June 2, 2022
Class of 2022: Career pivot leads entrepreneur to co-found a startup delivering solutions for Canada’s doctor shortage
While many saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a roadblock to their careers, Adrian Mitchell, MDSA’22, viewed it as an opportunity to change his up. In the spring of 2020, Mitchell had recently left a tech job in Vancouver that he had been commuting back and forth to for two days a week. He had just started conversations about a new job in Calgary when the pandemic struck. Mitchell stayed at home to take care of his three children while his wife, a physician, fought on the COVID frontlines.
“I thought to myself, ‘No one is hiring right now, so maybe I’ll start my own company,’” says Mitchell.
To do that, however, he needed to get back to his roots of coding and technical work, so he made the decision to return to school and do the Master of Data Science and Analytics professional program at UCalgary's Faculty of Science.
He set his sights on the health-care industry, and soon found his expertise was needed to address the critical problem of physician burnout.
Why did you choose to specialize in health data science and biostatistics within the MDSA program?
My background is geophysics, and I spent the first part of my career in energy. I also spent some time in tech, but, even when I was there, I was working with resource-based clients. However, my wife is a doctor, most of my best friends are doctors, and it’s truly diversified.
I didn’t want to be tied to the resource economy anymore, I wanted to be a part of the health economy. I looked at a number of data science programs, but I chose UCalgary specifically for health data science.
While studying, you also co-founded a company?
Yeah, so Jordan [Vollrath] and Max [Kerz] are also co-founders, they started the company in May of 2020. Part of the master’s program involves an internship, so I had started networking looking for an internship with a health-based tech company. Max, the CTO, basically has a PhD in the same topic as my master’s, so I was introduced to him through my network.
He was impressed that I was doing health data science and that I had a business background [Mitchell also has an MBA], which is what they were looking for. They gave me the job offer on the phone almost right away. However, I was looking for an internship, not to co-found a company yet, so we made a deal where I consulted for four months during my coursework and then I did my internship with more of the health data components of the company, and now I’m there full-time as a co-founder and COO.
What is this company and what does it do?
The company is called Cherry Health, and we are focused on health-care staffing. There’s a big problem with physician burnout, and one of the contributions to that burnout is a shortage of temporary doctors, or locums, who can cover for doctors when they want to take vacations.
We’ve created an app which, for free, can connect locums with clinics. It’s almost like a dating app or a rental app for doctors and clinics. Doctors can put what days they are available to temporarily come in and are matched with clinics that are looking for physicians on those days.
This is near and dear to me, as my wife is a doctor who has struggled to find locums, and she recently started using the app, as well. If we can help find coverage for doctors to take vacations, that’s going to go a long way in reducing their burnout.
What has the impact of the company been so far?
It’s been going great so far. We got a grant from the Canadian Medical Association last year in the physician health and wellness category. We have over 2,000 physician users right now. The feedback has been awesome, and we have a lot of interest across the country.
Was UCalgary supportive of you balancing coursework and consulting?
Yes, the courses are at night, so a lot of people are able to work during the program. I was able to ask questions of my professors that were relevant to work. The program co-director, Leanne Wu, has been a big resource for me. She was my supervisor for my internship project and we’ve discussed working on other projects in the future. They’ve been very supportive, and I think what they want to see is students coming out joining startups or starting companies and contributing to the tech ecosystem here in Calgary.
So it’s safe to say Cherry Health is where your next career stop is?
Oh yeah, we want to build a great company in Calgary. I’m one of the co-founders, and we are trying to build an enduring, Calgary-based health tech company.
Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in business, health care, culture, law, education and more. Read more stories about Class of 2022 students.