Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places — and this was certainly true for Dr. Jas Chahal (GEMBA ’16), who was struck with a brilliant business idea during a routine checkup with a patient.
Chahal, an orthopedic surgeon, had returned from a learning module overseas with the Rotman School of Management’s Global Executive MBA Program to find that one of his patients was struggling after a successful surgery.
“The focus on international business and travel opened our eyes to different cultures, industries and trends emerging across the globe.”
—Parag Desai (GEMBA ’16), Co-Founder, Therapia
The patient’s limited strength and mobility, which she was looking to improve through physiotherapy, made it challenging for her to get to the clinic. As she continued to miss more physiotherapy appointments, she set back her recovery considerably and put herself at high risk of injuring herself.
“I could see that this patient, and many others like her, couldn’t seem to access the right care at the right time,” says Chahal. “Suddenly, all those ideas about innovation, entrepreneurship and strategy that had been covered in my MBA classes clicked. I knew there was an opportunity here to build something new and meaningful.”
Shortly after, Chahal and his classmate and long-time friend Dr. Parag Desai (GEMBA ’16) began brainstorming and shaping the concept behind Therapia — an online platform that provides on-demand physiotherapy services.
The platform offers patients a convenient way to find and arrange home appointments with certified physiotherapists. Therapia users can call up patient reviews and information about a provider’s hourly rates, specialty and availability. All payments, clinical notes and scheduling are managed through the system.
Importantly, the platform eliminates the need for physiotherapy patients, who might be dealing with mobility issues brought on by bone and joint disorders, sprains and fractures, to commute to and from the clinic. And appointments can be arranged quickly; a physiotherapist could be at a patient’s door within hours.
Today, the startup, which Chahal and Desai founded with fellow classmates Ambles Kwok (GEMBA ’16) and Luca Fornoni (GEMBA ’16), along with two physiotherapists, serves hundreds of patients across the Greater Toronto Area.
Making the most of their Rotman experience
Developing a startup while completing Rotman’s Global Executive MBA program — which exposes working professionals to the fundamentals of global management, international markets and business trends by holding learning modules in multiple countries — turned out to be an ideal situation.
“The focus on international business and travel opened our eyes to different cultures, industries and trends emerging across the globe,” says Desai, who is also an emergency medicine physician. “We were definitely in the right mindset to conceptualize Therapia and to think through how to bring key aspects of on-demand service to healthcare.”
The two quickly looked for opportunities to gather feedback and advice from fellow classmates and faculty. In fact, Chahal first presented the business case for Therapia as part of a group assignment for his entrepreneurship class.
This initial pitch went extremely well. The panel of experienced venture capitalists, who were serving as advisors for the course, predicted that the idea would attract investors.
“It was reassuring when we saw the idea gain traction in class,” says Fornoni, who worked on the class assignment and was recruited to oversee the group’s financial planning. “We quickly realized that we needed to come together as a team to get the project off the ground.”
Applying their knowledge: launching Therapia
While completing their academic program, and in addition to maintaining full-time jobs, the classmates began developing a business plan and seeking investors.
“It was a busy time, but our passion kept us going,” explains Kwok, who manages the technology underlying the platform. “It’s been exciting to think about how we’re creating a new standard where people can expect care to be coordinated by technology and delivered at home.”
In early May 2016, just a few weeks before convocation, the team officially launched Therapia online.
Since then, the platform’s user base has steadily grown. Recently, the group secured seed funding and, later this year, they plan to bring the service to additional cities. Eventually, they’d like to offer other healthcare services, beyond physiotherapy.
“The goal is to become a leader in healthcare delivery,” explains Desai. “We’re looking for ways to enhance both the patient and practitioner experience while making the best use of technology.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung.