Dan Miller: CEO of Spora Health

Dan Miller is the founder and CEO of Spora Health, a radically inclusive company changing the way People of Color access healthcare. We spoke with him about his entrepreneurial journey, how he defines success, and how mindfulness inspired his latest venture. 

We sat down with Dan Miller, founder and CEO of Spora Health, to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and how he hopes his company can continue to build upon the rich legacy of HBCUs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jameson: Dan, thanks again for joining us here at WeAreHBCUs. We love to share stories and tell about the great work that folks in our audience and our community are doing. So let's dive right in, shall we? I'd love for you to introduce yourself and share a little about your story and who you are.

Dan: Awesome. Thanks so much for having me. It's really a pleasure to connect once again. I love the platform y'all are building; I'm super grateful and excited to be here to tell a little bit of my story.

So first and foremost, my name's Dan Miller. I'm currently the founder and CEO of Spora Health. But that took a long time to become realized. I grew up in Flemington, New Jersey, and had an incredible childhood. I lived on my bike for years and enjoyed a traditional, middle-class American upbringing. I was super interested in sports and the internet when it came around by the time I was in middle school. Thankfully, I had an uncle that worked at AT&T, and we had computers in the home, which allowed me to use my energy and curiosities to tinker around with computer games mostly.

My aunt always called me just a busybody when I was a kid. I had a lot of energy and was cerebral; if you gave me a task, I would focus on it. The distribution of personal computers and the internet was perfect for a kid like me because when I wasn't outside playing sports or riding around on my bike there, there was an endless amount of things that I could search for and learn about. I was building that muscle of following my curiosities and teaching myself different things. That was something that paid off dividends later in my life. But back then, it just looked like I was just a busybody on the computer.

Jameson: Many of the people in our community are in college or just recently graduated. As you reflect on where you were then and where you are now, what was a pivotal kind of lesson that you learned that was very influential?

Dan: Man, I was so lost when I finished undergrad. I was very curious about entrepreneurship, and I knew I wanted to start a business and own a business from a young age, like sixth or seventh grade. After undergrad, I was so wrapped up in traditional narratives around success. What I didn't realize was just how much time I had to explore and follow my curiosities.

Like I had student loans; you know what I mean? I wasn't balling; I didn't have money passed down. I had very real-world constraints in my life. But what I mean by that, but like I had time to explore is like I was, like 22, 23 and was internalizing pressure that I needed to make enough money to support a family of four or something. I worked on Wall Street at an investment bank, a Black-owned investment bank, for less than 30 days. I just knew that's not what I wanted to do. I studied econ in undergrad and was very interested in applying economics to different systems outside the financial system. But, when you grow up outside New York in the nineties, you study econ and go to Wall Street. And so I tried to do that and knew it was not what I wanted to do.

I thankfully got a gig at a startup in New York. And it wasn't until then that my aperture started to broaden to what work and my work life could be and what success could look like. A few years later, I got a gig at Survey Monkey out in Palo Alto. I was 25 at the time. I packed my life up in a few bags and moved out across the country, and it was the best decision I've ever made in my life, for sure.

Jameson: Much of what you shared is so relatable on so many levels. Coming out of undergrad or coming out of even a first job, sometimes you feel a little lost or feeling a little disillusioned. But always striving to make that next right move, whatever that is for you, is like such a valuable takeaway. As I listened to just what you shared, that's really what it sounds like.

So let's fast forward to where you're at now with Spora Health. I've read up about it. I've heard you talk about it, but I would love for you to share a story about how Spora Health was born.

Dan: Yeah, I'll give them the unabridged version here. So, I started back in October and November of 2019. It's the third company I've started, the second in healthcare. I launched a mental health practice in 2015; we learned a ton and were very early in that space. I learned an immense amount about building and designing new technology products in a healthcare context and just how much opportunity there is.

Then I got the itch to want to start another company. At the time, I was really deepening my spiritual practices with meditation and curiosities around meditation. I was meditating for probably two hours daily, broken up across different time intervals. And I was reading a lot about the physiological benefits of meditation. And the research is budding. It's early. But when you look at things through an epigenetic context, it seems meditation can be a pathway for changing gene expression and ultimately addressing things that can be cultural in a sense, or they impact specific populations at a higher percentage than others. I'm not a trained guided meditation or someone who studied the science from a neurological perspective. But what I do know is that in the little bit that I researched, it was very clear that there's potential there. And that was extremely exciting for me.

