Health IT start-up helps absorb health care rollout bumps

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 3:51 PM

Veteran entrepreneur Abir Sen’s latest venture helps individuals and businesses comparison-shop for health insurance on MNsure and in the larger market.


Abir Sen is CEO of Gravie, headquartered in downtown Minneapolis. The company helps customers navigate the complicated world of health care.


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Abir Sen is at it again. The 38-year-old recently launched a new health IT start-up, this one skillfully timed to absorb some of the bumps during the rocky rollout of the new online insurance exchanges.

The new company, Gravie, aims to help consumers and businesses sort through the myriad of health insurance choices through a website and licensed brokers who work with consumers in person and on the phone. Gravie pulls in options from the new MNsure insurance exchange as well as plans sold in the broader individual market.

Gravie — pronounced just like the thick sauce ladled on meat and potatoes — launched its Minnesota website in early September, and has since added 49 employers.

Sen and two of Gravie’s other founding partners, Jill Prevost and Marek Ciolko, are experienced hands at launching health IT companies. The entrepreneurial troika worked together at Red Brick, an IT wellness firm that Sen helped start in 2006. And the three also co-founded Bloom Health, a private insurance exchange now used by Medica and sold to WellPoint and two other nonprofit insurers in 2011.

Headquartered in the Lumber Exchange in downtown Minneapolis, Gravie was started with $2.6 million in financing. The bulk of funding comes from New York-based FirstMark Capital, which has invested in such high-flying start-ups as photo-sharing site Pinterest, ticket seller StubHub and online brain gamer Lumosity.

Sen plans to seek a new round of financing to help Gravie expand nationwide next year.


Q: Why the name Gravie?

A: It’s a play on the word “benefits.” As in, when you work you get wages. The rest is gravy.


Q: How does Gravie work?

A: We use a questionnaire to help individuals and businesses sort through hundreds of health insurance options. For some, MNsure is the answer, for others it’s the private market. We can help determine whether someone is eligible for tax credits on the state exchanges and help them apply for it.

We aggregate the information, take care of the payment and help people manage balances in their health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts. If you are interested in concierge services, we coordinate all of that on a health care dashboard. Consumers have one place to manage all of the things in their health care life.


Q: Who is your target market?

A: We are focused on the individual consumer experience, but the way to scale up is to work with businesses, especially firms under 1,000 employees. Our first customers have been smaller, but increasingly we’re meeting with larger companies, such as retailers.

In 2015 and beyond, businesses [with more than 50 workers] that don’t have qualified health insurance today will have to decide whether to pay a lot more for group coverage or whether they’ll drop coverage and pay the penalty. It’s not really a palatable choice.

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