A Transformative Experience


In the short history of modern-day technology, there are moments that can be transformative, if the right tools are available. Keith Brophy (MSIS ’91) knows how to spot those opportunities, and as CEO of Ideomed, a mobile application development firm, he builds software that touches people’s lives at crucial moments.

“I approach innovation by asking, ‘Why can’t we?’”

“My career has been based on creating software that changes lives,” Brophy says. “When there is an opportunity for change, technology usually misses the mark at first because it’s too advanced right out of the gate, but I have always taken a human-centered approach to developing technology that can be used by everyone.”

Over the last 20 years, Brophy has hit on several pockets of transformation, including the widespread commercial use of the Internet in the early 1990s, the onset of mobile technology in the early 2000s and currently, the advances in healthcare technology, which he says will dwarf all previous booms.

taking off

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1985, Brophy went to work for IBM and then XRite, a manufacturer of sophisticated color management technologies including the Pantone color system. After several years, his passion for technology was eclipsed by his passion to start a business. “There was this phenomenon called the Internet that had just been approved for commercial use, and I had exposure to it at IBM,” Brophy recalls. “I was excited to see how I could leverage this new technology to open my business.”

Like any entrepreneur, Brophy needed capital. However, unlike the angel-invested, crowd-funded start-up world of today, entrepreneurialism in the early 90s was an uncommon career move. Looking to raise money, Brophy channeled his technical knowledge to write three books. “The first two were mildly successful, but the third hit big,” he says. “Teach Yourself VB Script in 21 Days” was published around the world in many languages and gave Brophy the kickstart he needed.

His first company, Sagestone, created high-end custom software for Fortune 1000 clients in healthcare, insurance, financial services and education. “I aspired for Sagestone to be a national leader, and with the help of a great team, we grew to 75 employees of mostly high-end developers, and became a think tank for advanced software development,” says Brophy. “We created a lot of impactful solutions for many years.”

As Sagestone flourished, Brophy saw another opportunity on the horizon. “We had a vision that personal devices would be connected online [such as GPS systems, mobile phones and cable television], and we started to build bridges between systems,” Brophy says. To fully accomplish that goal, he merged Sagestone with Nusoft, which specialized in networking. That company grew to 300 team members, became a top-tier Microsoft partner and opened branches in Chicago, Cincinnati and Seattle. In a final twist of visionary good fortune, Brophy and his partners sold the company in 2008, just before the recession.


Brophy says that potential for transformation is often hidden in failure. “I look for myth-buster opportunities,” he says. “When someone says it can’t be done, that’s my cue. I try to break traditional thinking barriers.” He shares his favorite myth-buster moments: EXPAND/CLOSE

“You can’t run a technology company from Western Michigan. There is no demand; you’ll have to go to Silicon Valley.” Every one of Brophy’s companies has been headquartered in Grand Rapids.

“You will never be accepted as a Microsoft partner. They already have too many.” Becoming a Microsoft partner is a boon for any technology company. Brophy called his Microsoft contact every day and made a hash mark every time he tried her. On the 15th try, she answered by accident and Brophy pitched her on the cutting-edge Web technology he was building using Microsoft products. Soon after, Sagestone became a tier-one Microsoft partner.

“It’s impossible to engage the elderly population with technology and mobile devices.” Today the average age of an Abriiz Heart user is 77 and sustained engagement levels among that group remain high, equal to that of kids with severe asthma.

“The new FDA guidelines will restrict mobile health innovation.” A large potential concern for Ideomed was upcoming governance from the Federal Drug Administration, which was rumored to be restrictive on the “mobile health” category. Brophy got involved in the government process, including testifying in a congressional hearing, serving on a panel of small business innovators, and working with the Association for Competitive Technology, a mobile technology advocacy group. The FDA draft guidelines, when announced, were well formed and supportive of innovative mobile companies like Ideomed and Brophy had the opportunity to add a formative voice to industry conversations.


“I believe there is a better way to help people manage chronic health conditions—specifically by providing daily motivation and encouragement.”

When Nusoft sold, Brophy was already focused on the next pocket of transformation: healthcare. He shares a remarkable, yet worrisome, statistic: As the percentage of the U.S. population with chronic disease continues to rise, research shows that of those with chronic diseases (asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, HIV, etc.), nearly 60% will fail to take the daily steps that doctors say are needed to get better.

“When you have a chronic condition, nothing makes a bigger difference than your daily behavior,” Brophy says. “We created Ideomed because we believe there is a better way to help people manage chronic health conditions—specifically by providing daily motivation and encouragement.”

Daily motivation is no small task for a healthcare provider, says Brophy. Physicians are already overscheduled, which leaves little time to connect with and motivate patients outside the office. But, Brophy says insurance companies have the resources and are looking to become more engaged with their members.

Brophy’s solution for them is Abriiz®, a mobile application that enables patients to input daily health data (that is shared with a case manager) and receive encouragement to manage their routines. Insurance companies are now arming their members with a mobile device equipped with Abriiz to facilitate daily health management.

So far, this solution is working. It’s made a difference in the quality of life and health outcomes for its users and has cost-savings benefits for insurers, says Brophy. And perhaps the most rewarding part: Brophy has numerous stories about a father with a heart condition or a child with asthma whose lives were saved when a family member or care provider saw the data and realized intervention was needed.

Currently, more than a dozen insurance companies are providing Abriiz to patients with severe chronic conditions across the nation.

“I see the results of our work and I really believe in what we’re doing,” says Brophy. “We are trying to be shapers of the industry.”

a culture of innovation

Believing in your business is at the core of entrepreneurialism. The statistics on start-ups are daunting: 9 out of 10 fail, even with significant funding. Ideomed has been successful because of its team-centered approach, says Brophy, and because the members truly believe in the product’s power to improve lives.

“Our team offers many perspectives—we have developers and designers, but also philosophy majors and math majors, and someone who holds a Ph.D. in user experience,” Brophy says. “We know how important it is to challenge ourselves from within.”

Brophy set the tone for his team from the very start—Ideomed would be an innovative technology company that isn’t really about technology. “In talking with clients, we try not to mention technology; we talk about transforming the experience,” he says. “We put our product and experience teams front and center.”

Technology also takes a back seat to culture. Brophy developed three corporate credos to guide the way for everyone at Ideomed: 1) Respect for the company and the individual; 2) The power of profit and the good that it enables; 3) The belief that their work can touch lives for the better and can change the world, however big or small it is.

Much of this philosophy comes from Brophy’s early days as an entrepreneur and also from his time at Strayer University. “I sat in a Strayer classroom and listened to one of my favorite professors talk about his own company. I remember him saying, ‘You have to make a profit—you can’t have a business without profit,’” he says. “And right after that he said, ‘You have to have passion.’”

Brophy is not short on passion, or energy. As a father to six, a marathon runner, motivational speaker, author and leader, he is always looking ahead for his next big idea. “There is a world of possibilities to consider and I try to be broad in my thinking,” he says. “I always approach innovation by asking, ‘Why can’t we?’”