Turning the Doctor’s Office Into a Digital Business, This Alumnus Is Leading Allergy Fight

April 12, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

At his very core, Aakash Shah, a University of Virginia alumnus and the CEO of an ascending startup company, is a tinkerer.

“I’ve always wanted to build things and improve things,” he said.

During the COVID times of 2020, Shah had a problem: He became allergic to his parents’ home.

Shah, living in New York City, came back to his native Suffolk to stay with family. This included his mother, father, sister and his sister’s two kittens.

To this point of his life, Shah had managed to avoid his known cat allergies. But living in the same space as his sister’s pets made it inescapable. No matter how often Shah vacuumed, the cat dander wasn’t going anywhere. This meant Shah’s nose stayed running and his eyes kept watering. He was in a constant state of misery and discomfort and was yearning for lasting allergy relief.

More than 1,700 miles away in Denver, Shah’s cousin, Dr. Manan Shah, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and allergy specialist, was ahead of the game. Pre-pandemic, the doctor would evaluate his patients and then prescribe them customized allergy drops instead of the traditional, time-consuming allergy shots. The drops worked to train the immune system to fight off allergy triggers. It was a patient-friendly strategy that could carry on after COVID-19’s arrival – with its in-person meeting restrictions – as drops could be ordered online and medical evaluations could be conducted virtually.

Aakash Shah, the tinkerer, had an idea: What if what his cousin was doing locally could be done on a national level? What if Aakash, sitting sick in his childhood bedroom in Virginia, was just a Google search away from taking a huge step toward feeling better?

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Portrait of Aakash Shah
A 2016 UVA graduate, Aakash Shah is off to a successful start to his entrepreneurial career. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Wyndly, launched by the Shahs in January 2021, is an innovative way to provide allergy care. Buoyed by its acceptance through the Y Combinator – an American technology startup accelerator that’s helped such high-profile companies as Airbnb, DoorDash and Twitch – Wyndly, Aakash Shah said, already has “thousands” of patients throughout the country.

The quick rise is a credit to Aakash Shah’s unique vision for the company, said his cousin and co-founder.

“Aakash has an incredible ability to stay focused on what is most valuable,” Manan Shah said. “In medicine, it’s too easy to be reactive; you’re always responding to urgent clinical issues. But this can lead to constant reactivity and a lack of progress and focus. Aakash’s background keeps him laser-focused on achieving the three biggest issues the company has each week.”

Aakash Shah, a former member of the Cavalier Marching Band who graduated in 2016 with computer science and cognitive science degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences, recently visited an entrepreneur class in UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. Afterward, UVA Today caught up with him to learn more about Wyndly’s ascent.

Q. What’s the reason behind the company name?

A. We wanted to have something that felt very freeing and very open. We’re helping solve peoples’ allergies. If you have really crippling allergies, which I have had, there are days when you just can’t breathe and you feel very constrained. So, we have this concept of the wind and keeping it free and open.

Q. If Wyndly was available when you were dealing with the cat allergies in 2020? What steps would you take to find relief?

A. So, you would probably Google “how to fix cat allergies.” Our website would pop up, you’d click that website and you’d literally see my co-founder talking and saying, “Hey, this is a treatment you should know about and here are your options.” Just as if you were in a doctor’s visit with him. We literally have videos up where we’re talking to our patients, because we realized that’s what people wanted.

Aakash Shah giving a lecture to a class in the McIntire School of Commerce
Shah was recently on Grounds to present a lecture to an entrepreneurship class in the McIntire School of Commerce. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

So you go to our website; you can purchase an allergy test, a diagnostic, [that] we’d mail to you. It’s like a five-minute process, max. You’d mail back to our lab, we get your results, we visualize them. So instead of just gibberish numbers, you have a nice visualization, which is saying, “Hey, Aakash is allergic to cats, dogs and these trees.”

And then you sit down with a doctor as part of this process. That doctor tells you, “Hey, this is the approach you can take with your allergies. You can sign up with us or I can prescribe some other stuff, or these are some lifestyle changes that you can make. If you decide to start, then we’ll get you the medicine that you need. We’ll ship medicine directly to your house within a week.”

And then the treatment takes a few weeks to really lock in because we’re changing your immune system.

