Innovation Blog

How This Massachusetts-Based Startup Is Addressing Substance Use Disorder


A look at how DynamiCare Health is driving effective innovation for recovery from addiction 

As you may already know, the opioid crisis has been dominating headlines in the United States  and impacting millions of people and their families. Although various treatment methods have been used and tested, some are not delivering impactful outcomes for patients.

I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Gastfriend, CEO of DynamiCare Health, to learn more about the startup he co-founded with his father, David Gastfriend, MD – an addiction medicine expert – their goals to impact the healthcare industry, and their experience in the MassChallenge HealthTech program.

Q: Tell me about your role at DynamiCare Health.

Eric: I am the CEO and co-founder of DynamiCare Health. I started the company over 2 years ago with my father, Dr. David Gastfriend, who is a national expert in addiction and psychiatry. As CEO of my company, I’m pretty much involved in everything from managing a team over 15 people, product development, and building out our product with our engineering team. Currently, I’ve been more focused on scaling and growth.

Q: How did you learn about MassChallenge HealthTech, and why did you decide to apply (both times)?

Eric: I first heard about MassChallenge HealthTech back when it was called PULSE@MassChallenge. After reading about the program, I asked myself, “why not?” The zero-equity (huge plus) program offers so many resources including free office space, exposure to industry leaders, and so much more. We first applied back in 2016 but didn’t get accepted. We’ve been thankful to participate in the 2018 and 2019 cohorts.

Q: Now that you are a current startup in the 2019 cohort, how has your experience been compared to your first time? What are the ins and outs that you have learned while being a part of an accelerator program?

Eric: I would say that it was a pretty different experience participating in MassChallenge HealthTech now compared to our first time. During the 2018 program, we were at a stage where we could take advantage of customers, mentors, investors, and partners compared to when we first applied because we weren’t ready.

We were thankful to work with Champions like Harvard Pilgrim and Atrius Health, and we are continuing that partnership in the 2019 cohort. As part of the current 2019 cohort, there are still benefits we are working to take advantage of that we didn’t during our first year, but we are now at a better stage to do so compared to the first year.

Q: How is your company innovating digital health, with respect to drugs and alcohol addiction?

Eric: I graduated from Harvard Business School in 2015, and during that time I was seeing some news around the opioid epidemic or personal stories or those in my network on a regular basis. I knew I wanted to make an impact on the opioid epidemic by applying my tech and business skills. I wanted to create a new solution because I was frustrated with the current system.

DynamiCare is innovating the substance use disorder space by automating evidence-based treatments, which healthcare providers weren’t using. Evidence-based treatments allows for the monitoring and reward system that helps patients prevent relapses.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of digital health with respect to substance use disorder (especially the current opioid addiction)?

Eric: Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50; that’s more deaths than those caused by car crashes. The opioid epidemic now is a bigger issue than the AIDS epidemic during its peak. The government has also been fairly slow to respond to this issue, which is evident because not enough resources are being put into resolving the epidemic. More money, research, and resources from both healthcare organizations and the government need to happen in order to make an impact.

Aside from larger organizations, there has been a problem around denial and stigma. Patients don’t want to admit their addictive behaviors because they fear judgment from loved ones. People need to start observing and being proactive, and that starts with education. Everyone can educate themselves on what treatments are evidence-based and which aren’t. It will take a lot of work to impact the epidemic but we can’t do it alone.

Q: What has your experience been working with industry leaders and partners?

Eric: I’ve had the opportunity to work with 8 Champions, which has been a great opportunity for DynamiCare. When working with partners, it’s good to set reasonable expectations. Some Champions will convert to customers and real partnerships while others may help with guidance and introductions. There may be some cases when partners may not be helpful, and that’s ok. Advice for entrepreneurs – don’t assume that your relationships with partners will always turn into contracts.

Q: What are some “checkbox” items that are important to you when deciding to work with partners?

Eric: When you’re a smaller startup at the idea phase, be willing to take whatever you can get from a partner. As a smaller startup looking to grow the business, make sure you and your team are ready to put in all the effort required when working with a partner. Once the company is at a later stage, you can be more selective about the partners you want to work with.

Q: What advice would you give to digital health startups who want to participate in a startup accelerator?

Eric: Make sure to get as much feedback as possible throughout the program. DynamiCare got a lot of valuable feedback during the Matchmaking round, where we had the opportunity to pitch to Champions. Matchmaking is kind of like speed dating, and it’s a great way to validate which markets you want to work in and get an idea of which market segments are ready for you.

My advice for entrepreneurs looking to participate in a startup accelerator…especially MassChallenge HealthTech…would be to put a lot of effort in before Matchmaking. The more refined your pitch is, the more success you can have during the program. And, even if you don’t get accepted, there is still a ton of value in the process because you can gain some insight into your go-to-market strategy.

Q: What advice would you give to healthcare organizations who are interested in partnering with digital health startups?

Eric: Startups need advice and revenue. If a healthcare organization can help put a startup through a sales process (even if it’s on the early side), it will give that startup an opportunity to learn about how a decision is made and understand how much work it takes to achieve a sale from start to finish. Also, the digital health space is very new, and startups are trying to innovate the traditional, slow, rigid healthcare industry.

Digital health startups currently don’t know how to exist within the current healthcare system, and healthcare organizations can help digital health startups navigate this process.

Want to meet the DynamiCare Health Team? Here are 2 opportunities where you can engage with them:

1)    Join them at their upcoming launch event on Thursday May 9th. Still time to register! 

2)    Meet them at MassChallenge HealthTech Finale on Tuesday June 25th.  Limited tickets available! 



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