An interview with Arinai - 2017 hackathon winners

Winners of the HHS/IBM Innovation Exchange prize in our 2017 Hackathon

We asked Deborah Konig, a marketing specialist at Mohawk College, to interview Nadia Ashoori, one of the team members of a winning 2017 hackathon project.

Nadia Ashoori is co-founder of Arinai, a startup dedicated to restoring independence to patients and improving quality of care. She is a Master of Science eHealth candidate at McMaster University and a business development professional and marketing wiz with several years of experience in a variety of sectors, especially in the health sector.

Here is what she had to say about winning the hackathon and commercializing her project!


Deborah Konig: How did the Hacking Health Hackathon help you?

Nadia Ashoori: The Hacking Health Hackathon was an amazing platform through which we were able to form a great team of multidisciplinary backgrounds in business, technical, and healthcare sectors. It allowed our team to form organically based on our level of interest, access to a variety of industry leaders through the various workshops and sessions held during the weekend. The pitching of our idea to a panel of qualified judges further validated the need for an interpretation software.

hackathon 1

Konig: Please tell us about your journey since.

Ashoori: After the Hacking Health Hackathon weekend and win, we took several pivots as we were developing and validating the product. We spent a number of months doing research. At this current stage we are leveraging our network to pilot, develop, shape our software, and test the prototype. We have a large network including healthcare providers and companies who see value in our technology and are interested in leveraging our product within their organizations.

Konig: How are you finding clients to use your service?

Ashoori: We have not yet engaged in any sales or marketing campaigns, but we are fortunate to have a great network of connections in the healthcare industry who have been our champions. So far, it has mostly been word of mouth, and we will actively be seeking customers once we are finished our first pilot phase. Our team is diverse and we have very good connections, as each person on our team has been in the digital health scene for several years.

Konig: What brought you to your decision to use IBM Watson, and how are you using it?

Ashoori: There are many reasons that influenced our decision to use IBM Watson. First and foremost, IBM has made great strides when it comes to the Healthcare and Life Sciences industries compared to other Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms. IBM Watson Health is a great example of using AI to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges that exist in healthcare today. IBM Canada has also been increasing its presence in downtown Hamilton by the opening of the IBM Innovation Space where Arinai is fortunate to reside.

In addition, the creation of the HHS Innovation Exchange in partnership with IBM allows for a better support system for startups in the area in terms of access to IBM technology and technical resources, as well as HHS’s clinical resources that prove critical during the validation phase of our business.

Konig: What advice would you give to others?

Ashoori: Keep going, even when you get knocked down, like our team did during the feedback period of the HHH weekend. Whether you win or not, this feedback will make your product or service stronger. Don’t be afraid to fail fast and early on, in order to succeed throughout the weekend.

Second, consider all stakeholders. Long-term, think about who will be using your product and if they would really benefit from the product. Is your product actually solving a pain point?

You should also validate your product early. Initially, this will happen through market research. Make sure you validate your population demographics, the market as a whole, and what role your solution plays in that market. This will shape your service or product to fill the need of the target users.

Most importantly, as a team, answer the question why? Why this problem? Why this market? Why now and not later? Why this team and not others? It will give you a sense of purpose and extra motivation to pull long-hours and enjoy what you do.


Thanks to Deborah Konig for conducting the interview. Konig is a marketing specialist at Mohawk College. She has a strong strategic planning background, coupled with senior account, project, marketing and sales management experience.