Born in Ghana, Ulupreneur Ami Kumordzie was no stranger to seeing extreme poverty and people with acute health conditions, like AIDS or polio, who had no access to healthcare. Moving to Austin, Texas at a young age, she grew up thinking a lot about how socioeconomic status and healthcare are intertwined; as a result, she was inspired to pursue a career in healthcare. Ami describes her entire childhood as “pre-med,” and says she never had any doubts about her path.
While she dreamed of becoming a doctor, she also loved building things and solving problems, which led her to realize she needed to acquire a different skill set—and to do that, she needed to become an engineer. So for her undergraduate degree, Ami studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins. The curriculum included being part of design teams, sometimes with a physician mentor, that had to take on a clinical need, create a solution for it, and then pitch it, Shark Tank-style, to mentors and advisors. She enjoyed the experience so much that she caught the entrepreneurial bug.
She went on to Stanford Medical School; while still a student there, she enrolled at Stanford GSB. She was hooked on the idea that she could help build a product that would solve a problem and could make it sustainable as a business.
Ami wondered whether she would be happy helping one patient at a time in a medical practice—she wanted to help millions. It took being offered a practice in anesthesiology for her to realize she wanted to build something at the systems level.
Ami knew she needed to learn more about the healthcare system. She worked in consulting and in the medical-device industry for a while, and realized she needed to start with a problem that she really cared about: paying for health care. Based on Ami’s own very difficult experiences navigating health insurance, she found that even very small aspects of insurance, like flexible spending (FSA) or health savings (HSA) accounts, were often very difficult to use.
Then during COVID, her mother lost her job and her benefits. Her insurance and flexible spending account were about to expire, and her mom would lose her contributions. For Ami, that was when she knew wanted to build something in the FSA and HSA space that could help people maximize and utilize these very important parts of their health plans and be able to buy wellness-promoting products.
Ami launched Sika Health in August 2021. Sika is a platform that enables people who contribute to FSAs and HSAs to use their pre-tax dollars to buy qualified products and connect with places where those accounts can be spent. Sika’s founding team includes executives from fintech giant Klarna and marketplace sites like Etsy. We spoke with Ami about her lifelong passion and why she believes they will win in the healthcare space.
Why Sika, why now?
It’s a great time to launch the platform because of trends on both sides of the market. On the consumer side, a lot more people are using FSAs and HSAs because they can provide major tax advantages. On the merchant side, healthcare is becoming more consumer-driven. There are a lot more consumer health companies out there trying to meet consumers where they are.
There are direct-to-consumer products and companies where you don’t have to necessarily make an appointment with the doctor. You can do a telehealth visit with the doctor online, or you can buy products through a virtual prescription pathway.
“There’s a lot more consumer-directed dollars out there, as well as a lot more consumer-directed merchants and places to spend those dollars. Sika helps the two sides of the market connect easily.”
What were your strategies for getting your first customers?
I started with my own network and colleagues who were starting companies in the healthcare space, including companies focused on women’s health, given the kind of network that I’m in. This is also a space where there’s so much appetite, both from merchants and consumers, that a lot of them have found us instead. Maybe they learned about us through Googling, or through a TechCrunch article published recently and they said to themselves, “I’ve been looking for something like this.” It’s been encouraging to see a lot of inbound demand for a real solution in this space.
Any fundraising tips for other founders?
Fundraising is about relationship-building, and that means treating people like people and not like deals or transactions. Fundraising can start with your own network. We started with just friends and family, and we were trying to raise $500K. Because there’s a lot of demand in this space and the opportunity made sense, within a few weeks we closed over $1.2 million for our pre-seed round. After that, more people gave us introductions—so we were able to raise $6.2M in January of this year.
What have been your biggest challenges? With all the consumer and merchant demand for this product, I feel like this is ours to win. But it’s all about finding great people who are amazing to build the core foundation. A founding team of leaders across functional areas is so critical, and it has been a bit of a challenge finding the right people.
“There’s so much competition in the marketplace. We’re just coming out of one of the hardest hiring markets, especially for engineering and technical hiring. I think the tides are turning a little bit, which is good for employers.”
But it’s still difficult, especially when thinking about how COVID has changed expectations around working in-person, around remote and distributed teams—it’s changed the landscape.
What are your dreams for Sika?
Originally, I set out to help my mom and folks like her who are struggling with managing their health care and managing their finances. And often people have benefits that just don’t work for them. And so, my dream is to materially change that and get to a place where this is not an issue for them, where we can really drive a lot more value. That, to me, is a dream come true