Sentinel 24, a Canadian tech company known for its smart virtual waiting room app, has chosen Georgia as the first entry point into the US.
At the helm of the company is founder A.M. Abbassi, a Canadian Mathematician. Abbassi was the 2019 recipient of an Atlanta-based Opportunity HUB (OHUB) Black in Artificial Intelligence scholarship. Through the scholarship, Abbassi attended the prominent artificial intelligence conference known as Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), where he networked with fellow scholarship recipients and Black in AI academics from colleges such as Georgia Tech, Spelman, and Rice. Abbassi chose Atlanta as the location site for the new Sentinel 24 hub in part because of these relationships.
Sentinel 24 is able to drastically reduce people’s wait times by allowing them to hold their place in virtual queues. It is useful anywhere people have to wait in line, especially at places such as hospitals, clinics, blood banks, and retail stores, where it can help improve their productivity in normal times and avoid any COVID-19 contact during the current pandemic.
“Unlike other virtual queuing systems, our user-friendly application can also be used without a smartphone,” said Abbassi. “The users will only need to provide their names and phone numbers to a clerk to be added to a virtual queue through our online dashboard and they will be automatically notified of their turns. Making it also a touchless technology, uniquely positioned for a medical setting.”
Sentinel 24 started as a project within parent company Shaddari Incorporated. Eventually, Abbassi and his team made the decision to spin off Sentinel 24 as a standalone entity, “mainly because we realized that it will take a life of its own and that would require us to build a different sales strategy than what we are used to,” said Abbassi.
“Also we understood that it will require a different funding structure, far from our traditional way of doing things where we like to bootstrap ourselves. So the first challenge was to come to terms with that and accept it, especially if we want to be the first to market and fill up this global urgent and compelling need that is to deal with queuing in a pandemic and post-pandemic [world].”
Sentinel 24 consists of Mathematicians, Software engineers, and Biologists with experience building artificial intelligence applications, both in academia and the real world. Abbassi himself is an Applied Mathematics Ph.D. candidate, with previous experience in quantitative pharmacological research and Finance. Abbassi says what defines Sentinel 24 is the character displayed by each team member.
“When we began working on Shaddari Inc and later Sentinel 24, we made sure that our team was built around values that form our DNA, namely, versatility, hard work, and diversity,” said Abbassi. “For instance, all our team members belong to minority groups. We have developers and marketing specialists that are extremely versatile and willing to take on any projects and willing to put in the hard work, even when it is not within their field of expertise. As an example, our operations and communications work is led by a biologist.”
Sentinel 24 launched in December 2020. From the beginning, the company wanted to address a global customer base, and so they prepared educational videos and marketing materials in multiple languages. After their official launch, they had digital communication and email marketing strategies that targeted what they termed “anchor customers,” in multiple countries and continents. Sentinel 24 recently launched their application on the Apple App Store and Google Store in combination with their own cloud platform.
“Thankfully, our previous experience at Shaddari Inc. had given us the opportunity to build a skeleton of a global network of R&D hospital partners. Today our potential customers span from Mumbai in India, to Sao Paulo in Brazil to Paris in France, and of course the US and Canada.”
Like many startup companies, Sentinel 24 was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the company’s artificial intelligence products were being piloted by ERs and Intensive Care units of hospitals prior to the pandemic, they were among the first startups hit. Abbassi said Sentinel 24 was put on hold in early March.
“Both of our partner hospital departments had to focus on the urgent care needed, thus stopping all research and development projects,” said Abbassi. “However, in every hardship is a hidden opportunity, and so we brainstormed to find ideas to weather the pandemic as a company. We worked on several prototype projects, from a respirator with Italian engineers to a mobile app that would act as a radar and warn you when somebody breached a 2 meters social distancing radius around you. But the idea that gathered the most support was the virtual waiting room.”
The inspiration for this idea, a virtual queuing application, came after Abbassi waited for an hour at 2 am in a physical line, at a 24-hour supermarket during the first lockdown in Canada.
“Consequently we started studying the various needs for a virtual queuing application and we realized that this issue was not just COVID specific,” said Abbassi. “In fact, people at hospital’s diagnostics clinics, or any other clinics or ER waited hours prior to the pandemic. With COVID, it’s now worse, as seated places are reduced or eliminated because of social distancing, and people must wait longer at these sites.”
After building a prototype, the company pitched their idea to a Canadian local hospital for their ER facility, as well as Ivanhoe Cambridge, the world’s largest mall owner.
“We gathered their feedback to develop a second prototype,” said Abbassi. “We improved our existing features, made it multilingual (we support 7 languages), and decided to go global from the first day (India, Brazil, Europe, US) with a healthcare focus.”
Sentinel 24 is one of several companies using this technology. Some of their competitors in the health technology space include companies Qless, Qmactic, and Wavetec. However, Sentinel 24 has taken care to identify what their competitors lack, and make up the difference in their product.
“Currently, our differentiators respond to address the previous adoption roadblocks identified at our competitors,” said Abbassi. “Thus, unlike other virtual queuing systems, this application can also work without a smartphone, a staff can add, for example, a patient name and phone number on a virtual queue through the cloud application dashboard provided, and the latter will be notified through a text message or a call.”
Other benefits of the Sentinel 24 system include 100% touchless registration. Patients can also register remotely, or request more time through the Sentinel 24 mobile application, which will update their place in the virtual queue automatically with no human intervention. Such features enable a dynamic two-way interaction between providers and customers, instead of a static virtual queue that often results in waiting room bottlenecks.
Abbassi said he understands that times are hard for everybody, but he believes that each of us must do our best to be for others the grace that we pray for and wish onto ourselves. He urges decision-makers in health care organizations to reach out to Sentinel 24 so his company can do their part to help.
“Currently blood banks throughout the US are struggling as donors have drastically declined. Mostly because people are afraid to come and wait in line too long and get infected while donating. So that’s why, we would like to let the people in organizations that manage those banks know that they can reach out to us at Sentinel 24, where we have a special program to help with our software, Non-profit organizations such as theirs. We will be more than happy to accommodate them, wherever they are operating in the world, and make the donation easier and faster than it was pre-COVID. It is essential that blood bank supplies are prevented from collapsing because despite COVID, life is going on and the whole healthcare system depends on them to provide effective care,” said Abbassi.
Feature photo from @adriendlf