Melissa Kjolsing Lynch spent five years running the MN Cup statewide startup competition that grew to one of the biggest in the land.

In 2017, she became an entrepreneur.

Her fledgling Recovree software firm just won first place and $50,000 in a North Dakota competition, and the contracts are starting to flow.

Kjolsing Lynch, 33, who earned a University of Minnesota MBA while she worked for the affiliated MN Cup, is confident enough in the future of her four-person company to quit a couple part-time gigs to go all in on Recovree.

She previously raised about $325,000 from several angel investors, as well as her savings and sweat equity, to finance early-stage work.

“I’m going full time now and haven’t paid myself anything yet,” Kjolsing Lynch said. “We needed validation before I jumped in the deep end.

“Revenue will hit our books in October. We have a number of customers lined up to pay for the product. Private and public customers. Our pathway is treatment programs … such as Nuway and Minnesota Recovery Connection, which works with Hennepin County and Ramsey County drug courts.”

Recovree makes software that supports “peer specialists,” a fast-growing, hands-on service for people in chemical-dependency recovery.

The Recovree value pitch: it’s effective and economical, particularly compared with an institutional bed or jail cell. It cuts recidivism and helps treatment providers and organizations better manage care and program administration, in part through data available in the software platform.

Recovree this month was the winner of North Dakota’s “Recovery Reinvented.” The event is driven by the governor and first lady, who are seeking innovative ways to heal people and dampen the state’s incidence of drug-and-alcohol abuse. North Dakota is America’s heaviest-drinking state, according to a recent analysis by USA Today and 24/7 Wall Street, based on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Minnesota is No. 6.

“Recovree was a standout because of their innovative approach, scalable technology and personal experiences with this disease,” said North Dakota’s first lady, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum. “We share a similar drive and passion to see more people find and sustain recovery.”

Helgaas Burgum, also a recovering substance abuser, and Gov. Doug Burgum, a founder of the former Great Plains Software, champion innovation, as well as compassion and assistance.

They want the Legislature to move on the Medicaid inclusion of lower-cost peer-support reimbursement. North Dakota is one of 10 states in which Medicaid, the federal-state health program that covers the working poor to impoverished Americans, doesn’t cover peer-support services.

“It passed in Minnesota in 2017,” Kjolsing Lynch said. “There should be reimbursement for peer-recovery support services by 2019.

“We will provide software to 100-plus North Dakota peer-support specialists, and the state with information. The software keeps track of hours, and collects data that lead to improved outcomes. Peer-support is the fastest-growing service for people in recovery. Not just in improving quality of lives, but transforming administrative teams.”

The substance abuse agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services has endorsed peer support. Their roles range from mentoring and helping set and monitor individual goals, to leading recovery groups, advocacy and administering programs and training.

Recovree is rooted in the struggle of Luke Kjolsing, 31, Kjolsing Lynch’s brother, a co-founder and who has been sober for nearly two years.

In late 2016, Melissa visited Luke at a treatment facility during “family week,” an opportunity to “learn and process” his substance use.

Luke, who started drinking in high school, was almost killed by drug and alcohol addiction a few years ago. Melissa, who had grown distant from Luke, started to reunite with him as a supportive peer and sister.

“The mask of addiction was removed and I could see a kind and good person,” she said. “I wondered, though, how will Luke manage his disease outside of the treatment facility.”

After six weeks of inpatient treatment, and regular visits, the Kjolsing siblings focused on Luke’s continuing care. Melissa asked Luke to distribute surveys to his peers at a sober house so she could learn their feelings and “stressors” about what lay ahead after release to an independent life.

By early 2017, Kjolsing Lynch had developed a preliminary product that engaged people in recovery and helped them track their emotions and experiences and “contributed to their sobriety.” Those who are active and engaged in recovery tend to be most successful.

She met with 100-plus people from the recovery community, health care, insurance and nonprofit world and came to focus on trained peer-recovery specialists who work with local treatment facilities and provide hands-on support. The engagement and outcome results are encouraging.

“It’s been a miraculous two years to say the least,” Kjolsing Lynch said. “My brother is sober. We have discovered new purpose for our lives, a business, and are driven to create better outcomes for people who pursue treatment for substance-use disorder.”