Grace Simrall, photo by Michelle Jones
Grace Simrall, photo by Michelle Jones

Sometimes it pays to be a pioneer.

Ask Grace Simrall, the founder of Louisville tech firm iGlass Analytics.

Simrall, 34, opened iGlass in 2010, keen on getting into the health care field. She saw an opening because the data storage and collection systems typically used in health care were archaic.

At the same time massive changes in health care, a la the Affordable Care Act, were ripe to shake that world up.

True data experts were few and far between.

Simrall saw opportunity. “There was a need for people with my expertise,” she says. “It was a brand new field. I could, after a year, say yeah, I am an expert.”

But what is Simrall’s expertise? She’s described it as “providing platform agnostic, end-to-end big data management and analytics expertise, specializing in healthcare.”

Wonderful, but what does it, you know, mean?

Simrall says it means she specializes in helping health care firms both store and analyze their technical data.

This may sound simple, but it’s anything but. One huge problem is that these companies gather so much data their traditional databases can’t handle it all.

“Then they come to me and say, ‘Help!’ ”

Here’s where Simrall earns her keep. She will then work with the data-flooded firms, and do a complete, nose-to-tail analysis of what their data management systems need.

“I’ll help companies identify which software platforms they should procure to handle the data,” she says. Or, she may write code to enable the systems they already have in place handle the massive amount and rate of incoming data they receive. “I go the last mile, and tell them what the data means,” she says.

For current client Imperium Health Management, for example, she created a brand new digital data warehouse, and then analyzed what the data told her about what Imperium’s patients required. Combing through the data can help Imperium learn which patients have missed preventative annual screenings.

One reason she was attracted to doing this work in health care is because its data systems can be so anachronistic. Each doctor can have his or her own way of storing—or not storing—information, and until not too long ago much of this work was done on paper.

At the same time the software that already existed in the health care field was typically clunky and underperformed. She saw an opening for someone who was up-to-date on the most modern data analysis techniques and tools, i.e. herself.

She also wanted to do something personally rewarding. She’d done high level data analysis for some massive companies, including Lowe’s Companies, Inc., The Kroger Co., and Costco Wholesale Corp., but felt health care offered a way to directly benefit people. “Helping Company X sell more widgets was not fulfilling,” she says.

Plus, health care work also gave her the chance to address problems no one’s ever solved before.

Here’s one high-level example. Far too often a patient’s numerous specialists will not have a clear idea of what the other has done. Simrall wants to make it so that a patient’s data is easily accessed, and current, for all health care providers.

“Is there a way for doctors to optimally coordinate health?” she says. “A lot is lost in the handoff and transition.”

Why did she choose Louisville to launch this business?

Simrall had a few reasons. One is the city’s low cost of living; always helpful for a startup. Another is that the city is centrally located in the U.S., and there are easily accessed direct flights available for most major destinations around the nation. This is no small thing as she spends 10% of her business hours at client sites.

She also likes that Louisville has a strong health care industry, including giants like Humana Inc. This will benefit her should she ever be in the position to expand her one-woman operation, she says, as there are sufficient people with the sort of skills and expertise she could require.

Simrall came to the city a decade ago to get her MS in mechanical engineering from the University of Louisville. “I came to Louisville, and fell in love,” she says. Even better, her husband, Harrison Simrall, also enrolled at the university at the same time.

I asked Simrall what she believed was the coolest part of her job. She said that she gets to be one of the first in a field that is, essentially, brand new.

“These are problems that no one’s ever answered.”

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David Serchuk
David Serchuk is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former editor at Forbes.com, and an ex-reporter at Forbes magazine. He's written for NPR, CNBC.com, New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville and other publications named for places. He enjoys writing about business, music and other things as well.

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