INTERVIEW BY MANDEEP BASI
I knew of Sylvia Papazian’s MRI for Children project before our interview as I had participated in the Hacking Health Montreal Summit on Innovation Design Challenge last November. Sylvia captured the audience’s hearts with her story of coaching her 3 year old to undergo an MRI to test a tumour that he had (everything turned out fine for him, thank goodness). Young children are fearful of MRI tests as they need to lie down still for 15 minutes and enter what seems to be a dark and loud tunnel.
Sylvia pitched an idea of role-playing and story-telling as a basis for app at the design challenge. Her project was a great success, winning a prize from Anges Québec and residency at Cossette‘s Health Observatory. Here’s her story below:
Entering the competition
During a typical work day at the MUHC, I came across a competition for Health Hackathon on our internal website. I wanted to participate by joining another team. I asked a doctor in my department, “What do you think, have you heard of Hacking Health, should I join this competition?”
He responded, “We did it last year and it was great fun. We really enjoyed the process of the event – even if we didn’t continue further. I think you should do it.”
Out of nowhere, I said, “I have an idea, but I am not sure it’s valid”. He encouraged me by stating that it was a fantastic idea and that I had to present it. He coached me into the idea of having fun with the process and just living the experience without being too worried about the outcome. This is a key learning about research that I shall treasure.
I entered my name into the HH Challenge last minute – there was an hour left before the entry deadline closed.
Entering the challenge, getting started:
I went in with nothing really, just the life experience of what happened to my son. And the desire to help other people who were living the same thing, prompted by my friend Dr. Powell.
I gave my pitch that evening and waited to see if a team would pick me. By the end of the night, I did not have a team set up but Luc said that he would help set me up with a team by the next morning. He asked me to trust in the Hacking Health process. I do not trust very easily. But, he kept his promise and found designers and programmers and we started working. We didn’t win the first pitch competition that evening, but it was okay because that day was rough… our goal was just to finish our work in time to do the pitch.
I’m also competitive so I was thinking, “I let my team down. We didn’t win the prize” after the competition. One of the judges relieved my anxiety when he told me that we were just as good but that there was only the possibility of awarding one prize. It is these little encouragement milestones that keep the flame of innovation going.Besides giving me a boost, when my department found out I had made it to the finals, they were excited too. It had a ripple effect. They felt involved.
The following three weeks: from ideation to product
We had to work for 3 weeks on the project. That was crazy. It was essentially a bunch of strangers coming to work on something that is not necessarily structured. We worked out of our own goodwill. It’s really a mission out of good faith for a good cause, because it was for sick kids.It was very nice to focus on the fact that “We have a goal, we want to help kids…” Everything else is just whatever.
This kind of work is an interesting testament to humanity.
If you create a safe nonjudgmental space, it will attract possibility and allow for creativity to flow.
Transitioning from idea to product is a bit rough because you don’t know the talents of the people you are working with, you don’t know if you are going to agree with what it’s supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to do.
You are communicating all the time with people you don’t know how to negotiate or communicate with. That in itself is quite interesting. And you have to go quickly. If your team is dysfunctional, or negotiating everything; you are not going to get ahead. We talked about this all the time, “When you did this, I wish you had shown more leadership” or “We weren’t connecting, there were too many people talking at the same time!”
Showtime: the Grande Finale
Before the Hacking Health Finale, I went for coaching and mentoring from my physician friend. He reminded me, “it’s all about fun, it’s about learning.”
But that night, many things went wrong again. We forgot our demo and the PowerPoint presentation went haywire, and we had to improvise but for us, strangely enough, that wasn’t an issue. The best part of the evening was having to ad-lib with a story about a young kid that used the demo and liked the product.
Even our mistakes were reinforcing the value of our product.
We were constantly improvising and building on our strengths. There is all this work we did, but if you don’t pitch it right, if you don’t believe in it, then you won’t succeed.
We would ask ourselves, “What’s positive that we can use in this corner here because now we have a hole to fill”, and then we kept going filling that hole while then others would be created… how do we solve this now!”. We did our presentation and were very excited about it. Everyone thought we did a good job.
We won a prize from Anges Québec and we were very happy. We were just sitting back to see who would win the prize from Cossette. We thought we were out of the running because we had already won a prize.
And then they started presenting the Cossette prize. The speaker gave a beautiful speech and we were like “Wow, who is that company, they sound cool!” When they named us, we were floored. That gave us a huge sense of pride.
Cossette gives us access to office space, we can network with them and they are going to promote, coach and consult with us on marketing. Anges Quebec provided us with coaching and mentoring. Fasken Martineau gave all the winners legal advice about intellectual property.
Moving further ahead… after the Design Challenge
As a young entrepreneur, I’m steering a ship, but I don’t really have a ship yet: as I’m building it, I’m steering it. The support I have from them gives me credibility, which is huge. I consider all of these entities – Cossette, Fasken-Martineau, and Hacking Health as part of the team.
My creative team is made up of myself, a designer Juliana Alvarez, a programmer Stephan Monette, and an end-developer Tito Lim. They are the core and they give of their time generously.
I have also brought in my son Jason to the team. He has an office, that’s his seat right there. It’s his creativity corner. Our designer is going to integrate one of his drawings and we’re going put it in and give him credit for it. He’s very excited. He thinks he’s a video game developer. That’s what he wanted to be since he was little, so his dreams are coming true.
I was working as an administrative agent in the hospital. I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology, a certification in health care management, and Master’s in Humans Systems Intervention. I’d really like to see healthcare change.
When people hear my story, they connect right away with it. Either they have a child and this happened to them or they were sick as kids… They say, “I get it. I want to help. What can I do? I want to be involved for the next generation, for my community, for everyone’s health”.
I am hoping this company I am creating is about empowerment, personal development and happiness… just seeing healthcare and life in a positive way, in a supportive way. I am hoping to make a difference.
Those who listened to Sylvia’s pitch could appreciate her compelling story on the fears parents face when it comes to their children’s health. Sylvia’s story also includes the hope and creativity that parents mobilize to help their children thrive. Sylvia’s ability to acknowledge the struggles of the past to shape a better future is one of the many reasons her project is poised for success.
For more information on Sylvia’s project, join Sylph Productions Illumine Inc. on Facebook.
Interview and post by Mandeep Basi
I went in with nothing really, just the life experience of what happened to my son. And the desire to help other people who were living the same thing.