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Revolutionalizing Healthcare – The Amazing Success of Prince and Ike Nnah of IntelyCare

Nigerian Parents Magazine continues to tell the story of Nigerians who are doing amazing things in the world. Dr. Prince and Ike Nnah fall into that category – two impact-making brothers with an amazing chemistry, who carved out a niche for themselves and are using it to change the healthcare industry.

The Nnah brothers are co-founders of Intelycare, a company that leverages technology to connect post-acute healthcare facilities with thousands of nursing professionals. Intelycare gained prominence when it raised  $45 million to solve nationwide workforce shortage in healthcare, becoming the fastest growing privately held company in Massachusetts. 

NPM sat down with the brothers to understand the secret of their success, how they shook off a modest beginning to create what may be termed the first ever nursing-as-a-service enterprise. Enjoy excerpts from the interview.

NPM

Dr. Nnah and Ike, we have invited you two to Nigerian Parents Magazine this evening to talk about your amazing story. We have been reading about the things that you are doing. We will start by asking you to tell us a little about yourselves.

Prince Nnah

Well, I’ll start and then Ike can fill the rest in. One we are brothers. We are brothers from the same mother, the same father. We grew up in a typical Nigerian family. We are very united and very close. We attended the same private school in Nigeria.  You are probably familiar with the boarding school system. That is how we grew up, very bonded, very close. That carried over through our careers and even our lives such that we have really been in touch with every piece of our lives from college, from marriage to business and everything.We have stayed super connected, and we are grateful for that. 

Our parents have taught us the importance of the unity that needs to exist between brothers or between families. I am the oldest of five. Ike is my wingman, my right hand man; he is my mentor as much as I am his.  Those are the basics. But I will tell you just a little bit about myself specifically.

I came to the United States as a teenager, to join my parents, and then just kind of picked up a career in healthcare. First, I wanted to go into med school with my mom, pursuing a career in nursing. However, I knew that based on my background, and the things I liked – biology, chemistry, physics – I was going to go into either med school or something in the pure sciences. I did well in Nigeria with those subjects. That pushed me into pharmacology and pharmacy. I ended up with a doctorate degree. 

Outside of that, I wanted to make an impact. I got into the military, served in the US Army to understand the country. I mean, to understand how things worked. I spent some time traveling the country, serving in the US Army. There were a lot of fun locations and spots that I attended. However, when the time was right, I left the US Army as a captain. I wanted to use that experience of building teams and leading people towards change. I do not know why I always wanted to make a big impact. I think that has driven me to business, health care and hospital administration. Ike and I started IntelyCare to help solve the problems that we saw in healthcare staffing specifically. 

Ike Nnah

I appreciate that Prince. Just to add to that, we grew up with a support system of family bond. You have your family; you have your brothers, your sisters and your parents as a support with whatever you are going to do. I think we just took that and ran with it. Our parents instilled this in us and we completely ran with it. 

As Prince said, we came here, 13, 14 years old. I have always been fascinated with technology. After getting out of college, I went to work for Meditech. So, I had a real opportunity to learn software development from a big corporate perspective. I think that entrepreneurship is in our blood. My dad did it for a while but he did not blow it up as we did today. We knew growing up that we had to start something. We have to be able to make a change. We knew it was going to happen; it was just a matter of time. 

After being in a corporate world for a little bit, we saw the challenges and the changes needed. We are both in healthcare and my mom is in healthcare. Healthcare is one of those things, too, that is in our blood. We figured we have to be able to make a change in this space. That is really how IntelyCare was born. I built the software. Prince is the outgoing one. Prince wants to talk to everybody. I am the one that is in front of the computer trying to figure out things. Prince is out there talking to people.  We felt like with the combination we could conquer the world.

NPM

Prince let me first, thank you for your services in the United States Army. It is not very often that we see our people in the military, so thank you for representing us. And thank you for your service. Let us talk a little bit about IntelyCare. I want to congratulate you on your recognition as one of the fastest growing companies in Massachusetts. We want to dive in a little bit into your business IntelyCare. Tell us about how this all started? How did you fill 3 million shifts in less than three years? 

Prince Nnah

It is interesting. When you understand a business and understand value creation, your first question is what is it that I am trying to do? So as we backtrack, health care is something we monitored for the past, I would say, more than 20 years. Our mom being a nurse, she was filling a million shifts and working crazy. Yet they are still calling her for overtime. The struggles that she went through. We saw that, even while we were still at college. So we knew firsthand. And that issue never evaporated. The problem was never solved. Therefore, as we came through the ranks, we said wow! My parents, especially my mom, and even my dad, tried to support the system. Most Nigerian nurses are working five jobs; there are still not enough nurses. We just knew that there could be a solution for some of these problems. 

One of the things Ike did not tell you is that he believes that with computers we could do anything. I knew that if I pushed in one way, he would figure out how to find the technology to solve that problem. He initially started with saying Prince, how do we get respite care. The goal was to get support for people taking care of either their family members or older parents with a technology that makes it easy. Ike really had the foresight during the Obama care period of coordinated care, and started pinging my brain. He says: “Prince this is where I think things should be”. That is how it started with the foresight of respite care, helping people who are taking care of their families at home, and building a technology that can support that, because all he thinks about in his mind is let us make this better. We do not have to stress over it. Let us use technology to do it. Ike will always talk about what is Uber: is Uber, a technology or a transportation company? We had these discussions in the early days, as we thought about this big opportunity. 

Ike & Prince Nnah

Ike Nnah

Without getting to the details because we can probably sit here for hours getting into all the different details and everything. However, I think really for the viewers out there and people who are paying attention.  If you look at all the companies that have been very successful, you name it: Google, they did not start up as a search company. Amazon did not start up as a big e-commerce company. They started selling books initially. So you look at any of all the big companies that are something today; they have been able to learn and pivot. Therefore, when you see the history, and I am a student of entrepreneurship and startup, you realize that they are able to start something like we did. I built the software initially and when I built it, it was really to provide respite care. But it was a marketplace. Nevertheless, on one side of the marketplace were family home caregivers and the other side of the marketplace are nurses and CNAs. Over time, when Prince came onboard, he recommended introducing the technology to the facilities. He suggested that we bring this technology to healthcare facilities. Therefore, we have been able to kind of pivot all across the way. When we found this perfect niche, we were the first to do this in the healthcare space, and then everything took off.  The lesson or the big thing here is really starting something, learning from it and adapting. Moreover, as you go through each stage, be prepared to pivot and when the opportunity comes, then you are ready to take advantage of it. 

NPM

So how does this technology work? Talk to us a little bit more about the technology

Prince Nnah

I tell everyone, on a high level, we are a marketplace. We are a two-sided marketplace. You think about Uber; you think about Grubhub; you think about all those types of human capital marketplaces. We have a platform that allows healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and any type of healthcare facility, to come to a web platform to fill their shifts. They are always short of staff. We know this because our mom has been a nurse. They come to our platform to request staff. It could be for a day or for a month. And they give us what they are seeking in terms of qualification. 

On the other side of the marketplace are the nurses and CNAs. They come to our web; they come to our mobile app and go through an onboarding, a rigorous onboarding process. We are able to see those shifts through different pricing matching algorithms that we have in the system and then we just make the magic happen. We have the same technology as Uber. 

NPM

You are the Uber and Amazon of healthcare. I have been reading the news and I have been following IntelyCare. You have raised $45 million to solve nationwide workforce shortage in healthcare. Tell us about that. 

Prince Nnah

I think two things: one is when you start up a company these days – which is different from how our parents did it – our parents never believed in raising money. Our parents bootstrap everything. However, when you are starting a company of this magnitude, where the opportunity is so massive, there is no way that you can take financial burden all by yourself. We went through a seed round investment. With Tech companies you go through that first round – a seed round investment and then we went through a series A. Then the most recent was the Series B, which is the one you are referring to. The Series B was able to help us scale across the country and perfect some of the things we are doing. It helped us make that geographical footprint with our technology and people saw it working. The process is very tedious. It is very difficult for any company. However, I think for us, we are not your typical people raising money, or typical company. Things are designated for different kinds of people that sometimes do not always look like us. Having the right team, we were able to do it. It is the largest fundraising round by a nursing technology company in the country. 

