Meet Sarah O’Leary and you’ll know immediately that this woman is doing something big.
The relatively new Preston Hollow resident has a lot of experience under her belt, from handling multi-million dollar campaigns at HBO to owning her own advertising agency in Los Angeles. But it’s her latest endeavor that’s turning heads.
O’Leary is part of the latest graduating class at Health Wildcatters, a healthcare startup accelerator in downtown Dallas. Her business, ExHale Healthcare Advocates, will finish the three-month intensive program as the H&R Block for healthcare, and with the advisory board and seed money to prove it.
“Imagine going a to car dealership without knowing what the price is and not being able to negotiate. A month later, you receive a bill for $10,000 more,” O’Leary explained. “Wouldn’t you think it was insane? You just wouldn’t accept it. You wouldn’t go to a grocery store that didn’t have prices on shelves, so why do we go in blindly into the healthcare space?”
ExHale tries to demystify the billing process, from doctor bills to hospital fees, and give clients the peace-of-mind that they won’t be overcharged for a medical procedure. By appealing charges on bills, ExHale prevents clients from dealing with insurance companies and hospitals. This isn’t some occasional occurrence. The University of Minnesota reports that more than 30 percent of medical bills include some sort of error.
O’Leary got the idea after speaking with a friend who had survived breast cancer. When asked what the worst part of battling the disease was, her friend said that it was the bills and paperwork, not the chemotherapy.
“I had no desire to work in the healthcare space but I had this epiphany that I could do something much more purposeful with my life,” O’Leary said. “I woke up on a Tuesday and had the entire plan for ExHale in my head.”
Her plan caught the attention of Hubert Zajicek, one of Health Wildcatters’ co-founders. A physician by trade, Zajicek knows the dangers and confusion of medical billing.
“Personally, I can relate to the business extremely well. My wife and I are trained doctors and have been exposed to mystery medical bills many times,” he said. “Frankly in some cases, I made a stand and argued those bills solely because if two physicians cannot discern what the bill is for, how can any able-bodied, and especially a non-able-bodied, person figure it out?”
Through Health Wildcatters, startup founders like O’Leary have access to mentors, resources, and facilities to make their company a reality. The healthcare startups receive co-working office space for three months, practice business pitches, and connect with the industries biggest players, and wallets. With 32 graduates, including O’Leary and her cohorts after their final November pitch presentation, startups from the program have raised more than $12 million in seed capital.
“I can’t believe how many people I’ve met in these three short months who are extremely valuable to me. It would have taken me years to meet these people on my own if I could even have gotten meetings with them,” O’Leary said.
One of ExHale’s mentors through Health Wildcatters is Lea Nesbit, an entrepreneur who sold her healthcare startup to 3M in 2007.
“Part of my motivation was that, when I was starting out, so many people were willing to give me their time and refer me to someone they knew,” she said. “It’s really important to not feel like you’re out there alone. The access that you get through Health Wildcatters is tremendous.”
A self-described “detective,” O’Leary is working not only in Dallas but around the country to ensure that no one has a traumatic financial experience after an already traumatic medical incident.