Radical Reads

Transforming Hospitals with AI

By Tomi Pountanen, Co-founder and Partner


From left to right: Signal 1 AI Inc.’s Tomi Poutanen, Mara Lederman and Muhammad Mamdani (image source Signal 1)

Last week we announced the launch of Signal 1. Signal 1 is a health startup on a mission to transform hospitals with AI. Radical Ventures invested in Signal 1’s $10 million seed round alongside Inovia Capital, TD Bank and AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton. The Globe and Mail featured Signal 1 last Monday.

Signal 1 launches at a time when the healthcare system faces unprecedented challenges. Hospitals are contending with a multi-year backlog of deferred procedures combined with a shortage of front-line staff. Our clinical AI solution helps hospitals tackle these challenges head-on, enabling them to improve quality, enhance flow and reduce the burden on front-line workers. Unlike many traditional industries, quality and costs are inversely related in healthcare. Delivering higher-quality care and better patient outcomes actually saves hospitals money.

I’ve always had a keen interest in applying AI to healthcare. When we were running Layer 6 (the AI company I co-founded with Radical’s Managing Partner Jordan Jacobs), Jordan and I would often talk about how we might one day apply our work to solving the biggest challenges in healthcare. I remember Jordan putting it simply: “We should be curing cancer.”

As a mentor in the Creative Destruction Lab and a partner at Radical Ventures, I’ve been working with health startups for years. Many health startups seem to struggle with the same problems. Either the company is founded by a team of technologists who lack ready access to clinicians and healthcare settings, or the company is founded by a team of doctors with a deep understanding of a clinical problem, but who struggle to build a scalable commercial product. And in both cases, the company often can’t align the value their product delivers with the complex economic incentives within different payer-provider systems.

Signal 1 is different. It launches with strategic collaborations with Unity Health Toronto and Layer 6. St. Michael’s Hospital, part of Unity Health, is a leader in developing and deploying clinical AI. Layer 6 is one of the world’s very best applied AI groups (the company was acquired by TD Bank in 2018). By combining St. Michael’s clinically validated and deployed AI applications with Layer 6’s enterprise-grade AI platform, Signal 1 is positioned to be the company that responsibly brings clinical AI to hospitals all over the world.

As I depart TD Bank, I am stepping into a new role as CEO of Signal 1. My co-founder and Signal 1’s COO, Mara Lederman, is leaving her position as a Professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Mara has a Ph.D. in Economics from MIT and brings a deep understanding of economic incentives at play in healthcare markets. She has spent the last three years leading the Toronto site of the Creative Destruction Lab and launched their three health-related streams. She shares my vision for a different kind of health startup. Mara and I will be working closely with Signal 1’s Clinical Advisor, Dr. Muhammad Mamdani. Muhammad is Vice-President of Data Science and Advanced Analytics at Unity Health. He has built and led the only data science and advanced analytics team within a Canadian hospital.

Signal 1 is already impacting lives. Our first application, CHARTWatch, is a machine-learning-based real-time risk predictor that has been in use in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto since October 2020. CHARTWatch alerts clinicians when it identifies a patient at high-risk for clinical deterioration. Early evidence from the hospital shows that CHARTWatch reduces mortality rates and shortens hospital stays.

As we launch Signal 1, my conviction in Radical’s thesis is stronger than ever: AI will impact every facet of how we live, work and play. Radical continues to be well-positioned to identify, invest, and help build the next generation of global AI companies, and I am proud to continue my work with Radical. I will continue to make investments, hold board seats with Radical portfolio companies, and support founders building AI products that transform our lives.

AI News This Week

  • Untether AI and General Motors to develop next-generation autonomous vehicle perception systems  (Untether AI)

    Perception systems are at the heart of autonomous vehicles. In a push to enhance these systems, General Motors is collaborating with Radical portfolio company Untether AI, a leader in AI inference computation. The collaboration is supported by the provincial government in Ontario, Canada where Untether AI is based. Under the agreement, Untether AI and GM will work together to demonstrate an autonomous vehicle perception system based on Untether AI’s unique at-memory computation technology. This project is supported with $1 million investment from the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network R&D Partnership Fund.

  • AI predicts lung cancer tumor growth after radiation   (NHS Study in Fierce Biotech)

    Researchers in the UK created an AI model that predicts a lung cancer patient’s risk of recurrence within two years of radiation. The study used readily available patient, tumour, and treatment data to develop, validate and externally test machine learning models for predicting recurrence, recurrence-free survival and overall survival. The model uses features specific to lung cancer, but the researchers hope the algorithm could be refined for wider application.

  • Can AI All but End Car Crashes? The Potential Is There  (The New York Times – subscription may be required)

    According to the World Health Organization, “Each year, about 1.35 million people are killed in crashes on the world’s roads, and as many as 50 million others are seriously injured.” As part of its ongoing series on AI’s potential to solve everyday problems, the New York Times explores AI’s ability to address low-hanging fruit in road-safety. Some of the AI safety applications already being explored today include identifying and flagging dangerous driving behaviours to local highway patrols, easing traffic, identifying cyclists and pedestrians, using AI to manage a car’s speed and ability to stay in a lane, auto-brake in emergencies, and detecting if drivers are drowsy or distracted while behind the wheel.

  • Accelerated design and deployment of low-carbon concrete for data centers  (arXiv)

    An interdisciplinary team from UCLA, IBM, University of Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Facebook, and Ozinga Ready Mix are using AI to make low-carbon concrete. The team used Conditional Variational Autoencoders (CVAEs) “to discover concrete formulas with desired properties.” These desired properties had a significantly lower carbon footprint, while having the same strength and durability properties as regular concrete. Facebook is using the research to guide the concrete construction process in its new Illinois-based data centre.

  • Unfinished Camp showcases a better future with AI   (AI and Art)

    An international group of artists, technologists, game designers, museum leaders, and curators gathered during the 59th Venice Biennale to showcase a positive vision of our future with technology. Hosted by Unfinished Camp, the group gathers people and organizations at the forefront of visual art, digital innovation, and technology. You can view the attending artists and their work here. Artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin, an American artist innovating on ways that AI can make a positive impact on community and the environment, was amongst them. The organization is spearheaded by civic entrepreneur Frank McCourt and conceived by curator and artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries Hans Ulrich Obrist and author and cultural strategy advisor András Szántó.

Radical Reads is edited by Leah Morris (Senior Director, Velocity Program, Radical Ventures).