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iamsick.ca startup helps Toronto get healthier with “virtual waiting rooms”, flu shots and more

As cold weather approaches, launching coughs and sneezes all around, a startup called iamsick.ca continues to develop free tools to help users in Toronto and beyond get the help they need – fast.
Led by PhD candidate and entrepreneur Ryan Doherty, the startup provides easy web-based or app-based access to information about healthcare options nearby, allowing users to select between clinics and urgent care centres open at a specific time, single out healthcare providers who speak their language, and more. (Read more about iamsick.ca)
“We founded iamsick.ca because we wanted to build a platform that would leverage technology and data to allow healthcare resources to be better utilized,” said Doherty. “We noticed gaps and inefficiencies in our healthcare system, and began to realize that we could build tools that support health policy initiatives.”
Now, as the company continues to grow, iamsick.ca is rolling out a new suite of features including virtual waiting rooms and flu shot information. The company will spread the word about its services along with more than 40 other startups at the TechnoShowcase event on Nov. 5 in Toronto, where five years of graduating companies from The Impact Centre’s bootcamp program will offer hands-on demonstrations. (Read more about the TechnoShowcase) 
“The Impact Centre has been a tremendous help with mentorship, advisors, business workshops, resources, meet-and-greets with successful entrepreneurs, and a friendly community,” said Doherty. “And U of T's size and diversity makes it a perfect breeding ground for student-led startups.”

Doherty shared the latest on the new features – and a few pieces of hard-won advice – with U of T News.

What's new with iamsick.ca?
We recently launched an online flu shot appointment booking service for the campus pharmacy at Queen's University, and are in the process of launching a similar service at a walk-in medical clinic near Yonge/Dundas Square and other pharmacies in Toronto.

Our service lets people book appointments through the iamsick.ca website and smartphone apps. It includes a "virtual waiting room" for walk-in clinics, which shows real-time wait-times and lets patients queue remotely and time their arrival instead of waiting in the waiting room.

Our system sends emails or SMS messages to alert patients when it's almost their turn. And our service is free.

You’ve also expanded into British Columbia since we last covered iamsick.ca . Why B.C., and what have you learned as you expand into a new province?
In the summer, we ran a crowdfunding campaign. Everyone who supported our campaign received a vote to decide which province we'll expand into next. Most votes were for B.C., so we focused on expanding there first. However, since our supporters were from all provinces, we decided to also prioritize getting all Canadian ERs into our system.

We're in the process of validating some of this information to ensure that it is accurate and complete before it becomes available through our service. We aim to have B.C. walk-in clinics and pharmacies, and all Canadian ERs (from P.E.I. to Nunavut to Vancouver Island) available through our website and smartphone apps within the next few weeks.

While expanding our service into B.C. and other provinces, we've learned about the many differences in healthcare service delivery in Canada. We are lucky to have access to world-class hospitals in major Canadian cities like Toronto, especially when compared to remote regions of Canada. 

Flu shot season is here. How does iamsick.ca fit into plans there?
iamsick.ca is all about improving access to healthcare and this includes improving access to flu shots.
To help make it easier to get a flu shot, we've started working with local pharmacies to offer flu shot appointment bookings through our website and apps. Our service and the flu shot are free. And, if you do get sick with the flu this season, you can book an appointment or enter the virtual waiting room for one of our partner walk-in clinics. 

Your business has expanded its services massively in the past few months. What’s surprised you, for good or for bad, during such a period of growth? And how did you learn from it? 
Our service has been gaining traction and supporters throughout the past year and this has led to many exciting new opportunities. The most challenging aspect of such growth has been deciding which opportunities to turn down.

To help us achieve our goals, our team has grown. We have nine people on our team and we're still growing. Four of our new team members are undergraduate interns who are working with us for course credit. Having more people on the team is great, because it provides more perspectives on what we're building and planning.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. You can use your entrepreneurial drive in any career path, whether it's running a scientific study, incorporating innovative processes in a service industry, coming up with a creative approach to implementing a new policy, to starting your own business.

For those who want to run a business, explore business ideas that you are passionate about. And, always start with a problem that needs solving. Being passionate about the idea will keep you motivated while you put in the many hours that are necessary for creating a business.

Share your business idea with others and get their feedback, and try to talk to experts in that particular field. There will always be nay-sayers, especially early on. Again, this is why the idea should be something that you are passionate about, and willing to research and learn about. Once you become an expert in the topic of the business, then you will identify solutions to the problems that those nay-sayers raised.

Most importantly, find mentors and supporters. There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. There are many initiatives at U of T (i.e., Impact Centre, Techno bootcamp, Engineering Hatchery, Creative Destruction Labs, UTEST, etc.), initiatives at MaRS (free workshops, conferences, advisory services, etc.), resources online, as well as meet-up groups and hackathons where you can meet like-minded people. The support network is constantly growing and is a valuable resource available.