Canadian startup Arkangel AI taps into Cloud tech to remotely detect disease in seconds—including COVID-19
Jose Zea was studying urban design and architecture at McGill University in 2018 when his grandfather was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, forcing him to pause his master’s degree in Montreal to travel back to his native Colombia. Doctors told Jose’s family that if they had seen his grandfather six months earlier, he could have lived four more years—and that the delay in treatment was due to caregivers missing a crucial line of text in his medical records, which had been kept in a disorganized physical folder. After further research, Jose was shocked to learn that even in a first-world country like the United States, 40 percent of annual deaths from each of five leading causes are preventable. Jose saw that diagnostics and streamlined infrastructure could save lives around the world; in his words, “early detection means the difference between life and death for all of us.”
Determined to change the system, Jose teamed up with his friends Elias Gómez and Laura Velásquez—all under the age of 30—to launch Arkangel AI, a SaaS platform that helps health care organizations quickly detect diseases in order to make faster decisions, optimize protocols, decrease cost, and increase care reach. Leveraging artificial intelligence and deep learning, Arkangel AI collects medical images and combines them with their proprietary algorithms to identify up to 19 medical pathologies in just a few seconds. The results are 20 times faster, 10 times more scalable, and five times more cost-effective than traditional diagnoses—and, most importantly, 95% accurate. Arkangel AI also allows caregivers in remote parts of the world, such as the Amazon, to access diagnostic tools offline and share scans, charts, or other data through AI platforms when they are able to connect to the internet. Arkangel’s AI algorithms are purposefully designed to be lightweight in order to avoid any server issues in remote communities. “Since Arkangel lives on the cloud, we can deploy it to anyone, anywhere,” says Jose. “We want to provide more accessible and affordable access to healthcare for everyone.”
Jose and his team worked tirelessly to build their life-saving software, sometimes even opting to sleep in airports if hotel rooms were too expensive to help curb costs. The onset of COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020 spurred telehealth and remote patient monitoring adoption across the world, with 36 percent of the US consumers now using telehealth to replace healthcare visits. Arkangel AI’s software-as-a-service model not only empowered caregivers to diagnose COVID-19 remotely but also deliver better health outcomes for all their patients at a social distance. Arkangel AI’s scalable and streamlined solution led to a significant—and rapid—growth in the company. Between launching in July and the end of 2020, Arkangel AI detected diseases in 1684 patients across 55 health centers in Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay, saving 11,396 hours in manpower and USD $160.361 in healthcare—but they needed help to reach their goal of scaling across South America.
In order to expand quickly and meet growing demand, Jose and the Arkangel team applied to the inaugural Google for Startups Accelerator: Canada, a three-month program for seed to Series A Canadian technology startups. In addition to virtual mentorship and technical project support, the team took advantage of deep dives and workshops focused on product design, customer acquisition, and leadership development for founders. In addition to running their company on Google Workspace, they made a full transition to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) during the program. By leveraging GCP-native solutions, Arkangel AI was able to cut its Application & ML Processing time in half, leading to a significant increase in overall customer satisfaction. “The technical aspects of the program were something we couldn’t find elsewhere,” says Jose. “With GCP we found incredible tools that are available to support all of our workflows—from model training, serving, deploying, and even storing our main application—which have been our allies in providing predictions of preventable diseases at scale."
But Jose didn’t just learn about Google products during the Canada Accelerator—he also found a renewed sense of community and inspiration. “Google for Startups Accelerator created this mentality that we all had the ability to grow on a global scale,” remembers Jose. “There was a mentality that it could be done and it was just a matter of giving it a shot. We got excited around the vision of taking the product beyond Colombia.” And despite initial hesitations, the team never felt like they missed out on valuable camaraderie by participating remotely; if anything, the flexibility empowered his team to be two places at once. “The virtual aspect was great because it allowed us to work directly from where our users are, Colombia, which wouldn't have been possible if the Accelerator was in-person,” says Jose. “It allowed us to work with more mentors from all over the world while still talking to our clients in the Amazon.”
With the support of the Google for Startups community and their Accelerator cohort, the Arkangel team is ready to take on 2021. They’re raised $65,000 USD since completing the program, which they plan to apply towards their five-year vision of scaling across South America and working on diagnostic tools for tuberculosis and skin diseases such as skin cancer. “Our first goal is to impact 300 million people,” says Jose. “From there, we’ll scale until the day we can say that no one on Earth has a preventable disease.”