Who knew interpreting a foreign language could be so important and financially rewarding?
A 5-year-old Clearwater company has carved out a powerful niche providing interpreter services to non-English-speaking patients and doctors in hospitals nationwide. The firm supplies live interpreters online at the press of a button, appearing on iPad or other tablets' screens at a patient's bedside to handle often-critical conversations with medical personnel. The company refers to this service as its "Uber-like app" because it efficiently routes a hospital's need for a specific interpreter through its Web-based system to the best available person.
The company, Stratus Video, has so excelled at this specialized service that its revenue growth has exploded. The company, registering a startling 4,190 percent spike in revenue over the past three years, ranks 66th nationwide on this summer's Inc. 5000 annual list of the nation's fastest-growing private firms.
In the same Inc. 5000 listing, Stratus Video also ranks No. 1 for growth in the country among firms in the telecommunications industry. And in Florida, Stratus is the sixth-fastest-growing private firm, and No. 3 in the Tampa Bay market.
"We do not see our growth slowing down," David Fetterolf, president of language access at Stratus Video and a 22-year veteran of growing technology companies, said in an interview. Company revenues lately are rising 200 percent annually, and Fetterolf sees that pace holding steady for several years. The executive pegs the overall market for interpreters at $2.5 billion a year.
The company, composed of 500 full-time staffers and 1,500 contract interpreters, racked up $11.6 million in revenues in 2015.
That may not sound like much, but there are a whole lot of young companies out there drooling over Stratus Video's rate of growth. Few launch at such velocity.
In fact, Stratus Video is one of 73 Tampa Bay metro area firms, and 339 Florida companies statewide, to make this year's Inc. 5000 ranking.
Stratus Video was smart to focus its technology service at the health care industry. Hospitals and clinics are required by law to provide interpreter services to patients who are not proficient in English. Hospitals have relied in the past — and many still do — on live interpreters who are either on staff or on call as contractors to show up and help translate medical matters between patients (and their families) and medical staffs.
Most of Florida's interpreter needs involve translating between Spanish and English, though Stratus Video and major area hospital chains say that modern immigration trends demand a much wider array of language expertise. Interpreting Arabic, for example, is increasingly in demand in parts of the United States, including Florida. Fetterolf says some hospitals in parts of the country where Arabic speakers are few would have to seek out and bring an interpreter to the medical facility, a process that could take days. Online, any hospital using Stratus Video's system would have 24/7 access, face to face with an interpreter via tablet screen, at a patient's bedside, typically within minutes.
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As more nations enter the global economy and a new middle class grows worldwide, more people from more diverse countries are expected to find their way to this country — regardless of the current debate over U.S. immigration policy. That will only increase the demand for more diverse languages.
Stratus Video puts the number of different languages in the world at more than 200. Part of what's driving the company's growth as interpreters in health care is the rise of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which has provided health insurance to millions of immigrants.
Fetterolf says his young firm so far is working with 1,600 of the country's 6,000 hospitals. The market is still fresh, as most hospitals have yet to decide what their next step in interpreter services will be.
In the Tampa Bay area, a number of large hospital chains are starting to use Stratus Video's system. At Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, an in-house staff of 10 interpreters is available to help patients, with the bulk of the need being Spanish translation. But Moffitt diversity director Cathy Grant says Moffitt's hospital and clinics already use several hundred iPad-based systems from Stratus Video, initially to help communicate with deaf patients. Now the same device can provide quick access to interpreters proficient in 13 preselected languages, and Grant says 150 more such systems were added last year.
"To provide care, we have to get a person's consent, and we have to get it in their original language," Grant says. Otherwise, both the hospital and the patient could be at risk, "because they may not understand what they are consenting to."
Clients of Stratus Video services are charged by the minute. Rates depend on the language being used.
BayCare, Tampa Bay's prominent health care chain with 14 hospitals and dozens of other clinics and medical facilities, is also testing Stratus Video's system.
The company says it is in a pilot program with the iPad-based devices, with its St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg having used the interpreter system the longest.
Other health care facilities in the area, including Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, also use the system alongside older, telephone-based interpreter systems.
Fetterolf, who earlier ran another young health care tech firm that hit the Inc. 5000 list, is the first to acknowledge that Stratus Video can't be a one-product phenom for long. To sustain its high growth rate, the firm is leveraging its interpreter technology to meet another rising need: legally mandated translation in the courts. Stratus Video this summer was chosen by the National Center for State Courts as a preferred vendor.
"It's a big problem in courts today," Fetterolf says. The old way of interpreting — over a telephone — does not work in a jury trial. And the court system cannot find and bring interpreters in person to handle so many languages into individual courtrooms across the country, he says.
Just in Florida, Stratus Video requires its interpreters to be court-certified in 17 different languages: Arabic, Cantonese, French, Hmong, Ilocano, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Polish, Somali, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. (Ilocano and Tagalog are spoken in the Philippines.)
Further ahead, Stratus Video aims to push into the broader and admittedly more competitive "telehealth" field. He sees opportunity for Stratus Video to use remote videoconferencing technology to connect distant medical specialists with ER rooms across the country to help diagnose or advise treatments to patients in need of rapid care.
Stratus Video this spring started a telemedicine division and named Lee Horner, a veteran running telehealth businesses, as its president.
Will these strategies keep Stratus Video in the fast lane? For Fetterolf, now in his fourth round of building a health care tech firm, the key is getting the right people aboard.
"Almost nothing else matters," says Fetterolf, who says he lives on planes but splits his time between his home on Long Island, N.Y., and the Clearwater headquarters. "If you spend the time, recruit the right people and create and keep a culture. If you push responsibility down and let people make decisions and let them know it is okay to make mistakes. That's the only way to create a successful company that's growing quickly."
Adds the Stratus Video exec: "We will employ lots of people in the Tampa Bay area."
Off to a good start. But the game's just begun.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com. Follow @venturetampabay.