February 24, 2023: The Ultimate Bootstrapped Success Story
plus: learn more about FounderFuel and why it's backed by BIG names, the ins and outs of the Founder Journey, and more!
Profile: Nicola Sahar and Semantic Health
What is Semantic Health?
Semantic Health is a medical coding and auditing company focused on using large language models (LLMs) to improve the way we analyze and automate clinical data processing for hospitals. Our vision is to improve care delivery and operational efficiencies by transforming the use of unstructured data in healthcare, starting with manual workflows in medical coding and auditing.
What was the insight/inspiration that led you to launch it?
As a doctor, I realized that my patients needed more help than my medical care could provide: better treatments, shorter wait times, and preventative care. I believe that delivering these outcomes requires empowering clinical practice with strong, high-quality data generated by health information management (HIM) and revenue cycle management (RCM) teams. At most hospitals and health systems, I learned of the demanding and overwhelming workload medical coders and auditors face with only outdated equipment to assist them. It was surprising to me that more efficient technology and processes did not exist, so I decided to pursue the solution of applying LLMs and other AI technology to help manage HIM workloads and unlock the future of healthcare.
How has it been received by the market? Why do you think it has been so well received?
We have significant traction from brand-name hospitals in both Canada and the United States. Hospitals continue to use our software because of the quality of the Semantic Health Information Platform towards improving medical coding and documentation quality. As well, we are quickly noticing how many hospitals and health systems are seeing the value of adopting new technology, such as AI, to prepare for the future of healthcare technology.
How did you know you were ready to found a company?
As a doctor, I recognized the importance of improving medical coding and auditing in hospitals. I grew to understand several pain points involved with the coding and auditing process and became a subject matter expert. This enabled me to define the problem I am solving for Canadian and US hospitals and outline software functions that can drive efficiencies and improve current processes. Using my experience and knowledge within the healthcare industry I knew I was ready to become a founder of Semantic Health.
How did you meet your founders/know they were the right people to start a company with?
I went out looking for the best founder to support the idea of Semantic Health.
At first, it was difficult identifying someone with the unique expertise and experience of building a successful start-up. Eventually, I was able to find a co-founder who was an established serial entrepreneur whose vision and values were in line with mine. My co-founder was able to bring new ideas to the table and clearly articulate the value add of a proprietary AI software to benefit hospitals around the world. From this point, we continued to plan out the beginning of Semantic Health and how we would develop the software needed to attract users and revolutionize the healthcare industry. I quickly learned that finding the right people to start a company is essential, but it is also the most difficult task.
"It is important to find someone who will offer new ideas, provide honest feedback and input when necessary, and have a strong industry understanding. These elements contribute to a strong team led by the right leadership members."
What has been the hardest thing on your journey so far?
The most difficult part of my journey so far has been building out the proprietary AI and ML software that we have developed at Semantic Health. Understanding the current medical coding and auditing issues and ways that AI and ML technology can be utilized was essential to product success.
Despite the comprehensiveness of the development of our software, Semantic Health collects user feedback to improve software offerings to create the most useful software tool for coders and auditors. Our ability to continuously improve our software has resulted in customer satisfaction and high-quality product performance.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?
The most pleasant surprise was our company's ability to substantially grow the use of the Semantic Health Information Platform in Ontario hospitals over the past year.
As an organization, we noticed that many hospitals recognize Semantic Health as an effective coding and auditing solution that enables a future-proof workflow in existing hospitals. Due to the uniqueness of our technology hospitals were quickly able to recognize the value add of the Semantic Health Information Platform resulting in widespread adoption of our software in several Canadian hospitals over the past year.
What is your super strength?
Our super strength is the ability to understand how to apply cutting-edge technology (like LLMs) into real, complex, and mission-critical workflows in hospitals. Doing so in a way that marries the human with the AI is critical to building and maintaining trust, and driving real value around productivity and efficiency gains.
Who is the unsung hero on the team? Why?
Everyone on the team is a superstar in their own right. We have folks that are engineers, medical coders, customer success rockstars, and enterprise sales experts.
What are you trying to achieve over the next 12 months?
Over the next 12 months, Semantic Health plans to expand the use of the Semantic Health software in Canadian and US markets. We plan to grow as an organization while maintaining customer satisfaction with existing customers and fostering new relationships with several new hospitals and health systems across Canada and the USA.
What advice do you wish you had been given prior to launching?
Really understand the minimum viable product you need to build to launch and iterate as quickly as possible to get to that stage.
What is your proudest accomplishment outside of your startup?
I have been serving as an academic reviewer in some of the top ML conferences with a focus on LLMs applied to healthcare (and published a few papers in the space).
Who are the 5 Canadian startups you like in your market?
- AlayaCare - transforming home-based care agencies
- League - the digital healthcare platform at the forefront of CX transformation
- Swift Medical - the new standard for wound care
- Maple - see a doctor online in minutes
- MedChart - transforming medical record access for businesses beyond care
Quick Takes: FounderFuel returns with new backers
What is the news?
Last week it was announced that FounderFuel, one of the older Canadian accelerators was coming with a new cohort but with a couple of twists.
The next cohort is backed by Inovia and Panache while being run by Real Ventures Katy Yam. It will also be open to companies country wide and be part hybrid/part IRL over four months.
The program was started in 2011, and it was probably one of the first Canadian accelerators to make a dent in the ecosystem.
It initially ran from 2011 to 2020 uninterrupted, and it provided unique support for companies that were based in Quebec to start.
