How optiMize helped me turn my passion into impact: an interview with Parisa Soraya, co-founder of Find Your Ditto
Parisa Soraya and her co-founder Brianna Wolin had no idea what they were going to create when they joined optiMize — they just knew they wanted to make life better for people with chronic illnesses. Through the Challenge, they created a social venture called Find Your Ditto that’s now been called one of the “coolest college startups” in the country by Inc magazine.
Parisa spoke with Zoya Gurm, an optiMize student leader, for today’s feature.
Enter Zoya and Parisa.
Zoya: Hi Parisa! Can you tell me a bit about yourself and Find Your Ditto?
Parisa: My name is Parisa Soraya and I’m one of the co-founders of Find Your Ditto, a mobile platform that connects people who share the same chronic conditions for in-person peer-support. I recently graduated from my Master’s in Health Informatics here at U-M.
Just before joining optiMize, I had met my now co-founder, Brianna Wolin. She’s lived with chronic illness her whole life and from her experience as a patient and my academic background in chronic illness healthcare, we decided to join and explore the problem of isolation and loneliness in chronic illness populations.
Participating in the optiMize Challenge helped us refine our ideas. We were ultimately selected to become optiMize Fellows, which gave us the funding to work full-time all summer on Find Your Ditto. Since then, we’ve been growing our business a lot! At the end of this year, we are starting a paid clinical trial at a large Michigan hospital with diabetes patients in the Emergency Department. We are also finalizing a partnership with an international diabetes pharmaceutical company to sponsor access to our platform for patients.
Z: That’s really incredible! How do all of these new accomplishments match up with your original project ideas going into the optiMize Challenge? In other words, how has your project changed throughout your time working on it?
P: During optiMize, we were pushed to really talk to patients and understand the problem from the perspective of the end user. We had no idea what we were going to create. Praveen Loganathan, an optiMize mentor, is actually the one who inspired us to run a pilot of our idea without a fully functioning app.
Z: How did you run your pilot if your app wasn’t finished yet?
P: We just used Google forms to collect information from students with chronic illnesses. We posted all over Facebook asking, “Do you have a chronic illness? Want to meet someone who shares your condition?” As it turned out, hundreds of students signed up and we were able to manually connect most of them to meet for coffee without any fancy technology.
optiMize helped us realize how important it is to take action, test assumptions, and learn from experience. Our pilot helped us demonstrate the value of our peer support model in a really cheap and fast way.
This helped us decide what technology we really needed to scale, which is what we’ve been working on post-optiMize. Our focus is now on creating a sustainable business around our technology so we can impact as many as possible.
Z: What you’re doing is so inspiring! But at the same time, growing a college project into a sustainable business sounds intimidating. What drives you to keep moving forward?
P: It’s definitely challenging. Starting a company requires talking with mentors across every field, receiving a lot of positive and negative feedback, and spending countless hours against a whiteboard trying to figure out what path to take.
But overall, it’s fun to try to solve these problems. It’s incredibly insightful to talk with potential customers from different markets, understanding their asks, and finding a way we can connect our product with their business needs. I think we’ve finally found a model that will work moving forward, and having spent all the time and energy on it makes it all the more gratifying to get here.
Z: We are cheering for you! To wrap up, what is your vision moving forward? If everything goes perfectly, what would you hope to see in 5 or 10 years?
P: We’re starting with diabetes, but in the next 5 years we hope to expand to connect patients with chronic pain, celiac disease and IBD, and then all chronic conditions in 10 years. From there, we hope to then connect beyond patients — such as loved ones and caregivers, who also feel the mental burden of chronic illness in their daily lives.
Our mission statement has stayed the same since our idea started at optiMize: to create a world where no person living with chronic illness ever has to feel alone.
For more information on Parisa or Find Your Ditto, visit FindYourDitto.com. If you’d like to connect with Parisa, contact her with the button below or email her at [email protected].
And if you enjoyed this interview, you can find more optiMize Fellow stories on our Instagram@socialinnovators.
Thanks for reading!