Ike Nnah

To add to that, you do not grow, as fast as we are growing without venture capital. You cannot be number 41 in the country, and number one in Massachusetts, without VC. Therefore, it is a requirement to be able to grow at a pace. In addition to what Prince said, I think it has been a teamwork. We don’t also get to that stage without having a team that can help execute. Sometimes people start companies and they think they can do it alone. It is impossible. 

Prince Nnah

There is a trust factor too. Sometimes it is not frequent to have trust in the Nigerian community or among our people. It makes no sense to look for 100% control; no one needs 100% control. For example, I would never code anything ever in my life. I do not want to code. I do not want to be stuck with a computer. I do not want to be a nurse so I am going to find a nurse who is going to be able to be a nurse every day. 

NPM

Let us talk about the most important issue of our time, which is COVID-19. It is the biggest challenge that we have today. How has that changed the way you do business? 

Prince Nnah

COVID has affected the entire world and it has changed everything. We are a very fast moving company so we are able to pivot and move on quickly. If you come to our office in Quincy, it is an open concept office, you see everybody in this big open space. How COVID changed that, even on the high level, is everybody who would normally be in the office is now remote. We are still very efficient, and we have adapted very well. In fact, the business has actually grown significantly due to COVID. I will tell you that. Today, we have probably over 300 clients. People are waiting for our service due to COVID. That is a positive because now we have people running to us because they have a difficult time getting qualified nurses or aides in the building where some of them do not want to work. So now, they need supplemental staff more than they ever needed before. 

Our business is actually booming. We are ahead on revenue, ahead on gross margin; the business has not been hit because of COVID in terms of revenue and growth. We could not even deal with all the demands we are getting today. The other thing is sometimes our nursing staff do not want to work. We have to figure out a way to incentivize them to work where the government is paying people to stay home. 

Ike Nnah

IntelyCare has been able to adapt and react fast. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we built a new functionality within the platform to ask people to stay home if they are sick.  

NPM

Prince, let me ask you this. There are so many of our people who would want to start a business, they want to get to where you are. They want to do some of the things that IntelyCare is doing.  However, they do not know how to go about it. What would you say to somebody like that? What would be your advice to them?

Prince Nnah

I would tell them that one; they need to understand their passions.  I think understanding what you are passionate about always helps.  Ike is passionate about technology. He is stuck with technology. And I am passionate about healthcare as a whole and solving problems on a grand healthcare level. I think that the first thing is understanding what your passion is. Then stick with it and think outside the box on how you solve people’s problems. Every business requires thinking. This did not just happen. We did not just stumble on IntelyCare. Even before IntelyCare, we have always thought about how to use our knowledge to affect change by creating value. There are smart people with smart thoughts and many ideas, but they are very afraid. They are afraid of failure. Just do it. If you have that feeling, you know, you could provide a service or something of value, just do it and just stick with it. 

Ike Nnah

I agree with all of that. Just to add, also, do not give up. It is going to be tough. There will be people who say no to you. In fact, many of them, even from a cash perspective, or to buy whatever you are selling, they will say no. I think it is perseverance. As you persevere, you will make it out. Every day you are learning something new. Take those learnings into the business. Just do not give up. We had so many opportunities to give up, close the door. I could tell you stories about opportunities where we had to close up. We had 30 to 40 employees at that time and we were close to running out of cash. The four co-founders sat in an office and asked: do we close the door today? This was after even raising some capital. We said nope, we have to keep on going. Just do not give up.

NPM

Part of the reason why we started Nigerian Parents Magazine is to help our people get access to lifesaving healthcare information. What do you two think is the best way for Nigerians to get lifesaving healthcare information? 

Prince Nnah

There is a lot of information out there. I think you said it. Information is in segments. So when you think about health care information, what kind, in what flavor? For instance, what is the biggest disease state that is plaguing Nigerians? What is the research on that?  How do we gather the issue that is affecting us the most? Then drive to a solution on that. That is a problem driven approach. When I think about healthcare information in general, there are a million of them. I know how to get to Dana Farber to get information on cancer. I know how to get information from MGH. I just network and I can get the information, but get the information that is most critical is the key. For me, I think we have data that can help us understand; what is the diabetes rate in Nigerian population? Obesity in Nigerian population. How much are we affected by obesity in Nigerian population in the United States? Those things will help us direct information to help solve these problems. 

