By Doreen Hemlock
Getting sick on a trip can be a nightmare. So, why not consult early with a doctor, get home delivery of travel medications you might need and then take those meds along on your journey?
That’s the idea behind a Miami area startup, Runway Health. The venture has already raised $ 1.5 million in pre-seed funding from investors led by Pareto Holdings, says founder and CEO Joshua Rome.
Launched in May, Runway is building a network of travel company partners to offer its 24/7 consultations and meds. Rome hopes that one day, access to its travel health services can be as simple as clicking a button next to your online flight or hotel booking, much like you can now click for travel insurance.
“At our core, we’re making it easier, more accessible and more affordable to procure prescription travel medications,” says Rome. “We’re also looking to be a source of travel health information, so we’re building country-by-country travel health guides to aggregate information on travel health needs.”
Rome started Runway, building on experience in the tech, pharmaceuticals and travel industries. After earning a business degree at University of Maryland, he worked at software maker Adobe Systems in sales and digital publishing. He then joined a family startup, Patagonia Pharmaceuticals, that he eventually divested. An avid traveler, he next started a daily travel newsletter, CitySpeak, and soon, opened his own boutique travel agency, partly to serve newsletter subscribers.
Then, Covid hit in 2020. The travel industry was largely paralyzed. Rome packed up his wife and newborn from his base in New York to drive around the US and later, to spend time in Mexico and Portugal, leading his newsletter and travel agency business remotely. Soon, a close friend from New York joined Pareto Holdings’ new office in Miami, and the Rome family opted to relocate to Miami too.
It was during Covid that Rome recognized the opportunity in travel health – and not just because he got sick in Mexico. He realized that travel agency clients had often asked him about health risks in their destinations, from malaria to altitude sickness. He’d often consulted many different websites to find answers. He’d also learned that lots of Americans lacking health insurance turned to brick-and-mortar “travel clinics” and paid up to $ 500 to get the prescription meds they sought before a trip.
“I identified this gap in the travel industry,” says Rome, “and that’s where Runway was born.”
Chat a doctor for $ 30 per trip
Today, Runway offers an online chat with a doctor for $ 30 per trip. Clients can get the prescribed meds sent to their home for $ 20 to $ 125 more, depending on the products. Doctors now prescribe for five travel ailments: motion sickness, sleeplessness, traveler’s diarrhea, malaria prevention and altitude sickness. Runway works with a physician group and a pharmacy to serve clients in the US only. Clients vary, from young honeymooners to retirees, from folks taking African safaris to those hiking the Rocky Mountains, says Rome.
To grow the business, Runway employs a team of seven, including some in California, New York and South America. CEO Rome keeps a desk at the Life Time Coral Gables co-working space. He’s focused on leveraging contacts in the travel industry to offer Runway’s services. So far, the team has signed up 35-plus tour operators and other travel suppliers in their partner network. Partners earn a commission on sales they bring Runway and benefit from the venture’s travel health guides, he says.
Longer term, Rome wants Runway to add medications and expand deliveries into Canada. Until then, the 36-year-old is keen to engage with Miami’s tech community and explore beyond the 60 nations he’s visited. His advice di lui for fellow founders and travelers: “You can’t be afraid to experiment and test.”