It’s not uncommon to see founders solving problems they’ve faced themselves, or addressing gaps in markets they’re familiar with. Jessica Dove London, founder of health platform Turnto, is doing just that – and founding stories don’t get much more personal, emotional and passion-fuelled than hers.
Turnto is a platform for sharing information on medical breakthroughs, allowing people to search and review treatments, and share lived experiences. It also features information and opinions from professionals and researchers, as well as patients and their families.
Jessica describes the platform as a LinkedIn for health. It’s an AI-powered one-stop shop for information on clinical trials and treatment options, as well as tips on managing conditions and peer-to-peer support.
And it’s addressing a problem she is intimately familiar with.
After spending his first nine months in intensive care, Jessica’s son was diagnosed with a rare form of Cerebral Palsy. At the time, doctors told her there were no treatments available that could help him.
Needless to say, that was not an outcome she was satisfied with.
“I went on this huge quest to find health breakthrough information … we kept finding things, and almost all of them already had papers written about them,” she says.
Through reading medical papers, blogs and forums, and speaking with others in the Cerebral Palsy community, she learnt about new treatments, tools and therapies that were available, but weren’t being offered to her family.
When she did access them, some of those treatments were game-changing, helping him to sit up for the first time and generally giving him more independence as he grew older.
“Things kept working,” Jessica says.
“That really sparked it off for us.”
Information on medical breakthroughs “lives all over the place”, she explains. Academic papers and findings from clinical trials are generally available online, but not necessarily contextualised, while networks such as Facebook groups offer accounts of lived experiences and community support.
She sought to bring all of this together.
“I couldn’t believe this problem. I still think it’s ridiculous,” she says.
“So many medical breakthroughs are low-risk, lifestyle-based treatments. They shouldn’t be that hard to access.”
Last year, Jessica launched Turnto’s MVP, a curation of hundreds of treatments available for Cerebral Palsy, with reviews and information from doctors, researchers and patients.
In the founder’s own words, it was “scrappy, buggy, horrible, messy”.
Yet thousands of people have used it already, and more than 50% of those have left reviews for treatments they’ve tried.
Off the back of that success, Turnto has raised $1.1 million in pre-seed funding, with investors including Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussan, as well as AfterWork Ventures, LUXEM Ventures, and Radar Ventures — the fund of Atlanta Daniel and Xero founder Rod Drury.
Co Ventures, the new pre-seed fund led by Maxine Minter, has also invested.
Perhaps more importantly, Jessica has received more than 100 personal emails from people saying how much the platform has helped them.
Patients and their families have typically traded information in online forums – usually Facebook groups.
While these spaces are amazing for building community (and Jessica maintains anyone who says otherwise has never managed a rare medical condition) they’re not necessarily moderated, and they’re vulnerable to trolls trying to push products.
That makes professionals wary of wading into social media discussions. Jessica understands their concerns, but says “that ship has sailed”.
Conversations are happening whether the professionals like it or not, she says. So it’s more important than ever that all perspectives can be aired in a way that’s transparent, respectful and free from condescension.
“A LinkedIn for health is hugely valuable for so many players, because every condition has a huge ecosystem around it.”
All of that being said, Turnto’s approach is staunchly patient-first. In the sphere of medical research, the voices of patients and their families have historically been overlooked, Jessica says.
Within two years, Jessica wants Turnto to cover at least ten health conditions, and to be the most active health network for those conditions. In five years, she hopes to have expanded to 100 conditions.
“We want to be the go-to place for anyone in the whole network and the industry wanting to be part of the latest insights and data.”
It’s about empowering patients and their families to discover more treatment options and new research, but it’s also about explaining how those things can make a difference to their lives in real terms, and sharing stories of those already using them.
“We’re just the infrastructure for that.”
In the long term, the grand audacious goal is for Turnto to be the biggest health network in the world, “and to reimagine how health information is captured, generated and accelerated”.
Conducting and sharing medical research is so important to so many people, Jessica says, but it’s outdated and moves slowly – far too slowly for the people living with medical conditions.
“Health data, knowledge and information is stuck in the 90s.
“It is literally still on this four-year timeframe of capture, analyse and publish – or just jump into social media where you’re totally in the Wild West.”
Jessica believes it will be consumers – the people who are affected by these problems on a personal and deeply emotional level – that drive the change that’s needed.
There’s no time for debating what the parameters should be, or spending ten years on peer-reviewed studies that don’t even reach those they’re intended to benefit.
For families like hers, there’s real urgency.
“I want my son to have options. I don’t want another child like him to have to wait 10 years for treatments,” she says.
“Consumers are just going to be way ahead – they’re so motivated because it’s their life, or their child’s life.
“It’s a very emotional journey you’re on, and you’re often really patronised by the system.
“But you’re actually often the most determined and the most driven to continue looking for the answers.”
She’s taken it upon herself to solve a problem she was facing, and it turned out there was a whole community of people up against the same thing. Now that community is behind her, and she’s only just getting started.
“I don’t know what could stop us,” Jessica says.
“It is a really hard journey, but I love it.”