Bob Shallit

Local doctor’s telemedicine startup set for national rollout; latte art tourney is back

Fans cheer on baristas during the 2014 Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament at Chocolate Fish coffee shop.
Fans cheer on baristas during the 2014 Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament at Chocolate Fish coffee shop. Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament

A telemedicine company launched by a Roseville emergency room doctor is going national, armed with a new infusion of $1.25 million in venture capital funding.

CirrusMD, which is based in Denver but has many of its key advisers here, closed this month on a financing round that will push it into new markets in the East, South and throughout California.

Its focus: Giving people quick access to medical care by connecting them, via text and smartphone video, with local doctors, and saving money by cutting down on unnecessary ER visits.

“Many problems, even ones seen in emergency rooms, can be handled remotely if there is a pathway for that,” said co-founder Blake McKinney, who lives in Folsom and works at Sutter Hospital in Roseville.

Telemedicine is hardly new; other companies – among them Teladoc, Doctor On Demand, MDLIVE and American Well – already provide virtual doctor visits.

But McKinney says his competitors hire doctors who take calls from patients scattered all over the country. His company, by contrast, contracts with doctor networks to provide virtual checkups for patients who reside in the same areas as the physicians.

The result: a more “relational” connection that allows the doctor to call in prescriptions, order tests, do follow-ups with patients and make smarter referrals.

“Our idea is that all health care should be local,” he said.

The company, which has one big contract in Colorado and is just starting another in Texas, launched in 2012 with $1 million raised in a “friends and family” financing round. The latest capital infusion came from three investor groups: New York Angels, Rockies Venture Club and Sand Hill Angels.

New life for Comcast building?

Sacramento developers have acquired the former Comcast call center building in Natomas and are hoping to attract new tenants.

Ravel Rasmussen Properties and Separovich/Domich Real Estate bought the 81,000-square-foot building at 4450 E. Commerce Way earlier this year for $5.48 million, according to public records. Interest so far is strong from prospective tenants, including call center operators, said Michael Stassi, a CBRE broker who represented the buyers in the acquisition and is now marketing the property.

“There aren’t a lot of large blocks of move-in-ready office space out there,” Stassi said Monday.

Scott Rasmussen, a partner in the purchasing group, said the space is “ideally suited for a call center but flexible enough to be used by any big office user.”

Among the pluses: about 500 parking spaces – almost twice the number found at typical office buildings of that size – along with high ceilings, a backup generator and an employee cafeteria.

“It’s hard to replicate that kind of infrastructure,” said Rasmussen, whose projects include the stunning Legado de Ravel apartment complex in midtown Sacramento and the upscale Pavilions housing complex near Fair Oaks Boulevard.

Comcast shut down its operations at the center in late 2012 as part of a major reduction in its California back-office operations. The announcement of that move, affecting 300 employees, came during the same month Campbell Soup said it was closing its south Sacramento plant, delivering a one-two punch to the local economy.

Better latte than never

A big crowd is expected to gather in East Sac on Thursday night to cheer on talented competitors. The NBA playoffs? A Sacramento Republic match?

No. We’re talking about the second annual Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament, or SPLAT – a series of head-to-head battles that have local baristas competing to create the best-looking hearts, tulips and swans, among other things, by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso.

About 60 competitors and a lot more observers are expected for the first of six monthly tourneys that will end Sept. 24 with one person being crowned Sacramento’s latte art king or queen.

“It’s amazing how many people turn out for this,” said Edie Baker, owner of Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters, who will be hosting Thursday’s event at her 48th Street and Folsom Boulevard shop, starting at 7 p.m. Details are on SPLAT’s Facebook page.

Future events will be held at different local coffee shops, including Old Soul, Naked Coffee, Insight and Temple. The format for each: Competitors pair off in one-on-one matches, with the winners of each round advancing until only one person remains.

Points accrue during the tournament and big prizes – including a $4,000 home espresso machine – go to the ultimate winners.

The event is festive. The goal: to get more people to try specialty brews. As Baker put it, “There are so many people out there drinking terrible coffee.”

Call The Bee’s Bob Shallit, (916) 321-1017.