Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Hoboken, New Jersey city council held an emergency meeting to vote on covid-19 testing contracts, the kind of event that was doubtlessly being replicated in Zoom conference rooms around the county. Hospitalizations in the state were the highest they’d been in six months. The local department of health had been inundated with calls from residents seeking a test before ill-advised but inevitable holiday trips. “We have to act as soon as possible,” the health director advised, urging the city to speedily expand testing. Under an emergency order, the contractors slated to run testing sites could bypass some of the city’s usual bid process; two of the sites had already begun setting up that day.
The contracts, all relying on reimbursement through the CARES Act, were granted to Riverside Medical Group, a local health system; an area pharmacy called Medicine Man; and Ivee—a startup founded during brunch by two men in their early 20s to provide at-home luxury IV treatments to clients using a model that could only be understood as Uber, but for calling an infusion nurse.
For many of the health technology and telemedicine startups backed by venture capital, the pandemic has been a massive business opportunity. The gaps left by dismal state responses to entirely foreseeable problems have, similarly, attracted the enterprising or those simply willing to pivot hard. From the green Virginia contractor that flew a private jet to track down non-existent PPE shipments to the Philadelphia teens tasked with administering vaccines who, perhaps expectedly, doled them out to their friends, it’s been a good year for relative amateurs to get into the business of health.
Ivee, which launched in 2019—two years after its founders graduated high school—doesn’t quite embody the chaotic incompetence of some pandemic-era projects. But the company’s partnerships with the state is indicative of how public good is being outsourced in truly wild arenas: Ivee is the kind of business only the venture-backed startup world could manifest, moving seamlessly into acting as a middleman for taxpayer-funded public health.
When it was conceptualized, Ivee pitched itself as an app that would “create a future without hangovers” by connecting clients to “on-demand hangover curing IV treatments at the press of a button.” In the year or so since then, it’s expanded to offer a handful of at-home saline and vitamin drips that work not just for a wild night out, but for a host of vague wellness purposes. The infusions encourage immunity or a “productivity boost” for a cash price of a little under $300. The “optimal aging” and “neurogeneration” IV packs are listed for a respective $499 and $999. Kyon Hood, Ivee’s chief medical officer, is a Virginia pediatrician with some experience hawking IV treatments, albeit of a more eccentric breed: Last year, he was reportedly recruiting nurses to join his business Living Well Regenerative Health, which offered at-home stem cell treatments ostensibly culled from umbilical cords.
While the tech industry is fond of styling its products, no matter the context, as the next Uber of its field, Ivee is rather literal in its interpretation. The nurses who provide covid tests or hook up the bag of neuogenerative enzymes are independent contractors, called to duty through an app the moment a customer calls. According to a job listing, nurses make about $70 an hour and are required to carry their own malpractice insurance. Naturally, surge pricing comes in effect for high-demand scenarios or busy times. LJ Troilo, one of Ivee’s founders, frames this as a way for nurses to make extra money in their free time. “Sometimes nurses can only get shifts a few days a week,” he says. In the on-demand economy, they can work as much as they want—or as much as people order IV drips.
Ivee’s founders don’t have much in the way of direct medical experience. But they do have a devotion to the language of tech: They’re two young friends who are “whole-hearted believers in disruption,” inspired by Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One. They’ve known each other since attending the prestigious St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, having graduated together four years ago. Previously, Alex Zacney worked as a revenue analyst and, later, with the health data company Alphalytics. (He also helps manage his father’s business, a thoroughbred horse-racing operation doing business as Cash is King, LLC.) LJ Troilo founded a video-sharing platform soon after graduation and worked briefly in advertising tech.
As the pair is fond of recalling to interviewers, the idea for Ivee came during brunch, when a friend who had just received IV therapy joined them for a meal. “He told us about how incredible he felt but went on and on about how terrible the booking process was,” the founders recalled last year. “We looked at each other and had this eureka moment. We realized that there were significant inefficiencies in the way that individuals book and receive not only IV therapy but most health services. Three weeks after our initial brain jam, we wrapped up our pre-seed round”— of $1.1 million, according to Crunchbase—”and Ivee was born.”
The company officially launched in March of 2020, right around the time most American cities had begun to shut down. “We put our heads together with the medical team and thought, what can we do?” says Troilo. Federal and state reimbursement through the CARES Act along with 2020 emergency guidelines for private insurers allowed Ivee to begin holding free “pop-up” events drawing on their Uber-for-nurses platform and a partnership with a recently opened lab in Texas. Some of the test sites have been intuitive for a company that deals in “wellness offerings”: Ivee has provided testing for the Brooklyn sensory deprivation spa Lift and the colonic therapy operation Cellular Evolution. It has also run covid-19 testing for the City of Hoboken, Jersey City, Philadelphia restaurant workers, and the Lindley Academy charter school. Troilo says the business is evenly split at the moment between covid-19 testing and IV drips. Pandemic-era legislation around at-home infusion and loosened telemedicine regulation have also bolstered the company’s original pitch.
“We want to make home health care the standard for everyone, not just the elderly,” says Trolio, who refers to the hangover infusions as “just an entrance point” into all manner of “wellness offerings” which include allergy testing and blood work—tests that, given the company’s focus, aren’t likely to be so clinical as part of an expanding universe of medicalized procedures to make those who can afford it feel more alive. Plans to coordinate vaccine distribution have been scrapped given “logistical issues,” though Ivee says it will offer at-home testing beginning next week. Its contract with the city of Hoboken was recently extended, and the company says it’s expanding to more states next month.
It’s possible to read Ivee’s movement into covid-19 testing—and, before it was scrapped, vaccine administration—as a heartwarming story about young people stepping up to meet a dire need. There’s nothing inherently terrible about two kids with connections and cash offering services the existing patchwork of municipal agencies desperately desire. But Ivee’s rapid evolution from on-demand hangover cure to covid-19 testing clearinghouse is reflective of how the gold rush around covid testing and treatment has played out, success growing in the vacuum left by standardized programs or more mainstream medical response.
Ivee is the ideal health-technology company, in that it’s able to promise every possible future at once, endlessly pivoting until it runs out of processes to streamline or industries to turn inside-out. Someday, once the pandemic is a less pressing arena and the funding dries up, perhaps Ivee will refocus on its original mission: Contracting nurses during a health workers’ shortage to offer luxury care in the home.