Dr. Thomas Kelly is the founder of Oscer, an online platform that offers medical students the unique opportunity to practice their clinical reasoning skills with AI-powered virtual patients. After leveraging the On Deck Health Fellowship to internationalize the product, Oscer raised an AU$5 million seed round at an AU$20 million valuation with participation from Blackbird Ventures, January Capital, Inventures, Archangel Ventures, along with angel investors Brendan Hill and Jeff Bargmann.
The genesis of Oscer
Dr. Thomas Kelly was inspired to build Oscer during his time as a junior doctor at a small hundred person hospital outside of Melbourne. He noticed that there were a lot of scenarios where patients had experienced either missed or delayed diagnoses, due to a combination of blindspots in healthcare providers’ experience and under-resourcing.
“I'd just graduated two days earlier and I was in a hospital that was three hours away from Melbourne where the closest senior doctor was about an hour away. I had one other friend who was a year my senior and we were running a hundred person hospital with just human eyes.”
Reflecting on his visits, he realized that the missing link was additional diagnostic support. It got him thinking: there had to be a way to build a clinical companion app that could successfully fill doctors’ knowledge gap.
Dr. Kelly knew that in order to map all of medicine, he would have to understand every patient-doctor conversation that could ever take place. Unfortunately, he also knew that this was an insurmountable task. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a solution somewhere.
Dr. Kelly already had first-hand experience building data-driven solutions for medicine.
In 2014, he co-founded Fraser’s GAMSAT, an Australian-based company that helped people get into medical school. He saw approximately 2,000 future medical students per year and would often hear how challenging getting access to good teaching during their clinical reasoning could be. Even though he couldn’t map all of medicine into one app, he could create virtual patients, and leverage the questions students typically asked during their clinical training to create a library of training phrases for the clinical product.
Understanding the US healthcare market
Dr. Kelly first discovered On Deck through Owen Willis, who would later become the Program Director for On Deck Health. They’d crossed paths when Owen was serving as the COO of Osmosis, an edtech company based out of Washington D.C. that helps create a better learning experience for healthcare educators and students.
Owen was also one of Dr. Kelly’s first calls when he decided that he wanted to expand internationally and needed advice on how to navigate foreign markets and more specifically, how to commercialize his product in the U.S.
At the time, Owen was in the process of transitioning into his role at On Deck where he would be launching the company’s first fellowship dedicated to healthcare.
“I've just always had so many questions about how the system works in America. From the providers to the payers and all the other players. I also thought it was time to start building a network in the U.S. to give us a head start. So when Owen asked me to join the first cohort, it was a no brainer.”
Dr. Kelly was based out of Australia during the On Deck Health Fellowship, but he was still able to take full advantage of the experience. During his 8-week fellowship, he was able to meet 50 new people through access to the On Deck community.
Suddenly, he had a global network of brains to pick at his fingertips.
“I wanted to leave On Deck with a really good sense for how health companies start, grow, and work in the United States. I also wanted to better understand what the core problems are for patients, payers, and providers in the region.”
Speaking to Americans in the healthcare space changed his perspective on U.S. healthcare. He was stumbling across opportunity after opportunity: improving spending, helping to make healthcare more affordable, optimizing productivity, and the potential of asynchronous telehealth in the U.S. market.
He also learned that in the U.S, primary caregivers often get outmaneuvered by direct-to-consumer companies making it extremely difficult for sole practitioners. But what did all of this mean for Oscer?
It emphasized the importance of doctor-patient relationships. He saw that DTC healthcare companies were needlessly degrading the continuity of care that is essential to good healthcare.
How On Deck helped bring Oscer to life
During the fellowship, Dr. Kelly posted about Oscer in one of On Deck’s Slack channels. That post caught the attention of Jeff Bergman, an angel investor. Dr. Kelly and Bergman struck up a conversation, and Dr. Kelly ended up asking Bergman for advice about his product roadmap. The two hit it off, and Bergman became one of Oscer’s first angel investors.
By the time Dr. Kelly was wrapping up the On Deck Health Fellowship, Oscer had almost 2,000 users in Australia. Not even four months after the fellowship ended, Oscer reached 10,000 users around the world. Dr. Kelly was able to leverage this traction to kick off his fundraising efforts from venture capital firms in the region.
Within a few weeks, he raised an AU$5M seed round.
“We were super excited to get support from Blackbird, which is one of the best and most interesting venture capital firms in Australia. They invested in Canva, which is one of Australia’s largest start-ups so we’re just thrilled to be a part of such a cool portfolio.”
Oscer’s road ahead
Dr. Kelly is now focused on expanding his team. He’s looking for people to join Oscer's Medical Advisory, a group of primary care physicians who are interested in software. He’s also looking for junior doctors and medical students interested in working on content development and marketing strategy.
“We have brought in some absolutely world class people to join our team and develop our clinical product, it’s going to change the way medicine is practiced. We’re working day and night to create a continuum where students learn clinical reasoning with Oscer and practice medicine with our “soon to be named” companion products. Every student is helping us build a world with fewer missed diagnoses and we’re so grateful to On Deck in getting us a head start in accomplishing our mission.”
Dr. Kelly believes the software he is building can have a massive impact on the entire health industry.
From helping students learn more effectively to giving individual primary care physicians better products to run their practices, Oscer is now positioned to become a true global leader.
Oscer is hiring! Check out their website to learn more.