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Startup iamsick flourishes in lengthy cold/flu season

Putting health in your hands

As winter begins to slowly release its grip on the Canadian climate, a final rush of colds, flus and gastrointestinal woes seem to be “going around” while the season offers one last gasp.

But one University of Toronto startup is helping these late-season flu patients take health into their own hands, literally: iamsick.ca instantly shows the nearest healthcare options - including hours and contact information for nearby clinics, pharmacies and hospitals through a smartphone and online app that simplifies the search for same-day health care. 

iamsick is the project of U of T student entrepreneurs Ryan Doherty and Sherry Lynn-Lee, who took their startup idea through The Impact Centre’s intensive bootcamp program, called Techno. The business is thriving – gaining the attention of powerful partners such as the Ontario government and growing to reach new users, such as refugees and new Canadians with special needs.

U of T News spoke with Doherty about how iamsick has expanded its services over the course of this especially difficult cold and flu season.

Has this extra-long winter led to an uptick in users for iamsick?

Most of the queries to our website and app are for pharmacies, with walk-in and after-hours clinics close behind. But generally, the number of daily queries is fairly consistent, and has been growing since last summer. The growth could be because of sickness or it could be increased awareness of our website and app. However, we did see an increase in mid-January, which could be related to the flu season, as that was when it started to peak.  

While everyone else has been in bed with a cold, iamsick has been growing. What’s new?
 
In January, we launched a new feature on our website that focuses on language barriers in healthcare. Within a couple of clicks, a visitor of our website can find a nearby pharmacist or physician who speaks their mother tongue. I have since met with organizations and clinics that support refugees and new Canadians, so that members of their communities can benefit from our service. 
 
We have also had a series of meetings with Ontario's Open Government engagement team, key open government champions, and others in the government to show how social enterprises like iamsick.ca can leverage open data to improve the delivery of public services.  Last week, the Open Government engagement team released a report with recommendations for the province, and made reference to iamsick.ca (See page 39 of the report.) 
 
The last piece of news is that our service is currently Ontario-wide, but we aim to offer our service Canada-wide later this year... and we'll run a crowdfunding campaign from mid-April to late-May to make it happen. If our crowdfunding campaign is successful, iamsick.ca will hopefully help all Canadians at their times of need. 
  
How has U of T helped the development of iamsick?
 
U of T is an incredible environment for entrepreneursespecially within the Impact Centre. The Impact Centre's Techno bootcamp helped me build a solid foundation in business development knowledge and best practices. Their ongoing support and access to the entrepreneurial community is a godsend for startups, because the first couple years can be a rocky ride full of uncertainty.
 
Being part of a community of like-minded entrepreneurs provides an opportunity for us to learn from each others' experiences, bounce ideas off one another and grow together. 
  
Being at U of T, and a member of Massey College and Impact Centre, has been crucial to iamsick.ca's development.  We have worked with students, professors, and alumni in public policy, health informatics, law, business, clinical engineering, health administration, medicine, pharmacy, nursing and computer science.  And each of the different perspectives has led to new insights, opportunities, and connections which has brought iamsick.ca to where it is today. Continuing collaborations with all these disciplines will make iamsick.ca sustainable, and U of T provides the perfect environment for mentorship and collaboration from all these perspectives.