’s tough. At the risk of sounding naïve, I’m not sure I’d do much differently because I’ve learned so much along the way, especially from the mistakes we’ve made.

Maybe I’d have asked family for some money at the beginning. That probably would have sped the actual product development up a bit because both my developer and I had full-time jobs elsewhere and worked on Bearhug in our “off-time.” That was definitely hard on family and friends, but they understood and were willing to sacrifice because they believed in Bearhug so much.

What’s next for you and your company?

Well, we were one of the top 22 companies selected for UpTech’s accelerator program, which is awesome. To be selected for their program would be a dream come true.

We have a meeting with an investor group in September. We are nearing completion of our beta product and I am currently lining up some sites where we can pilot it. There are some great opportunities ahead of us and some great people behind us, so whatever is next for us will definitely be exciting. At the very least I will still be learning.

Interview by Sean Peters