A promising Birmingham startup aiming to help cancer patients and their families through the difficult journey of treatment 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 host educational videos as a resource for patients and caregivers, received a $100,000 grant from the Innovation Fund late last year. The scholarship program is administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“At Fighting Cancer Network, we’re proud to be an Alabama company,” said Matt P. Scalici, the company’s President and CEO. “The funding from the innovation fund shows the state’s commitment to entrepreneurs and helps to take our company to the next level. We are extremely grateful and committed to bringing attention to our home state.”
Scalici’s involvement in the company stemmed from a personal tragedy. When his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was a devastating blow. Frustration crept in as Scalici’s countless hours of research into the cancer described by the oncologist left little to move on.
“Our anxiety levels were high as her condition worsened and my research efforts yielded tons of information but none that I understood or could apply. I always wondered why there wasn’t a better resource,” he recalls.
Scalici lost his wife to cancer in 2015. Four years later, he teamed up with another entrepreneur, Mike Ousley, to develop the vision for the Fighting Cancer Network, using short, highly produced videos as powerful educational tools for those who needed actionable information.
“Research shows that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, which means the human brain can learn and retain a lot 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 plan to boost research opportunities and entrepreneurial activity.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical to Alabama’s long-term growth prospects, and the Innovation Fund provides support to deserving organizations that will create and sustain high-impact jobs,” said Canfield. “Fighting Cancer Network represents exactly the kind of startup companies we want to see grow and thrive in Alabama.”
Scalici said the Innovation Fund grant allowed the company to hire a key employee a full year ahead of schedule, speeding development. It also funded a production at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) conference in Texas, which spawned a goldmine of physicians willing to appear on the company’s programs.
In just three days at ASTRO, the Fighting Cancer Network team captured on-camera appearances by physicians from Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt, University of California San Diego and UAB.
“The grant has either accelerated or improved the level of our product, and it has only been since October,” Scalici said. “2023 will be an important year for the Fighting Cancer Network.”
Prepare for launch
Fighting Cancer Network approached Concert IDC, an Alabama-based app developer, to create its pilot app, which is approximately 75% complete today. The company has completed video production on breast cancer modules and has 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 show which features are being used and are proving to be helpful. The tests give the team insight into improvements that need to be made before a national rollout.
According to Scalici, the Fighting Cancer Network is set to go nationwide in 2024, with the free app available on iOS and Android smartphones, tablets and TVs.
He expects it to reach more than 1 million patients by year five. Each patient brings one caregiver with them on average, and a diary feature is likely to get at least 20 additional friends and family members to download the app.
“Our app could be in the hands of over 20 million people in five years,” he said. “There are also international opportunities.”
The co-founders of the Fighting Cancer Network are seasoned entrepreneurs. Scalici was a member of the Alabama executive team that created The Golf Channel, and Ousley is a television production veteran and owner of Mike Ousley Productions.
Last year, the company announced it had raised $700,000 in an initial round of funding funded by local and statewide backers. Scalici said plans include later rounds of funding that would provide $10 million based on the results.
“We have been very conservative in our projections, but the response from our focus groups, both medical and consumer, has been very encouraging,” he said.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.