Rising StarRising Star: Juan Barraza Aims to Provide Every Patient with a Medical Interpreter Where and When They Need One

It’s scary enough when something goes wrong with your body. It would be even scarier if you were unable to communicate to your doctor what exactly was amiss.

Sadly, many U.S. residents with limited English proficiency face this scenario every day, simply because there is no interpreter available at the right place or time.

Luckily, help is on the way! VDO Interpreters, which recently made the second cut in OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2015 Program, aims to harness the power of video conferencing technology to eliminate language barriers in healthcare settings. Founder Juan Barraza tells us more:

Juan Barraza of VDO Interpreters

The spark that inspired the birth of your concept: I’ve been a medical interpreter for over five years. The moment that got me thinking, there has to be a better way, was the day before Christmas in 2009. I got called to interpret at a local hospital in the middle of the night. A father was there with his 10-year-old son, complaining about abdominal pain. It was his third visit, he had been all over Portland looking for help. On his two previous visits, there had been no interpreter available. Shortly after I finished interpreting, I got handed a pair of scrubs and rushed with the patient to a procedure room, he had just been diagnosed with a blocked artery that needed to be fixed.

As he finally received treatment, I found myself thinking, this guy is getting a new lease on life—all because he was finally able to communicate. I knew there had to be a better way to help people with limited English proficiency get better care. So I started looking into solutions for video conferencing, and that was the beginning of VDO Interpreters.

How you came up with the name: “Video Interpreters” was already taken, so I took out some vowels. Our logo, which consists of three loops that converge in the center, conveys the synergy that happens between language, technology, and people when people use our service.

Juan Barraza was one of several brave entrepreneurs to participate in our inaugural elevator pitch event on Jan. 6, 2015, which took place in an actual elevator. The Portland Business Journal captured footage of his pitch:

The problem you solve and how you differentiate from your competition: There are definitely language companies that provide interpretation services. In-person interpreters are great to have, but they aren’t always available, and even if they are, it takes time for them to arrive. Then there are telephonic interpretation services, which should work in theory, but the interpreter is “blind”—he or she can hear words but they don’t have the visual cues that they need to perform their job.

We solve both of those problems. Also, we also focus exclusively on qualified interpreters who have experience in healthcare field. And our platform is easy to use with any device, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, or mobile device. Compared to our competitors, we can keep costs low but yield even better results.

Your core customers: We cater to small- to medium-size urgent care centers that don’t have the resources to implement the same solutions as major hospitals. We focus on centers that serve populations with limited English proficiency.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur: I have tried different ventures in the past, but it wasn’t until now that I was able to find something that allows me to help a large segment of our community in a way that I never imagined before. It’s very rewarding to be able to facilitate communication between a patient and a provider when they need it the most.

The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: The learning curve. I’m surprised by how many different pieces we need to have in place to scale our company to a size where it will create an impact and a ripple in healthcare.

What keeps you up at night: How we can sustain growth and create traction with the resources we have right now. How we can maximize what we have right now until we reach the next milestone. I know I have to be creative.

The best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received: Your best asset is your people. When I got promoted to a senior management position at a company I used to work for, my boss told me that.

What you wanted to be when you grew up as a child: Besides a fireman and a policeman? I’ve always been drawn to electronics, I used to envision myself as an inventor of electronics. My interest in software/electronics is still strong!

Benefits of starting a business in Oregon: I’m consistently amazed by how helpful the community is here in Portland. I can comfortably reach out to so many advisers and mentors and get an answer within hours – someone who is willing to explain things to me that I don’t know or understand.

What’s on the horizon: We’re definitely looking to tap other sources of investment in the area, but the most exciting part for us is that we are testing our platform with three clients already and a few more in the next couple weeks. So we’re starting to get some results and gain some real traction.

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