If you’re a fan of reality TV, you may recognize Tiffany Whitlow from the Oprah Winfrey Network show “Love & Marriage: Huntsville.” But Tiffany is making waves beyond Rocket City. She is the co-founder of the Birmingham-based business Acclinate, which was recently selected to be a part of Google’s Black Founders Fund. Acclinate is using both technology and community outreach to make medical research more inclusive. Acclinate provides medical information to communities and helps connect them with healthcare professionals and organizations, with a focus on getting more people of color involved in clinical trials.
Through its #NOWINCLUDED platform, Acclinate invites community members to share their healthcare stories and strives to help people make informed healthcare decisions. For Tiffany, this is personal. Growing up, she struggled to make sound medical choices for herself. She’d been given up for adoption and therefore knew nothing of her family medical history. Today, as a mother, she’s determined to make the best medical choices for her family. And when she met Acclinate co-founder Del Smith, she knew she wanted to help improve the medical system for all.
Congratulations on being chosen to be part of the Google Black Founders Fund! What does this mean for your company?
It means that we get access to all of the right artificial intelligence and experts. You are seated at the table with the people who create Google Maps. Our co-founder got to sit with Alphabet’s CEO and ask questions. We’ve been at the table with Johnson & Johnson Innovation. We flew up to New York to Daymond John’s Black Entrepreneurs Week.
When we think about an opportunity to address every single barrier to entry, it’s exciting to know that (efforts around) transportation and food deserts and health literacy can all be combined in one place and still yield the outcome that industry wants but is really built with the people, for the people, by the people.
What do you think helped Acclinate stand out to Google?
We were unapologetically focused on not letting our community go. We are culture and technology put together. You love it or you hate it. I think Google agrees with us that you can’t really separate it. We are perfectly positioned with a really hard problem/solution to scale, and I think Google wants to be a part of it.
Why is it so important for people of color to be a part of clinical trials and medical research?
When my son has an asthma attack, he pumps his inhaler. Most moms don’t know that Albuterol – the most commonly prescribed drug for asthma — is 47 percent less effective in African Americans and 57 percent less effective in Puerto Ricans. So, we need to ensure that our drugs are effective.
We need to trust and understand that we’ve come a really long way from Tuskegee. A lot of times people still reference what happened with the Tuskegee syphilis trial, and it’s unfortunate. However, we have institutional review boards (IRBs) in place, and we have ways that we are protected equally to our white counterparts. A clinical trial is a free doctor’s visit — multiple free doctor’s visits, usually — and actual treatment that might work. It has saved people’s lives.
What advice would you give to women seeking to make more informed medical decisions?
As women, we need to ask why, we need to ask why not, we need to ask what the other options are, and we need to ask who has this been tested on.
When a white person adopts or has a biracial child, you have to ask different questions. What might work for one group – just like with something as simple as hair care products – won’t work for the other. Moms need to be empowered to ask different questions. I like to say ask until they feel uncomfortable.
What can white healthcare professionals do to be better allies, and what can health organizations do to be more inclusive and to help gain the trust of people of color?
Invest in community engagement. Invest in youth teams, churches, and leaders. Learn a little bit about our past. The reason people feel like they don’t want to trust is because they have been overlooked for so long. This is a healing process. Let their voices be heard. Be willing to listen. Be willing to learn and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
You’ve said that one thing that has helped you build this business is your fearlessness. What would you say is the source of your gumption?
When we had this idea, we knew we could build this company anywhere. But we said, due to all of the mistrust that started at Tuskegee, “How awesome would it be to build and scale this company here in Alabama?”
Investors sit in the room and they ask you questions like “Why you?” and “What are you really afraid of?” And I say I’m not really afraid of anything.
I was given up [for adoption] on day one. I’ve been broke before. I was a mom at 19 years old. I’ve lived the experience of the people I’m serving. You can’t break me. I’m constantly in prayer over my mindset. And I’m a visionary, so I’m always going to have an idea.
What has it been like being a part of Love & Marriage: Huntsville, and how has reality TV affected Acclinate?
The power of influence does matter. I’ve had to deal with hundreds of thousands of people hating me in a day, but it still proves the value of influence. Whether or not people are talking about you, good or bad, it’s all one and the same. If I really want to build #NOWINCLUDED and meet you where you are and invite you to share your story, I needed that OWN Network Platform to invite women all over the country. As a small business, I could go spend $100 million on advertising, or say, “Tune in and see me on Saturday.”
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to spend time with my family – my kids, my husband, my dogs. I have teenage boys, so we do whatever they want to do. I’m usually on the soccer field or the baseball field.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.
This reminds me that I am my own competitor, and it helps me not be afraid. I am in constant prayer to be in a position to accept what God has planned for me, and I can say that when I stopped getting in my own way and allowed Him to do His work, the floodgates opened and continue to open because I remain in position.
Other than faith, family, and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Energy drinks, my cell phone, and acai bowls.
Thank you, Tiffany! All photos courtesy of Tiffany Whitlow unless otherwise noted.
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