“Like you hear with many entrepreneur’s stories, I had a few ideas that didn’t work out and then one business that did — with a multi-million dollar exit,” said Total Orbit CEO Michael Margraf. After selling the company that worked out he went into semi-retirement, raising kids and focused on home. “But I grew up in a healthcare household, my dad was a physician at BJC, and I went to pre-med at Wash U.”
He took some time and leveraged some contacts in the medical profession to conduct primary-source interviews with healthcare practitioners. Interviewing nurses, doctors and administrators to listen to their problems. It was clear that information management was a pain point, but more interviews gave Margraf an idea of what a solution should look like. It’s a core business concept Margraf calls ‘reverse darts.’
“Why stand 20 feet away and try to hit the bulls eye, when you can walk right up to it and stick the dart in,” he said. “Take a few steps back and ask ‘how do I get there?’ They were very forthcoming, especially the nurses. They’re like, ‘it absolutely can’t be this, and needs to be this.’”
Systemic thinking is something Margraf says he learned while developing earlier companies, and it just frustrated him that healthcare information delivery was so archaic and confusing.
“There are better ways to do it,” Margraf said. “So I grabbed a few people I was in business with and started off on Total Orbit. Our main product is called CareOrbit, which kind of takes all that information and makes it user friendly.”
Margraf says getting Total Orbit off the ground was something he funded, but he turned to ITEN and their Investor Readiness Program to learn how to raise money in, and outside of, St. Louis.
“It really helped us hone our pitch,” he said. “An investor wants to go and check out all your contracts, your financials, all those kinds of things… and with security they can go see all the different paperwork… it’s all there so it can actually speed the process up.”
Even during lock-down Margraf participated in the ITEN pitch practices for the feedback and to improve his presentation and timing.
“We went to 1 Million Cups… and we went through Arch Grants,” he said. “Going to Venture Cafe, and Cortex, is a great way to socialize with other entrepreneurs… that was powerful. And we were invited to pitch at the Midwest Venture Showcase” aka InvestMidwest.
Growing the business in St. Louis has been ideal, Margraf said, both in development and hiring employees. The company partnered with the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to run some clinical trials. The lower cost of living compared with the coasts means he can hire or import talent affordably.
“I’ve got a lot of what I call ‘believers’… not just in the medical industry, but also in the St. Louis startup industry, who understand,” he said of his support system. “When somebody gets what you’re doing, you ask for help, they usually tend to say ‘yeah, how can I help you?’”