Advice from a New Yorker who went from nurse to tech entrepreneur

While working as a home infusion nurse in New York City for a decade, Melissa Kozak grew impatient with the endless paperwork and long hold times. “We were taking so much time chasing down paperwork instead of taking care of our patients, and patients didn’t have a way to get a hold of their provider without playing phone tag,” says the 37-year-old. “I was passionate about getting them faster care, and that inspired me to figure out a better way.”

In 2016, the Manhattan resident launched Citus Health, a digital-health platform that streamlines communication between post-acute care providers and their patients. That same year, Kozak participated in the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s Digital Health Breakthrough Network, an incubator for early-stage medical startups that provides pilot sites for product testing and feedback. Here, the newly minted CEO talks about how she went from nurse to tech guru.  

What drew you to the field of nursing?

I was a philosophy major in college. I also worked part-time for a physician at a family practice. She asked me to take vitals and draw labs, and I realized I absolutely enjoyed that kind of hands-on care. It inspired me to go to nursing school. I attended Pace University.

Surround yourself with really smart people, and listen to their advice. Every single day, ask yourself, Did I do the best job I could do today? If the answer is yes, that’s enough for the day.

How does Citus Health improve the process by which patients receive care?

In our daily lives, we can order a car on our app or take a picture of a check and deposit it. Post-acute care had no self-service tools. What Citus does is to provide a software program that automates the process of filling out forms electronically, helping patients get answers about their treatment needs. We essentially brought it into the modern world.

How did the Digital Health Breakthrough Network help fine tune your business?

The program designed an IRB (International Review Board)-approved pilot site with real users a combo of staff members who work at a home-infusion company and patients who gave us invaluable feedback. They helped to validate and correct some of the assumptions we were making as an early-stage company.

What are the next steps for Citus Health?

Currently, we have a couple of dozen clients in the field of post-acute care, and we’re hoping to move into markets like hospice care, wound care and general home health care. We’re growing our customer base and our team. The Citus Health solution could be applicable in any situation where a patient receives remote care.

What’s most challenging for you as a startup CEO?

Getting in my own way. I don’t know if this is true just for women or entrepreneurs in general, but there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes into play. Starting your own business is an enormous undertaking and you learn that a large percentage of startups fail. If I could go back I’d say, Melissa, you’re making it. Don’t worry about the self-doubt. I had to see how the market adopted this platform to move beyond the worry and self-doubt and finally focus on growing a great business.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs in NYC?

Surround yourself with really smart people, and listen to their advice. Every single day, ask yourself, Did I do the best job I could do today? If the answer is yes, that’s enough for the day. Focus on what the accomplishments meant for that day, one day at a time, and over time, that’s going to build up into a company.

Photo by Alex Tutiven. 
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