Posted on: September 30, 2020
- There’s always an opportunity to bring your academic expertise — no matter how technical — into a passion project to serve others.
- Your ideas might seem a little too progressive for others initially. That’s OK! When the rest of the world catches up, your innovations will be ready and waiting for them.
- Use smart partnerships to help bring your products and ideas to the people who need them the most.
When Piali De finished her PhD in physics at Brown University, her next step was a “natural academic career, as would have been appropriate in the ‘80s.” But she hadn’t forgotten a field of study that had caught her attention in her days as a graduate student: artificial intelligence (AI).
Inspired by Professor Leon Cooper — a Nobel Laureate in physics whose work inspired her early interest in AI — Piali started doing her own reading and research.
“I was so hooked to this idea of neural networks [and] AI that after a few years in academia, I decided that [was] what I wanted to do,” she says on Episode 99 of The PR Maven® Podcast. “I kept moving in that direction, primarily through doing AI in the defense industry.”
But Piali’s career would take yet another turn when, about a decade ago, she realized there was an opportunity to apply what she’d gathered about AI in the defense world to health care. Today, she is the co-founder and CEO of Sensico Systems, a tech company that develops AI to support informed decision-making for patients, particularly the elderly.
”I just felt compelled to take all my learnings and experience and try to bring it to the health care space,” says Piali. “I was just starting to understand its inefficiencies and ineffectiveness by looking at our aging parents, who were back then struggling with their own chronic conditions.”
The inspiration for Piali’s work goes deep, and reflects cultural norms for generations past.
She built Sensico’s Ibis™ platform which applies AI to the integration of self-care services and community resources to make it easier for aging populations and people with chronic conditions to ensure quality care and advocate for themselves.
“Actually, we built Ibis for our parents,” Piali says of what inspired her and her co-founder — who just happens to be her husband! — to develop the platform. “This is how we take care of our loved ones. In other countries, where I grew up, you live with your grandparents or your in-laws. Things are changing now…And I think I would have probably had a level of guilt associated in me to think that I’m not doing that for my mother-in-law or my father or my mother, but this way, I can do that.”
Piali shares more about how she’s been able to bridge the gap between her AI expertise and her passion for securing quality care for loved ones.
1. Don’t be afraid of new ideas — even if other people are
AI might be a hot topic now, but in Sensico’s earliest days, that wasn’t the case.
“The world was nowhere near ready for the type of ideas we had,” Piali says.
When Sensico first brought its product to the market, medical professionals didn’t understand the need for it. They felt they were managing chronic care management for patients perfectly fine on their own and they didn’t see why patients would want to use a platform like Ibis™ if it meant taking on more responsibility themselves.
“The whole mindset around who has responsibility toward keeping someone healthy with chronic conditions was still [a] sort of paternalistic care delivery system,” Piali says.
While there’s still work to do in shifting that mindset, the broader conversation about health care and health tech is beginning to catch up with Sensico’s progressive vision for patient-led care management. It was only a matter of time! And Ibis was ready and waiting to jump in when others were ready for it.
2. Create smart partnerships
Bringing your ideas, inventions, and products to the communities who need them most might require support from other people and organizations. That’s where smart partnerships come in.
Sensico is currently working on partnerships with Maine-centric affordable housing organization Avesta Housing and the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. Ibis is already used in about 30 senior housing facilities throughout Maine, and is now being adopted by residents of Avesta Housing and additional senior care centers.
“We’re working with many of the area agencies on aging here in Maine, but our office is inside [Southern Maine Agency on Aging] and they work with us to get their Meals on Wheels program folks aware of the Ibis program,” Piali says. “We’re really just partnering to make sure anybody who could use this extra level of support actually gets it.”
3. Look for opportunities to create new roles
Being an innovative brand is about more than just creating new products. Sometimes, it’s about creating new jobs to help you effectively carry out your mission. Sensico has done this on a large scale.
“We’re creating a new class of jobs called member advocates,” Piali says. “This is an HR professional who will become a key member of a health care team. They are not licensed in health care, but they know enough about chronic conditions to be that first person to talk to when you are worried or anxious or you need an answer to a question.”
Sensico is building up a care team that will link every Ibis™ member to a member advocate, who will then connect to nurses, doctors, and more. They’ve also created a role called “chronic care specialists.” The moral? If the existing job titles and responsibilities don’t cover what you need to serve your community, you can create new ones!
4. Keep your purpose at the core of your work
In the end, for mission-led teams like Sensico, it’s the value of service that keeps things moving forward.
“I really see an opportunity here to keep people safe, helping them take better care of themselves and supporting the loved ones to be watchful and attentive and helpful,” Piali says.
This is based on episode 99 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.