Why is it coming back now in 2023?
A couple of reasons.
First of all, if you look at the program, they had a hundred-plus companies, that have had huge success. Anyone from Paper and Open Care went through the program. Part of the program was in-person, and the reason, for the pause, was they did a virtual cohort in 2020, and they had to adjust on the fly like everyone else during the Pandemic. YC did something similar as well. They probably felt the experience wasn't as good going virtual.
Why is it that Inovia and Panache are supporting the program?
We reached out to the teams at Panache and Inovia to get their own unique perspectives on why they chose to support.
Here's what they had to say:
Spending the last decade actively participating in the Toronto-Waterloo tech ecosystem, I had honestly never thought twice about FounderFuel in Montreal. Y Combinator, Techstars, the Creative Destruction Lab, Velocity, Communitech, and the Accelerator Centre. Those were the accelerators with which I was most familiar, and they dominated the conversation when I would talk to young entrepreneurs navigating Canada’s sparse funding ecosystem. As a leader of a University of Waterloo-affiliated angel network from 2016 to 2019, I met hundreds of founders who weren’t quite ready for cold angel pitches or introductions to venture capitalists. So instead, I would recommend they consider an accelerator — but not once did I recommend FounderFuel.
So when Chris Arsenault, one of the Co-Founders of Inovia Capital, recommended Inovia’s Discovery Program meet with John Stokes and Katy Yam about potentially helping to relaunch FounderFuel, I was quite intrigued. Clearly, if Chris was recommending it, he must think there was high potential, what was I missing? As I dove into the opportunity, I quickly realized that with my Toronto-Waterloo-centric point of view, I was simply blind to the incredible impact FounderFuel has had in Canada. First off, the returns the program has generated are really impressive. With first cheques into incredible companies like BenchSci, Sonder and Paper among many others, FounderFuel has had a very real impact on the founders leading some of Canada’s most notable companies.
“Being a part of FounderFuel helped us to take BenchSci to the next level. It's an intensive course where we learned what we needed to set up our business and build connections with investors. Today, BenchSci has raised over $100M and is delivering incredible value to 16 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world.” — Liran Belenzon, CEO & Co-founder at BenchSci
The second key reason bringing back FounderFuel was a “no-brainer” is due to the unique dynamics in the Canadian tech ecosystem that finds itself in 2023.
While Canadian institutions are making good progress anchoring new seed-stage venture funds, and there appears to be an abundance of capital for proven entrepreneurs, the options for newer entrepreneurs still early in their journey are limited. There is only a small number of true “pre-seed” funds in Canada and given the market environment, local angel investors have also become more conservative. This leaves very few options for new entrepreneurs in need of startup capital and a helping hand.
That is exactly where FounderFuel comes in.
With $120K upon acceptance, a 16-week program designed to truly accelerate an entrepreneur’s development, and access to an incredibly broad, supportive community, FounderFuel will make a tremendous impact on the Canadian startups who get accepted to the program. While I know Y Combinator will always loom large within my Toronto-Waterloo-centric network of early-stage entrepreneurs, I now know of another great option. If you (or someone you know) are looking to accelerate your startup’s development you should definitely consider applying to FounderFuel.
FounderFuel was launched during a time when the Canadian tech ecosystem was almost non-existent, it was a precursor to many of the ecosystem pillars that we take for granted today. When the opportunity to support its relaunch presented itself, we were excited to be involved because we believe that FounderFuel is still an important brand and one that can have a lot of impact.
Among early-stage funds, Panache is in a unique position to help in a challenging funding environment. We have $100M to deploy and we only invest in pre-seed and seed companies. In addition, we can leverage our national presence to bring in founders from across Canada.
The timing is also excellent. We think that there are a lot of amazing people who are newly looking to build companies due to the macroeconomic situation and particularly layoffs at big tech. FounderFuel is a perfect jumping-off point for very early teams - they can provide high-horsepower individuals who haven’t started a business before a framework for how to do so.
We are happy to see the program return to its original glory and provide more support for the Canadian Tech Ecosystem. Given the current market, this is exactly what the ecosystem needs in order to drive new innovation forward. With multiple success stories coming out of the program, it is exciting to see who will emerge as the next "big thing".
Applications for 2023's FounderFuel Cohort close on March 12
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Full Stack Software Engineer, Semantic Health (Toronto, ON)
Why is this cool? At Semantic Health, they combine the clinical and business expertise of doctors and successful entrepreneurs, with the technical skillset of top ML researchers. They are also backed by leading institutional investors who have driven companies our size to multi-billion dollar valuations. You will get to work with engineers across the stack, UX designers, and product managers to transform customer feedback into delightful experiences, and more! >> APPLY HERE
Future Opportunities - All Departments, notch (Toronto, ON)
Why is this cool? notch believes the future of hospitality has more connected local distributors, not fewer. With smart technology, notch reduces the barriers to integrating with restaurants and distributors' existing systems to make food service better for everyone. They're the company behind some of your favorite restaurants and are growing faster than ever. notch’s mission is to enable every restaurant and distributor to seamlessly manage and grow their business operations online. Check out some future opportunities here >> FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
Machine Learning Scientist, Flipp (Canada, Remote)
Why is this cool? Flipp is a pre-IPO company on a mission to help shoppers provide for their families by making life more affordable by leveraging technology. They are looking for a Machine Learning Scientist to create capabilities and launch ML products into production that lead to automated decision-making in the Flipp product to drive revenue or automate manual processes to reduce operational costs >> APPLY HERE
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