Ike Nnah

I agree with what Prince just said. From a technology perspective.  There are ways to tap into what they call API’s. A lot of what EMR companies are doing today in terms of access to your data. I think we need to understand what is plaguing our society. These are some of the things that I am interested in and willing to help with.

NPM

This might be a question for you Ike. So you talked earlier on about great companies being able to create something and then pivot. Where are you taking this technology? What is coming next for IntelyCare?

Ike Nnah

What is coming next? From intelycare perspective? I cannot spill the beans but 

I will put it this way. I think healthcare is evolving. COVID has changed the way we receive care. When you think about it, during COVID, my kids never went to the hospital. Whenever they were sick, they did telemedicine. The delivery of care is changing, and is going to change faster. When we think about that, there are many opportunities to ask; how can I be part of that change? Intelycare is doing really well. Today we are growing and we are looking to be part of those changes. I think people should be looking at how they should be part of the future of healthcare. I think there are many opportunities, too, that people should be looking at, and see how to take advantage of it. 

NPM

Prince, when you started, you talked about your relationship with your brother. You two have the best of both worlds – you are brothers, you also get to work together. And you have this amazing chemistry and relationship. What was it like growing up in a Nigerian family? Every time we talk to people about this, everyone talks about how strict their parents were. They talk about the discipline. I am sure it was not different for you. Was it?

Ike Nnah

We grew up in a very loving family.  My dad is actually not your typical Nigerian father. He never spanked us. He does not believe in spanking like a bunch of other Nigerian parents. My mom was really kind and loving too.  However, from my mom’s family they will not spare the rod at all.  Sometimes when we came to our uncles or aunts, they would beat us up if we needed it. I think the other thing about it is, we really understood this whole extended family dynamics really well, because at a very young age, my parents actually moved and migrated to the US. Therefore, there was some sort of a void. That void actually helped my brother and me to get even get closer and understand the importance of family 

NPM

Nigerian parents put emphasis on discipline and education. To what extent do you think this is true? Is that a factor in your success?

Ike Nnah

I think it definitely plays a part because my parents have always had high expectations. They put us on this pedestal and did not expect anything less.  My dad would say I am not surprised with what two of have been able to accomplish. If you did not, then we would be having a different conversation. Therefore, we were not shooting for just the stars we were shooting even farther. We were shooting for the sky. We were shooting for the sun because my parents instilled in us that you could achieve whatever you put your mind to. I would not call it pressure. You just have to go work for it.

Prince Nnah

I believe that the expectations of Nigerian parents are based on the right principle.  For instance, our parents grew up in Nigeria with less of the opportunities that we have here. Ike and I were born in Nigeria. However, growing up here, the environment was different. We have had a lot of success because of the opportunities and we were able to capitalize on them. If we could do it, our children better be able to do better.  I think the beauty is that our wives, because we are busy and we are never always home, but these women have been able to instill that same tiger-mom mentality, which I love. I mean, I have to say it openly. During school vacation, they are still doing work, during the weekend, they are still reading. I think that mentality drives our children to want to do more to gain knowledge. That is how I grew up.

NPM

Folks we cannot wrap up this conversation without asking you for general advice for both Nigerian parents and Nigerian children.  What advice do you want to leave for them? 

Ike Nnah

If there is anything, you must believe in yourself and never give up. I think those are the two things.  I think the only reason I bring that up is that I believed in myself.  I had a good job at the hospital but I quit because I believed IntelyCare was possible. Then the other part of it is never give up. 

Prince Nnah

I would add that within your family you should support one another and not compete with one another. I think in some families you have a competition. Some families are not as united and, therefore, do not have the strength. I could have been in California myself with my family. I have spent time in Hawaii, California, and some of the best places in the world. However, my best and greatest success is being here with my brother where we can complement our efforts. Never be greedy. Ike is not and I am not. Give openly. Just understand what unity can do. Two can do more than one. 

NPM

Prince and Ike, NPM appreciates you. Thank you for speaking with us. 

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