Vator Splash Health winner Iris Plans raises $5.1M seed!

Anna Vodopyanova · October 2, 2017 · Short URL:

There currently remains a wide-open market for virtual ACP

Iris Plans

Iris Plans is a technology-enabled service delivering Advanced Care Planning (ACP) through a video/ telephone conference platform. The healthtech startup raised $5.1 million last week in Seed funding led by Activate Venture Partners and LiveOak Venture Partners. Iris Plans won Vator Splash Health 2017.

Customers of the ACP service are patients with major medical conditions like later-stage cancers, heart disease, kidney failure, liver disease, and COPD.

CEO and co-founder Steve Wardle says: “Iris Plans provides education to patients on their illnesses, talks about their goals and scenarios for the future they might face. It helps them think for themselves and make informed decisions. Once they do that and talk it through with the family, we help create documents: advanced directives to physicians, medical power of attorney, physician orders, and additional forms that are more detailed and disease-specific.”

All these services are delivered virtually – through videoconference or telephone platforms. Iris Plans connects patients nationwide to specially trained facilitators – nurses and social workers at any day and time of the week.

ACP is making a push for patient-focused care, says Wardle. “Iris Plans is about empowering people to be active and deciding for themselves, being more of a partner with their doctors.” He says, currently, 80 percent of care decisions are made by physicians, whereas patients lack information and range of choice.

Health insurance pays Iris Plans costs

Iris Plans wants to deliver ACP free to the patient, says Wardle. Health insurance companies and healthcare providers cover the fees. Iris Plans partners with health plans including Humana, a leading health insurance in the country, and Brookdale Senior Living, which runs skilled-nurse facilities and assisted living homes in 47 states.

“The big trend in healthcare right now is the move toward value-based care and away from the fee for service. That is really something we’re at the forefront of,” says Wardle. “Health plans are moving to that, hospital systems and physician groups as well. Regardless of what happens in Washington D.C. with regulation, value-based care is here to stay and it’s only going to continue growing, so that’s really good news for patients and that means they will get more of what they need for a better value.

“60 percent of personal bankruptcies are driven by healthcare costs, so it’s a huge issue that everyone recognizes,” adds Wardle, “there’s really no one that feels they are getting a good value for their healthcare spending.”

Does the healthcare debate create a challenge for the startup? “It does in that it creates some level of uncertainty,” says Wardle. However, he believes Iris Plans would be affected minimally by the changes to the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare since the service is not a medical practice and does not rely on regulation for reimbursement.

Realizing the idea of Stephen Bekanich

Making ACP accessible virtually to millions of people in the nation was Stephen Bekanich’s idea. Bekanich, now Chief Medical Officer of Iris Plans, is a palliative medicine physician. Knowing how short-staffed and under resourced palliative care is, he teamed up with Andrew Chen and Steve Wardle, and they found the Austin-based company in September 2015.

“We have 35 years of palliative care experience on the team and its really kind of a world-class process that this platform can be used to serve thousands of people a day across the country,” says Wardle.

About the investors and funds 

Wardle says Activate VP has profound digital health expertise and a “solid track record building successful companies,” while LiveOak VP is Austin-based, which is beneficial in terms of “being part of the ecosystem, helping with recruiting and features that a local investor can uniquely help with.”

Iris plans will invest new funds in the technology platform, growing the engineering team and extending products and training for healthcare professionals, says Wardle. The company is also looking to hire leaders in operation and marketing. The team expects to do another round of funding in 18-24 months.

The ACP healthtech market yet to be developed

Iris Plans has had successful traction – the company advanced faster than they expected, Wardle believes. Despite this, he says: “We’re still an early-stage company. We’re engaging with huge organizations and thousands of members, and we’re still just scratching the surface of the potential,” says Wardle.

Their approach differs from services like Vital Decisions or non-profits like Respecting Choices in that Iris Plans delivers a full range of services – from discussions with patients to completing and circulating documents, and “probably a more technology-enabled program.”

Wardle says, “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in ACP to get it to a point where it is universally available, we feel like there is room for multiple companies.”

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Iris Plans


Joined Vator on

Iris Plans reduces the cost of complex care by 25% with our Advance Care Planning (ACP) solution for health insurers and at-risk providers. We dramatically reduce unnecessary care delivered to patients facing serious illness - a focused population that drives significant spending. Our telehealth platform allows Iris healthcare professionals to meet with patients and their families anytime, anywhere, creating a plan to guide major healthcare decisions. We have decades of palliative care experience and deliver a targeted offering at considerably lower cost than a traditional palliative program.




Steve Wardle

Joined Vator on

I started my career in investment banking and have since run an international organization, led a successful bank turnaround, launched and directed a debt/equity fund and chaired several boards & committees. Also a proud Blue Devil (Duke MBA).