After learning that, I started to think about things through a population-specific cultural context. Assuming those things are true, we can potentially decrease stress and cortisol levels through meditation and mindfulness. And disproportionately, those things impact black folks at higher rates for a few different reasons. They could also be markers of transgenerational trauma. Could something like a culture-centric app or a culture-centered modality focused on these things exist?

I was reading a ton of research on population health but didn't see much in a mental health or primary care context. Initially, this experiment started by focusing on meditation and mindfulness. When I zoomed out and took a bit more of an abundant mindset toward this, the same story arc could be applied to primary care. And when I looked at primary care, it was like, okay, this makes even more sense. There are way more inequities and disparities here. They're clearly researched, but there isn't anyone talking about this or building a solution like this. It allowed me to be innovative in how I thought about designing the care delivery experience for the folks that we serve, but also for our doctors and our providers.

Because ultimately, we learned that these inequities and disparities exist because we live in a racialized society. Racism and sexism exist objectively. But also, we're doing a very poor job of educating our doctors in the US as it pertains to health equity and cultural competence. They're just not equipped well to serve different populations. Oh, and also, folks of color will be the ethnic majority in the US by 2040 at the latest. All these things were coming to a head. Oh, and then we were starting a pandemic. Something had to be done. And so it was; there had never been a perfect time in history to start a business like mine. And it just happened that we, I started working on like a few months before, five months before the pandemic. And that was the story, the thinking, and ultimately how we arrived at Spora Health. We did some other experiments, but those are the interesting threads that I don't typically talk about. They're nebulous to a certain extent.

Jameson: When I hear it all together, though, it feels way less nebulous. Sometimes some of the best things are born or come about by sitting back and seeing it happen before it happens and maybe trying to intervene.

We're very focused here on HBCUs and issues pertaining to the black community. I would love to hear your take on how HBCUs and the black community, in general, have impacted the way Spora Health has grown.

Dan: So I did not go to an HBCU, undergrad or grad school. Growing up, however, I had a ton of family members that attended HBCUs, so it was always in the background for me.My entire extended family's from North Carolina, and although I'm the only cousin that was up north in, in Jersey, like during family reunions when I went down every summer, I was like hanging out with all my cousins and my aunts and uncles and learning more about their experiences when it became time for when I was in high school and going to college.

My best friend from high school went to Howard, so I got to live vicariously through him. And we had another friend from high school who went to Hampton. And freshman year or sophomore year, I would go down and visit them now and again. We'd talk on the phone, and they would tell me great stories that were very different from my college experience at a PWI (predominantly White institution). It was then where I was like, okay, my friends are like learning different things. They're having a very different experience. And it was just like something that continued to grow from there.

I want to do everything I can to support HBCUs. When I look back at my legacy, I want to leave a legacy in which folks of color, black folks in particular, can live more healthy and joyful lives by being healthier. And Spora Health is the current manifestation of that mission and leaving that legacy. Being in a position to support HBCUs is something that I feel called to do because I have the ability to try to do something like that. And, but also thinking more about it, I think it's again like it's just deeply entrenched in the legacy of folks that are affiliated, by either being students or otherwise, and I, everyone that I know that is alum feel called to, to give back and support sort of future generations and that's something that I connect with deeply. I take that very seriously. And I'm trying to do it to the best of my ability.

Jameson: That's beautiful. I fully support that push to have that legacy. That's a beautiful goal to inspire folks to live a more joyful life by being healthier and empowering them to make those choices.

To close out, we'd like to use three quick rapid-fire questions. So don't think too hard, too long. So the first one: what are you most looking forward to in this next year?

Dan: Buying a car. I lived in New York before San Francisco and sold my car in San Francisco, so it has been a decade since I have had a car.

Jameson: All right. Second one. Second one: In five years, I hope to be...?

Dan: A billionaire. That was the first answer that came to mind.

Jameson: Alright, last one: something I wish I knew in my early twenties is...?

Dan: 80% of folks don't show up. They won't show up, sit at the front of the class, ask the question, or do the small hard thing initially that can lead to better outcomes and success in the future. That's something I wish I had learned a lot earlier.

Copyright © 2022 WeAreHBCUs. All rights reserved.