But we’ve seen that, after six months, people forget they have allergies. And then we suggest you stay on the treatment for three years if you want a decade of allergy relief. That’s what the science shows.

Q. What is the difference in the treatment that makes self-administered drops as good as the in-office allergy shots?

A. Self -administered allergy drops, also known as a sublingual immunotherapy, use the exact same medication as allergy shots, but they are formulated so that you can take them orally and at home. Clinical studies and our experience show the results are similar to in-office treatment.

The science is proven – immunotherapy works. It comes down to the patient’s preference: Does the patient want a convenient, at-home allergy drop? Or does the patient want a weekly visit to the office for an allergy shot?

Q. How do you use social media to show Wyndly’s value?

A. What’s really exciting for us is we’re putting out videos on TikTok and YouTube. We were initially doing it just to answer our patients’ questions quickly and say, “Hey, if you want to hear an answer to this right now, and not wait to see a doctor, just go to this YouTube link where our doctor answers a similar question.” But those videos started to get traction by themselves. They started to get views by themselves. It’s kind of strange to say, while we have thousands of patients, we feel like we’ve actually helped millions of people understand their allergies. Some of our videos have hundreds of thousands of views. That’s something I never would have expected.

Q. How does Wyndly differ from the traditional model of allergy care?

A. We like getting out in front of people as soon as possible. The traditional model, after you get to the allergist, is going to be about five years of weekly allergy shots. So you have to go to the doctor’s office. For me, that would have been 20 minutes one way. You had to be in the office and get an injection and then wait for an observation period in case something goes wrong. That’s about 30 to 40 minutes right there, and then you got to drive home, which is another 20 minutes for me. So that’s like an hour to an hour and a half out of a week for five years. That’s a long time!

And 3 million people were doing that. That’s how much the need was!

Every time you go into the doctor’s office, you have a copay. So for us, we saw that the minimum price was $100 a month if someone’s actually getting this already. You go up to $200 or $300 in some places, if there’s additional fees attached to it. And there’s always surprise fees in health care. In the traditional, insurance-based health system, there’s always surprise fees.

For us, it’s always about making this as easy and convenient as possible. So we were like, “How can we remove the surprise fees? How can we make it a very clear understanding of how much it costs?” It’s $99 a month. You get the treatment, you get unlimited doctor time – you can text us, you can call us, send us an email and you’ll get a response.

I want to make it more affordable. I want to bring it to everyone in the States. I don’t think allergies should be a thing at all. But where we are right now, what we’ve seen is that it’s working for people because it’s just the time savings of not having to go to a doctor’s office.

Q. How do you and your cousin run Wyndly together?

A. My co-founder is the chief medical officer. He owns everything that has to do with the doctors, with the patients, with the medical operation. He’s the one that says, “Hey, here’s what we’re allowed to say, what we’re not allowed to say.” That’s all very important because we have these rules and regulations that protect people.

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My background is in software and technology and marketing. As CEO, that’s what I bring. I’m like, “OK, who runs the numbers? How do we get onto these digital platforms? How do we run this as a digital business?” And that’s very different from running a traditional doctor’s office.

My cousin and I, we realize we come from very different backgrounds professionally, but because we’re related, we have very similar cultural and ethical and moral approaches. We work together because the same things are important to us. He brings a very important viewpoint from a medical side of, “This is a treatment you need to do; this is why these patients need this.” And I’m the one that can say, ‘OK, how can we find that same type of idea, but online or on these social platforms?”

Q. You came to UVA as a pre-med student, but eventually switched to computer science and developed a passion for entrepreneurship. What do you want students to learn from your career?

A. That’s why I came back and talked to the students. I want the students to see that this is an option. It’s not just about doing what you might have prior experience with. You’re allowed to create your own path.

One thing that’s really exciting for me is when I was here, the entrepreneurship curriculum wasn’t as built-out. It was in the seedling stages, but it definitely wasn’t very accessible to first-years and second-years. But now, I gave this guest lecture and the students were so engaged and so interested. They were asking really good questions – not just simple questions. They were asking good questions that show that they’ve thought about this and they’re on this journey and they’re a little past just fledgling chicks.

I’m really excited about the future of UVA helping entrepreneurs because there’s so much talent here.

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications