A promising Birmingham startup that aims to help cancer patients and their families along the difficult treatment journey is recalibrating its growth plans after receiving financial support from the Alabama Innovation Fund.
Fighting Cancer Network Inc., which is developing a “cancer companion” app to house informational videos as a resource for patients and caregivers, received a $100,000 grant from the Innovation Fund late last year. The grant program is administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“We at Fighting Cancer Network are proud to be an Alabama company,” said Matt P. Scalici, the company’s president and CEO. “The grant from the Innovation Fund shows the state’s commitment to entrepreneurs and helps accelerate our company to the next level. We are extremely grateful and committed to bring attention to our home state.”
Scalici’s involvement in the company stemmed from a personal tragedy. When his wife was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer, it was a devastating blow. Frustration crept in as the countless hours of researching into the cancer described by the oncologist left him with little to go on.
“Our anxiety level was high as her condition worsened and my attempts to research were yielding tons of information, but none I understood or could apply. I always wondered why there wasn’t a better resource,” he recalls.
Scalici lost his wife to the cancer in 2015. Four years later, he teamed with another entrepreneur, Mike Ousley, to develop the vision for Fighting Cancer Network, using short, highly produced videos as powerful teaching tools for those needing actionable information.
“Research shows that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, which means the human brain can learn and retain much more using video,” Scalici said.
Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the Innovation Fund was created as part of the state’s “Accelerate Alabama” strategic economic development growth plan to help spur research opportunities and entrepreneurial activity.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical to Alabama’s long-term growth prospects, and the Innovation Fund is providing deserving organizations with support that will create and sustain high-impact jobs,” Secretary Canfield said.
“Fighting Cancer Network represents exactly the kind of start-up firm that we want to see grow and thrive in Alabama,” he added.
Scalici said the Innovation Fund grant allowed the company to add a key employee a full year earlier than planned, speeding development. It also funded a production at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) conference in Texas that yielded a gold mine of physicians willing to appear on the company’s programs.
In just three days at ASTRO, the Fighting Cancer Network team had captured on-camera appearances from doctors at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt, University of California San Diego and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
“The grant has either accelerated or improved the level of our product, and that’s just since October,” Scalici said. “2023 will be in important year for Fighting Cancer Network.”
PREPARING FOR LAUNCH
Fighting Cancer Network turned to Concert IDC, an Alabama app developer, to create its pilot app, which today is about 75% complete. The company has wrapped up video production on its breast cancer modules and begun work on prostate cancer content.
Scalici said the Fighting Cancer Network app will launch in Birmingham this spring as a test market, followed by a second location 30 days later.
Analytics from user data will reveal which features are being utilized and proving helpful. The testing will also give the team insight into improvements that need to be made before a national rollout.
Scalici said projections call for Fighting Cancer Network to go nationwide in 2024, with the free app available on both IOS and Android smartphones, tablets and televisions.
By its fifth year, he expects it will reach over 1 million patients. Each patient will bring an average of one caregiver, and a journal feature will likely lead to a minimum of 20 additional friends and family to download the app.
“Our app could be in the hands of over 20 million people in five years,” he said. “There are international opportunities as well.”
The Fighting Cancer Network co-founders are seasoned entrepreneurs. Scalici was a member of the Alabama executive team that launched The Golf Channel, and Ousley is a veteran in television production and owner of Mike Ousley Productions.
Last year, the company announced it had raised $700,000 in an initial capital round funded by local and nationwide supporters. Scalici said plans call for later funding rounds that would provide $10 million, based on results.
“We’ve been very conservative in our projections, but the response from our focus groups, both medical professionals and consumers, has been very encouraging,” he said.