Benjamin® Awarded the 2021 JPEC Venture School Business of the Year

Jim Lewis was living a comfortable life running a top marketing agency in Iowa, promoting pharmaceutical brands to doctors.

He was doing fine, but Lewis, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 1983 with a degree in finance, wasn’t sure that was his purpose. 

One morning in 2012, he woke with a revelation: “I realized I was on the wrong team,” Lewis said. “We need to put the power back in the people’s hands. I wanted to make a difference in the second part of my career and bring a more affordable way to stay healthy.”

Lewis noticed people were reliant on a health care system he felt was broken. It is an overprescribed nation, he thought. People see multiple doctors, they don’t understand how and when to take their medications and many quit taking them if it gets too expensive. One of the leading causes of accidental death in America is because of adverse drug reactions.

Lewis had an idea and took advice from his brother, Doug, by enrolling in the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s Venture School program, which his brother had participated in the year before. The cohort of fellow entrepreneurs met once a week in Des Moines, Iowa. He learned how to deliver a compelling investor pitch and became proficient in customer discovery interviews. Soon he started a company called Predictive Health Partners that was rebranded and renamed after his product, Benjamin®. Through artificial intelligence and hard-to-get detailed data, Benjamin helps clients better manage medications and save money. This is done by proactively shopping nearby pharmacies for the most inexpensive prescription; at the same time, it identifies members who are at a higher risk of an adverse drug event and invites them to a free telephone consult with a skilled pharmacist. On average, each consult saves the payor $1,200 and the member $200.

“I have this philosophy in business and that is seek to create a win, win, win scenario,” Lewis said. “A win is when you are helping the member save money, the second win is when at the same time you are helping the payer save money. The third win is when we get paid because they are both winning. That’s the kind of business model I’m interested in.”

Lewis grew up in West Des Moines and graduated from Valley High School in 1979. His ambition of becoming a stockbroker or analyst was put on hold after the market crashed shortly after he graduated from Iowa. Lewis got involved in data-driven communications, first at Teleconnect in Cedar Rapids, then in Texas. He moved back to Iowa and started Relationship Marketing, an organization that became a top national marketing agency using prescription data to create communications programs for pharmaceutical companies. His pharma clients made billions on his firms’ work by creating more meaningful and profitable relationships with the prescribing physicians.

Then he experienced that change of heart.

“I have been a big problem-solver for companies,” Lewis said. “But how am I using my talents and experiences to solve a really worthwhile problem? Am I making it more affordable for the individual and their families to be healthy?

Like he had done so many times in the past for large companies, Lewis now uses data to reduce medication risks while driving convenience to customers. Benjamin proactively shops at any of 80,000 pharmacies, especially the ones customers care about that are in their neighborhood. Benjamin is helping a large health insurance carrier in Wisconsin reduce their costs while improving the health of their members—primarily school teachers and state workers. Their members gave Benjamin an industry high 88 for a net promoter score. They recently created a new strategic partnership with Clever Health, that will include virtual care and telehealth consults, eliminating the need to visit a doctor’s physical office in many cases. Together they recently launched to 30,000 users which includes their combined services and it has been well received with heavy usage and high approval ratings.

“It is like a smart chatbot,” Lewis said. “That will drive down the cost of care tremendously. When you add all these other components, we have a unique, powerful category king.”

Individuals can receive health advice and care from home for a fraction of the price they were used to paying. No driving to an appointment, no time spent in waiting rooms, no work schedule affected.

“It is going to be smart, virtual care that responds to a vast majority of your routine needs,” Lewis said. “You are more likely to be healthier because you are going to talk to doctors more, going to proactively take care of things, and we’re going to proactively save you money along the way.”

Lewis said the medical profession is embracing his idea of virtual care and he understands that certain in-person health care visits are necessary.

“There is a need for in person and specialists,” he said. “When it gets into something complex that we can’t solve via a live video chat, then we connect the member to the best health care system and doctors in the world—right here in America.”

For most everything else, Lewis — and Benjamin — have it covered, making it more affordable and convenient to stay healthy. That’s a win, win, win approach to health care.  

Lewis has received the 2021 Venture School Business of the Year Award in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors. The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center will recognize him Oct. 8 at Hancher Auditorium.