Tufts Alums Partner to Evolve Healthcare Data Collection
What do you get when two Tufts double-majors meet later in life and bond over entrepreneurship and a storytelling platform whose business model has shifted to the world of artificial intelligence? You discover a mutually appreciative partnership focused on helping families preserve memories—and on using data to shape the future of healthcare.
Their paths did not cross when each studied at Tufts. But that hasn’t stopped Jennifer (Jay) Newton-Small, J98, and Andy Feinberg, A86, from creating their own Tufts admiration society as they work together now on MemoryWell. That’s the platform Newton-Small launched in 2017 to provide news and information about people living with dementia.
In March 2021, Feinberg’s pre-seed venture fund, Argon Ventures, led MemoryWell’s $2.5 million investment round, and Feinberg took a seat on MemoryWell’s board of directors where he will work as an advisor and mentor.
MemoryWell CEO and co-founder Newton-Small is a journalist and author who double-majored in art history and international relations. She launched MemoryWell following a career where she was a national correspondent for Time magazine and a reporter at Bloomberg News.
“One of the things that's really compelling about Jay and the team at MemoryWell is they started on this journey focused on what grew out of Jay's collecting and publishing stories to create empathy among patients, healthcare providers, and the community,” said Feinberg. “They've come to realize that there was a larger value proposition in addition to the importance of creating empathy and individual connections.” Feinberg, an English and history major who was the editor-in-chief of the Tufts Daily during his senior year on the Hill, is co-founder and managing partner of Argon Ventures.
Now, as the two focus on enhancing MemoryWell, they are passionate about the entrepreneurial spirit built into how the company, which works with over 700 writers, delves into data collection to predict and improve healthcare outcomes. The company is in the midst of its first data pilots with a home-based palliative care company and a senior living insurer.
Did your time at Tufts help interest you in entrepreneurship?
Newton-Small: The seeds of founding MemoryWell really started in my senior year at Tufts. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that year. He was 58 years old. My dad became my first interview subject. After his diagnosis, l wanted to talk to him about his life and ask him questions. Those old-school audio cassettes on which I recorded a lot of our sessions remain some of my most precious possessions today. I love going back and listening to him talk about his life and his family history. That ultimately became the basis of MemoryWell, the idea of capturing that story before his memory started to fail, being able to make sure that I had his story down. I'm his memory keeper now.
Then, what led me to journalism was Neal Shapiro [A80], who, at the time, was the executive editor of Dateline NBC. He gave a talk at Tufts about how journalism was the art of the curious, and it enabled you to go and see things for yourself and ask questions. After Neal's talk, I got really interested in the profession because I was, like, "Well, I'm a curious person and I'd love to see things for myself."
Feinberg: My experience at the Tufts Daily taught me an immense amount about entrepreneurship, actually. It was the first time that I was part of an organization that was self-owned, if you will. We were responsible for getting our jobs done every day under tight time pressure. Back then, there was nothing digital, so each edition had to be physically printed out and pasted on board. We had to have good copy, and it had to be done well. We had to get it to the printing press, which was in the old NECCO candy factory building in Cambridge, by midnight, or there wouldn't be a paper on campus the next day.
All of a sudden, we've got 40 or 50 people who are all responsible for doing different things, all of which have to get done—and done well. We had to figure out how to all row in the same direction. And when we had different points of view, figure out how to resolve those and do it all under the time pressure of getting it all done in a high-quality way by a certain time. That's a lot like entrepreneurship.
What advice do you have for aspiring Tufts entrepreneurs?
Newton-Small: Don't be afraid of failure. I feel like kids these days are so afraid of failing and there's this pressure to succeed and have a path and stick on that path. Look, I did not intend to be White House correspondent. I was going to go off and cover the war and Iraq. But I kind of fell into it, and it was a great path that I don't regret.
In a similar vein, I didn't start MemoryWell with this intention of, “I'm going to start a company, particularly an AI company.” It evolved into that, right? Nobody's path is ever straight. There are always going to be twists and turns. The most important thing that you can learn from that path is through your failure, because when you fail, that's the most searing learning experience and you know you're never going to do that again. Then you earn the right to exist another day and to keep moving forward.
Feinberg: I'd advise would-be entrepreneurs to follow their passion. Don't start a company just because you want to start a company. That's the road to ruin, and investors can see that. But if there's something that you're just so deeply passionate about, that you just must do it, that's the thing to follow. I do think that there is a lot of value in going out and having a bit of a professional experience first. There's nothing wrong with starting down the path of learning how to become a professional after getting your degree and then going back and launching a business.
What is the potential of the Tufts community when it comes to entrepreneurship?
Feinberg: There is no collection of university students or graduates who are smarter and more capable than Tufts students and alums. I really would love to find more ways to back Tufts entrepreneurs, to find more of them who are doing really interesting things that'll put a dent in the challenges the world faces and with whom we could get involved.