Mississippi CEO Wins Third Place at Startup Weekend USA with ‘COVIDx’

Mississippi CEO Wins Third Place at Startup Weekend USA with ‘COVIDx’

Brennen Hodges CEO - Citizen Health - Innovate Mississippi
Brennen Hodges – Citizen Health CEO and COVIDx founder

Brennen Hodge pitched a startup, called COVIDx, for the national Startup Weekend, this year held virtually and focused on COVID-19 solutions. He won third place in the competition. 

Brennen Hodge had seen a February research study that showed scientists predicting whether someone had the flu using data from Fitbit devices. Based on his experience with wearables in his startup company, Citizen Health, he realized he could build something similar to help officials predict outbreaks of COVID-19.

So, when he saw a link in mid-April on Innovate Mississippi’s Facebook page promoting Startup Weekend 2020, he already knew what he wanted to pitch.

“I saw that on Thursday,” he said, “I put together a pitch, submitted it Thursday night.” On Friday morning, he got together with a virtual “team” online. By Friday night, they were at work on the project, burning the midnight oil on Saturday and finalizing their pitch for the judges by Sunday.

COVID-X - phone app - Innovate Mississippi
The COVID-X app asks users to report their health to help authorities spot outbreaks

That’s generally how a Startup Weekend works. This one, however, had a slight difference, in that it Startup Weekend Remote USA—completely virtual. And combatting COVID-19 was the purpose behind all of the companies that would pitch.

Hodge called his pitch “COVIDx.” Late that Sunday, the startup won third place in the national competition.

“I listened to a couple of the pitches and thought, ‘Man, these are good,'” He said. “I was a little surprised we got third.”

With many Startup Weekend companies, it’s a 54-hour exercise in starting a company to learn the process—the result isn’t always that the actual company continues. In Hodge’s case, however, he says that COVIDx has a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, now, and he plans to keep going.

“All the code is there,” Hodge said. “We have to make the interface better, because we want to spread it out as far as possible and add a game layer to make it fun, as well.”

In a way that’s not surprised, as Hodge is also the founder and CEO of Citizen Health, a startup he’s been running for several years. He was planning a launch of his new “health assurance” plan this spring when COVID-19 hit and delayed it. But some of his experience with wearables—and for creative thinking—have come from work in the startup world.

COVIDx has recruited coders via helpwithcovid.com, and Hodge says that over 100 people have volunteered, with 15 or so contributing very regularly. The project is open source and publishes on Github, where others can fork the code and work on parts of the overall vision. Hodge’s version is at https://covidx.citizenhealth.io/, and he says he’s a week or two away from a soft launch.

How he’ll make money isn’t as clear, although he said he anticipates something like the Redhat Linux model. With Redhat, the underlying code is open-source, but the company makes money by providing support and customizations.

He also thinks Citizen Health will get involved. As it builds on its healthcare cooperative model, the members may be early adopters and evangelists of COVIDx technology.

“I’ve talked about a health operating system, and this is essentially the start of that health operating system,” Hodge said. “It’s about using data to start predicting and being proactive about preventing disease. That’s really where we’re going.”

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