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Long Journey in Healthcare: Canadian Entrepreneurs Matthew Sappern and Emily Hamilton of PeriGen (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 1st 2015

Perigen is an amalgamation of a couple of different companies. This story relates how the entrepreneurs navigated a long journey.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by telling us a little bit about your personal background. I’d like to do that with both of you since you are co-founders.

Matthew Sappern: Just for clarity’s sake, Emily developed this technology. I was brought in by the Board a number of years ago to essentially restart this company.

Sramana Mitra: I see. Emily is the founder.

Matthew Sappern: One of the initial founders, and the developer of the core technology.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with Emily. Tell us a little bit about where you were born, raised, and in what kind of background. Bring us up to this Perigen story.

Emily Hamilton: You don’t know how old I am. It’s going to take a while. I’m from Canada. I was born in a fairly remote area of Canada. I’ll skip forward to about 25 years when I went to medical school at McGill. That was a giant step for me. You can imagine a small girl from the country and suddenly in an internationally-acclaimed school. I knew that was the beginning of something very big. I finished medical school in ‘75, and was one of the Gold Medal recipients of the final year. I went into obstetrics. I wanted to be a surgeon but there were very few women in surgery in those days. Obstetrics was very appealing to me. I saw the potential of that to have a very wide impact because, unlike some diseases where a small fraction of the population will have that disease, with obstetrics, about 80% of women will have children. It was very interesting for me from a public health point of view. I just found that topic absolutely fascinating.

When I finished, I became a faculty member at McGill. McGill had an overriding principle that if you want to succeed, you must be world-class. I came in contact with a lot of people who had world-class expertise. I think partly due to my father’s background in construction, I was always tinkering and always trying to find a way to do things better. That led to can we do things better in obstetrics? Being at a university where I had access to people who could approach problems in different ways, it was a really highly synergistic combination. I was very interested in the progress of labor and all things related to the delivery of healthy babies. I had explored a number of ways to do that better. We had very crude rules of thumbs that we apply to assess labor progress.

While I was thinking about this and exploring, some things worked and some things didn’t. McGill was watching Harvard Business Partners very carefully and how they were commercializing some of the results of their professor’s research. At the same time, the government was trying to stimulate knowledge-based industries. McGill took advantage of that. They offered a program that brought in a lot of research money. I was successful in competing for that. That allowed me to put together a multi-disciplinary team. The timing was perfect. I tried many things that didn’t work. I knew what I thought would work. It would take concerted effort by quite a number of people, and then this opportunity for funding arose just at the right time.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Long Journey in Healthcare: Canadian Entrepreneurs Matthew Sappern and Emily Hamilton of PeriGen
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