Success Story

UNC-Chapel Hill startup Bivarus acquired by national leader in health care performance solutions

Carolina startup programs helped prepare company for early success, acquisition by Press Ganey

Published Jan. 17, 2018

If you notice improvements in the care you receive during your next visit to the doctor, a technology developed by a company co-founded by UNC-Chapel Hill professor Seth Glickman may be the reason why.

Bivarus, a company that developed a survey-based cloud analytics platform to gain insight into patient experiences, has been acquired by Press Ganey, a leading provider of patient experience measurement and performance analytics for healthcare organizations.   

700 percent: Revenue growth for Bivarus during 2016

24 Hours: How quickly patients receive a bivarus survey after a doctor’s appointment

10 Months: The time it took bivarus to be acquired after an investment from carolina angel network

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“The sale of Bivarus to Press Ganey is a great outcome for patients, the Bivarus team, their investors and UNC-Chapel Hill,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. “This is an example of people and programs in the Innovate Carolina network working together to support a university startup.”

Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development, UNC-Chapel Hill
"The sale of Bivarus to Press Ganey is a great outcome for patients, the Bivarus team, their investors and UNC-Chapel Hill. “This is an example of people and programs in the Innovate Carolina network working together to support this university startup.

Building a smarter patient survey and a successful startup
Bivarus was co-founded and launched in 2012 by Seth Glickman, president and executive medical director of the UNC Health Alliance and associate professor of emergency medicine at the UNC School of Medicine.

As a clinician, Glickman experienced frustration with the inability to obtain precise, useable data around the patient experience, particularly around communication and safety. This sparked an idea – what if a survey could measure the patient experience in real-time, providing statistically reliable data that healthcare practices could use to improve clinical performance? Glickman’s idea grew, and startup company Bivarus was born.

Bivarus combines immediacy, convenience and data-driven insights. Within 24 hours of a visit, patients receive a digital survey where they can provide insight about their overall experience over email or text message. Based on an analytical algorithm, the surveys are targeted to the individual and ask significantly fewer – but more highly targeted and relevant – questions than traditional patient surveys. The short length of the surveys leads to better response rates, better data and a more scientific way to provide feedback to physicians.

The Bivarus patient experience and satisfaction platform includes dashboards for visualizing trends in patient responses. Image credit: Bivarus

The company’s journey from idea to commercially-successful solution was supported by Innovate Carolina, a comprehensive network of programs to help UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, students and alumni turn their ideas into market-ready innovations.

“The community created by the ongoing Innovate Carolina initiatives, the focus on streamlining the University’s commercialization efforts, and the establishment of the Carolina Research Venture Fund played an important role in the company’s success,” said Don Holzworth, chairman of Bivarus and executive-in-residence at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Innovate Carolina network partners helped guide Bivarus and positioned the company to gain traction rapidly, which ultimately led to its acquisition by Press Ganey.    

“An exit within 10 months of our angel investment is highly unusual, but we saw a superior product for the hospital market – and apparently so did their largest competitor,” said Randy Myer, managing director of the Carolina Angel Network, a program of Innovate Carolina that invested in the potential of the Bivarus’ product during 2017.

UNC startup programs prime Bivarus for success
Innovate Carolina programs that teamed with Bivarus to provide the startup early funding and support included:

The Carolina Angel Network, which draws angel investors for new ventures from among the university’s alumni, brought together a group of 10 investors to provide Bivarus with funding in 2017. That group of supporters included the University itself, which invested in Bivarus via a $2 million sidecar fund that UNC-Chapel Hill uses to support its most promising startups. Bivarus is the first company exit for Carolina Angel Network, which was launched in late 2016.

Carolina Research Venture Fund (CRVF), which provides critical early-stage investments in startups based on UNC-Chapel Hill research, invested in Bivarus during a seed round of funding in 2016. The fund, which is managed by venture capital firm Hatteras Venture Partners, was started with an initial pool of $10 million to help move UNC research-focused companies like Bivarus to market. Bivarus represents the second company exit for CRVF, which was started in 2015.

Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network is an organization that gives growth-oriented entrepreneurs like those on the Bivarus team the opportunity to work alongside a group of top, seasoned entrepreneurs in the North Carolina region who already have extensive experience launching businesses. Mentors from Blackstone worked with members of Bivarus’ leadership team to help guide and support them in getting the company ready to be funded and grow. This is a collaborative program with Duke University, North Carolina Central, North Carolina State, and founding partner UNC-Chapel Hill.

KickStart Venture Services, a team that supports the formation of IP-based companies at Carolina, met and consulted with Glickman, provided mentoring and coaching, and introduced the Bivarus team to advisors and investors. KickStart has provided consulting and $1.9 million in awards to 60 IP-based startups since 2009 that have gone on to raise $22 million in SBIR/STTR grants and $259 million in total funding.

Company growth yields financial returns, better care
Based on the strength of its technology and bolstered by funding and support from Innovate Carolina, Bivarus experienced early success. Enthusiasm from its clients at hospitals, physician practices and surgery centers allowed Bivarus to grow quickly. In 2016, it reported 700 percent annual revenue growth. This positioned the company to receive an investment from the Carolina Angel Network and also raise a separate round of funding in 2017 from a group of venture capital firms led by Hatteras Venture Partners via its management of the Carolina Research Venture Fund. By late 2017, its staff had grown to 50 employees.

“This was a great story and example of how academic researchers can leverage our region’s entrepreneurial community,” said Holzworth. “The company’s founders put their trust in the business talent available to them to build an experienced management team that was able to make their dream of improving health care a reality.”

While the financial benefits accruing to the founders, the University and individual investors is important, explained Holzworth, the creation of new jobs in the North Carolina region has lasting long-term benefits that the founders and University can be proud of.  And, according to Cone, making this kind real-world impact in the state is part of Carolina’s core focus. 

“When the people of North Carolina invest in UNC-Chapel Hill and other universities across the state, we owe them a return. By supporting startup companies like Bivarus, we make that return tangible and immediate in terms of economic growth and a better quality of life,” said Cone. “With the Press Ganey acquisition of Bivarus, there will be a wider adoption of technology that enables more effective communication between patients, nurses and doctors, and performance improvements in medical practices. These are all positives for patients – and for the people of North Carolina and beyond.”