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Connexus Leadership Turns Personal Hardship into Business Success

Written by Amanda Maher

Drexel University graduates Lawrence James and Chris Holland were like many of their peers. Both worked for large corporations during their Drexel co-op program. They enjoyed the work enough, but both had an entrepreneurial spirit that was pushing him toward becoming his own boss.

The pair had met a few years prior. James was just entering Drexel University and Holland was one of the speakers at orientation. The two hit it off and remained friends during their studies. Holland went on to earn his degree in computer science in 2001, and James followed a year later, earning his degree in information systems.

In 2003, the pair teamed up to launch Connexus Technology. Conceived in Drexel University’s Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship, the startup offered custom software and online portals for users to manage and exchange data securely. True to its roots, the company remains based in Philadelphia today.

At the outset, Connexus primarily worked with agencies that lacked in-house IT capacity. The technology they provided allowed members of those groups to better manage information and sell products and services online. Eventually, Connexus expanded its service line to offer IT consulting services, with customers that included chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas and the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

One of their earliest successes was helping the Philadelphia School District implement a SmartCard ID program that could be used to track student attendance and reduce truancy rates—a project that earned James and Holland multiple local awards, including the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s “Innovative Business of the Year” award in 2007.

Things were going well, and the business trajectory was promising.

Everything changed in 2008.

“I was out to dinner with my then-girlfriend, who later became my wife,” recounted James, the company’s CEO. “I started feeling this pressure in my head.” After seeing countless doctors at multiple hospitals, James was diagnosed with a malignant chest tumor that had grown to become the size of a softball. “The tumor was basically trying to cut off circulation between my head and body,” said James.

Fortunately, a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery was able to rid James of the cancer. But in the process, he and Holland, the company’s COO, became all too familiar with the health care industry’s challenges in tracking patient data. “There are so many inefficiencies in the system,” Holland explained. “Doctors can’t always get access to patient information when they need it.”

The challenge was illuminated after a conversation James had with an executive at Burman’s Specialty Pharmacy. During a chamber of commerce event, the executive described how difficult it was to find software to clinically manage the company’s Hepatitis C patients.

Connexus went on to develop custom software for Burman’s that allowed the company to better track data about their patients and health outcomes. The technology enabled Burman’s exponential growth, becoming one of the leading companies for dispersing Hepatitis C medication; it has since been acquired by Diplomat, one of the nation’s largest publically traded specialty pharmacies.

Specialty pharmacies like Burman’s and Diplomat provide drugs for difficult to treat diseases, such as those needed by people with Hepatitis C, HIV or cancer. But these complex drugs come with an incredibly steep price tag, so insurance companies require specialty pharmacies to track patient outcomes. Who’s taking which drugs, and who’s getting better? If insurance companies are going to justify coverage of such expensive drugs, they need proof that the drugs are working.

Collecting clinical data has always proven difficult for specialty pharmacies. Most only have software that allows them to do the basics, like printing out prescription labels and processing insurance claims. Connexus’s customized portals bring the software to a new level.

After realizing the success of the portal they created for Burman’s, Connexus went on to offer similar customized technology for other specialty pharmacies.

Then in 2015, Connexus saw an opportunity to develop its own product: NexusRx. NexusRx is a customizable specialty pharmacy platform for organizations dispensing specialty medications to efficiently manage clinical workflow, management and reporting. It is designed to integrate with existing pharmacy management systems to eliminate redundancies and increate operational efficiency. The product officially launched last July, and Connexus has continued to develop and enhance the product ever since, adding multiple pharmacies to the platform along the way.

But James and Holland don’t plan to stop with specialty pharmacies. They’ve set their sights high—now focusing on how they can service hospitals, long-term care facilities and other care providers dispensing specialty medications.

As drug technology advances, hospitals are seeing changes. For instance, most cancer drugs have traditionally been administered intravenously, which required in-house treatment and often, lengthy hospital stays. Now, many of those same drugs can be administered orally at patients’ own homes. Many hospitals are now looking to create their own outpatient specialty pharmacies.

Connexus sees this as the next frontier for its own business, and the company hopes to add hospitals to its NexusRx platform by 2017.

Bringing the company to the next level won’t be easy, particularly without a new influx of capital. Connexus is in the process of fundraising, meeting with healthcare-focused private equity firms at the local level. The importance of capital cannot be overstated—particularly for inner city businesses like Connexus.

But the business partners are hopeful. Holland went through the Inner City Capital Connections program in 2014, and by 2015 the company was recognized as an Inner City 100 winner.

“No matter the adversity we face, our faith always gets us through,” says James. “We would not be here today without it.”

To learn more about Connexus, visit: http://www.connexustechnology.com/.

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