Memory Bank is a reflection on a galvanizing moment in a founder’s journey — a rare glimpse into the human side of their relationship with entrepreneurship — and into their relationship with money. In this piece, Joseph Kitonga, founder of Vitable Health, transports us to a time when he watched his parents build a small homecare business in Philadelphia.
This story is written in the words of Joseph Kitonga, as told to Mercury writer Angela Brock.
There are countless impressive figures and problem solvers in technology, but the inspiration for building Vitable Health was my parents. My father was a teacher in Kenya when he decided to cash out the entirety of his pension and buy one-way tickets for our family to come to the U.S. I was thirteen when my family landed here — with suitcases, each other, and not much else. A little basement apartment in the middle of inner-city Philadelphia became our new home.
The circumstances were tough, but through an incredible amount of grit and heart, my parents established a successful home healthcare business. Witnessing this, along with all the obstacles they navigated, was a true privilege. One such obstacle was a lack of health insurance options that made sense for their employees. There are millions of hourly workers just like them — the kind of folks who earn too much for Medicaid and too little to afford comprehensive health insurance. My parents cared deeply for their staff, so when they attempted to offer coverage to them and opt-in rates were less than 10%, it was clear that this was a problem that hadn’t been solved yet. Even with 50% employer coverage, the cost of a health plan might be over $1000 for a family — for many hourly workers, paying for this would mean doing without necessities. Because of this lack of coverage, many of the workers don’t have access to primary care and are stuck overutilizing the ER where the majority of visits are unnecessary and expensive. This lack of access leads to delayed care and worse health outcomes. This was the problem I would go on to devote my life to solving.
I love building for the sake of building and solving problems for the sake of solving problems. It just so happens that by focusing on making the greatest impact, we are simultaneously able to do the most good and build a formidable business — which gives us the privilege of being able to expand to serve more of the 30 million uninsured Americans that need our offering. The money is part of that. By being thoughtful about what we spend and invest in, and by focusing on how we can drive value rather than solely capture value, we were able to leverage the generational paradigm shifts (virtual care in the pandemic and AI more recently) in technology to substantially lower the cost of care to make universal access a possibility.
We started with the community in mind, and a focus on building for the hourly worker and their employer followed. By watching my parents help build the community that adopted us, I got to see first-hand how you can pursue the American Dream, all while investing in others. They created opportunities for those around them and offered care to those who needed it. And now with Vitable Health, I get to continue what they started, making sure the workers who are the engine of our economy and community are cared for, too.
As I walk through neighborhoods like the one in Philadelphia I grew up in — where just a zipcode away the life expectancy is upwards of 20 years longer — I see the people our platform was designed to serve. And I’m continually inspired to keep building and solving problems for them.
Artwork by Amy Leonard.
Joseph Kitonga is the founder of Vitable Health, a modern healthcare delivery platform that has been working to reduce the costs of healthcare to give uninsured and underinsured Americans access to high-quality and delightful primary care.
Angela Brock is a copywriter at Mercury.