When A.M. Abbassi traveled to an artificial intelligence conference in Vancouver, it was far from clear that the journey would lead him ultimately to Atlanta.
But the founder of Montreal-based Shaddari and its waiting room app, Sentinel 24, has clearly always been ready to pivot, starting with his university education.
A native of the African nation of Chad, where French is spoken, Mr. Abbassi started university among friends in Paris, but his brothers kept pestering him about joining them in Canada. He finally relented, enrolling in the prestigious HEC Business School in Montreal, where he enrolled in a program that blended engineering expertise and business management.
After graduation, he worked as a financial analyst and decided to go back to gain deeper expertise in math, joining a Ph.D. program. But he quickly realized his passion was in the medical realm, where he felt his quantitative capabilities could be put to better use for society. And it was not teaching theory alone, but commercializing real-world solutions.
“For me, getting highly educated is just breaking down barriers to the accessibility of things and learning how we can translate science into innovative products which can help mankind forward,” Mr. Abbassi said.
Having changed his focus to pharmacology, he started a company that would use artificial intelligence to help ICU doctors make decisions about what drugs to administer in critical situations; the hope was to reduce adverse medication events — a problem to the tune of 2 million incidents per year in the U.S.
But Shaddari, his company, would hit a wall with COVID-19, which took the air out of his collaborations with doctors and hospitals, now preoccupied with a raging pandemic.
“At that point, they could not do R&D with us, so we had to find ways to keep on working as a startup,” he told Global Atlanta.
Ideas flowed quickly: His team prototyped a respirator, then worked on an app using location data to turn one’s phone into a kind of force field — the digital equivalent to a physical hoops people fashioned to keep people at a safe social distance. Neither stuck.
But Sentinel24, an app to help medical offices and other establishments manage queues when they could no longer allow people to congregate in waiting rooms, struck a nerve.
Sentinel 24 offers clinics and other workspaces the ability to manage queues using an enterprise account and a few simple QR codes. To get in line, customers scan the code either on the clinic’s website or upon arrival. They’re then notified of their wait time and their place, while the clinic can see real-time data on how many people are in the physical space. The software integrates with popular hospital scheduling systems.
Mr. Abbassi said plenty of waiting room apps have come before, but Sentinel 24’s combines his knowledge of health care providers’ needs with a unique moment, as capacity restrictions have become ubiquitous amid the pandemic. In normal times, he would not have been able to get in the door.
“I don’t think a hospital would have looked into deploying virtual waiting, baecuse hospital aadministrators are overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s like trying to put a band-aid on a cancer, basically. They’re trying to keep the whole hospital working as much as they can. This definitely was not their priority.”
Sentinel 24 offers a few distinguishing features. Seniors or those with low tech literacy can be added into the queue manually, all touchlessly. Patients can also notify the clinic if they can’t make their visit, allowing the system to push them backward in line without canceling the appointment.
Analytics within Sentinel 24’s platform make the tool useful in real-time, allowing clinics to match personnel needs with demand. It will also help with reallocating excess capacity — in this case appointments with the doctor — to those who need it, he said.
“Everybody has visibility, and everyone works together,” Mr. Abbassi said.
The Route to Atlanta: Black in AI
Georgia was not originally on Mr. Abbassi’s mind in thinking about expanding to the United States, but he was introduced in a roundabout way through a scholarship.
Atlanta’s Opportunity Hub offered him a Black in AI scholarship to the the prominent Neural Information Processing Systems, or NeurIps, conference in Vancouver, where he was able to network with with other African American academics from Southern institutions like Georgia Tech and Spelman College and Black innovators working in high-tech fields at NASA and beyond. He also spoke with investors at Collab, a fund that aims to close the generational wealth gap by investing in Black founders.
“That definitely put Atlanta on the map for me,” he said.
He was also awakened to the innovation hub Atlanta had become — as well as its unique role in empowering Black founders.
“To be honest, I’m really a bit blind to colors the way Americans are,” he said, but after a few engagements, he started to notice the dearth of engineers of color at major conferences.
After a lot of later research on Georgia, which he sees as an “authentic” state, he decided it was a place where Sentinel 24 could grow globally.
Sentinel 24 — the first of what Mr. Abbassi hopes will be a number of AI-based startups to come out of Shaddari Inc.— aims to be deployed in India, Brazil, Europe and the U.S. very early on.
“Once we are established (in Georgia), the idea is definitely to leverage the local talent pool and have our U.S. base out of there and see how we could address the rest of the world from there,” he said.
The first step in Georgia is to establish pilots with hospitals, he said, then eventually grow a local team.
Georgia also made sense for another industry Shaddari Inc. hopes to target: aerospace. The company is looking at using AI for predictive aircraft maintenance.
Mr. Abbassi is also working closely with the Quebec Government Delegation in Atlanta. Find out more about its trade office here.
Learn more in this Hypepotamus story: WITH NEW HUB IN ATLANTA, CANADA’S SENTINEL 24 TURNS TO TECH TO SOLVE WAITING ROOM WOES
Or visit https://www.sentinel24.app