Founder Story — Signal 1

Mara Lederman

My name is Mara Lederman, and I’m Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Signal 1, which is a health AI company that is building the technology platform to accelerate the use of AI in clinical environments.

For a long time now people have postulated that AI’s biggest impact is probably going to be in healthcare; it’s the combination of the urgency and the need for us to do better in healthcare, combined with the fit of the technology.

Healthcare is fundamentally so full of information processing and prediction problems and there’s this urgency to try to bring technology into healthcare, because healthcare systems around the world, but I think in Canada and the US in particular, are struggling. While everybody knows that AI is going to make it into healthcare, it’s not moving there very quickly and so we come in to solve a specific set of problems that health systems, so hospitals and systems of hospitals, in the US and in Canada have around the use of AI, and those are problems around the technical difficulty of actually running AI live in a clinical environment.

In order to embed AI into a clinical environment, you have to do a lot more than build algorithms, you need to solve that engineering challenge; we call it the deployment problem. Hospitals aren’t designed to be engineering shops, and that’s why you see a lot of AI research in healthcare, but you see very little AI in use. The first thing we do with our platform is we make this super easy for hospitals, we take almost all the friction points out of it, and we prevent them having to build up large engineering teams.

The second challenge we try to solve is around the governance of these models. We’re not seeing as much use of AI in healthcare, despite the potential, because it’s risky, and people feel nervous about it. There’s an evolving compliance environment around how do we even do this safely, and so that’s a lot of work also for a hospital to do and our platform provides all the technical tooling to support a hospital’s responsible AI strategy.

The third challenge is that, unlike in other industries like in banking or consumer tech where you don’t have a lot of researchers inside companies building AI models, in healthcare you do; healthcare organisations, at least academic health systems, are fundamentally research organisations, so you already have a lot of clinicians and clinician scientists who are trying to build AI algorithms that are relevant to their particular area of research or clinical practice. It’s very hard for those researchers to get that out of journal articles and bring it to the bedside. We solve the problem of how do we make sure these aren’t just a series of research projects that live in articles? How do we actually translate that research into clinical tools that are used every day by doctors and nurses in the hospital?

Radical Q&A

What are you most excited about?

I’m still most excited about what this can do in healthcare because I think our systems are on the brink of collapse. Truly, I think countries like Canada and the US aren’t delivering sustainable health care, and I think the opportunity is so massive to entirely reimagine how we deliver healthcare. Not just making hospitals more efficient, which is where we’re starting, but really empowering all layers of the healthcare delivery system.

What's the secret to building a great AI product?

It’s about finding a good AI problem. AI is fundamentally a prediction technology; some problems are better problems than other ones. You’ll always want to start with something that is fundamentally a prediction problem. I used to teach at the university for 20 years and the first thing I always teach is “Why do businesses care about new technologies?” And the answer is, of course they don’t! Nobody truly cares about AI. People care about the problem that AI solves for them, and the extent to which AI does it better than however they did it before. I think the key to a great AI product is truly understanding the buyer, whether it’s a user, a customer, a business, it’s about the problem that you’re trying to solve for them, because the technology itself is there to solve a problem.

What was your first job?

Camp counselor, swim instructor, life guard, and then Professor at the University of Toronto when I was 27 years old.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Most people should tell their younger selves to worry less about what other people think of them.