Jacson Fressatto, 40, is the founder of the artificial intelligence health platform Laura and CEO of its nonprofit arm, Instituto Laura Fressatto. He is based in Curitiba, Brazil. Fressatto built and launched Laura after leaving behind a career as an independent consultant for corporate security, compliance, and fraud investigation.

Opportunity in grief

Laura works as a virtual assistant, gathering and cross-referencing a patient’s lab tests and clinical data. It tells the doctors, “You have 300 people under your care, but check these five first.”

Laura is the name of my first daughter. In 2010, I was dating her mother when we found out about the pregnancy, and I was excited to learn that I was going to be a father. Everything was fine until the 21st week, when an exam showed that the baby had stopped growing. The doctors recommended terminating the pregnancy, but we refused.

Laura was delivered at 29 weeks, at the time, the smallest baby to be born in Curitiba. She was in intensive care doing well, all things considered, but on the 18th day, she passed away from sepsis. What was I to do with my grief? 

I started volunteering at the two hospitals where Laura’s medical team worked. At first I wanted to find out who was to blame for her death. But soon I learned that no one was responsible. Everyone did their best. And I started to study, really study hard, to understand what had happened. I subscribed to medical journals, because I didn’t know anything about health care. I investigated the hospitals’ processes and how they worked, the challenges they faced, and I saw that all issues converged on a single problem: information management. 

Patient data was collected but kept separated and fragmented. The team manually gathered the information to make treatment decisions. There was a real opportunity to improve the system, and it became clear that artificial intelligence was the way to do it. 

Location:Curitiba, Brazil
Founders:Jacson Fressato, Cristian Rocha
Investment stage:Seed

Persuading the nuns

When I started working on the project, back in 2011, AI technology was still in its infancy. I developed the algorithms, worked on some models, and created a prototype. In 2014, I started working on it full time and sold everything I had: my house, my car, my Harley-Davidson. (The bike was the hardest thing to part with.)

I spent two million reais [$360,000] out of my own pocket. I was so broke that I had to get lunch and dinner at the local Hare Krishna temple. My friends and family thought I was crazy; they started turning away from me. I spent a few Christmases, New Years, and birthdays all alone. I couldn’t explain what I was doing, and meanwhile, people just went on with their lives.

I met my co-founder, Cristian Rocha, in 2016, in a forum for hacktivists here in Curitiba. He has a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, and he elevated what I had done to the state of the art. He is now Laura’s CEO. That same year, we placed the software in a local hospital — owned by nuns. They understood that the prototype needed to be evaluated in a real-world environment. The platform has been in use there ever since.

Since then, Laura has been installed in 32 other institutions, with no need for tech upgrades or big workflow changes. The platform employs all the protocols and resources that the hospital already uses. We say it has saved 24,000 lives: That number comes from the medical records of patients who had at least one alert from Laura that resulted in an intervention, such as a dose of antibiotics.

The Covid-19 pivot

When the coronavirus situation became serious in Brazil, we were ready. Within two weeks, we produced a chatbot to be used in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. It asks the same questions any health care professional would and continues monitoring patients at home. If symptoms get worse, the platform sends a message, and a team checks in with the person. 

This new ER triage platform is available to any interested Brazilian cities and hospitals. We are partnering with the government to bring it to the national hospital system and to reach the state level. 

When you’re working with health data, there’s a whole range of security issues you need to address. We only keep patients’ hospital bed and registration numbers. Only the hospital has their names. Privacy is also in part why we weren’t in Brazil’s national health care system until earlier this year. How do you integrate with that public data? We are now working to comply with data-privacy laws, such as Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados [LGPD], the United States’ HIPAA, and the European Union’s GDPR. 

We have 40 people working in the company, and we are still funding it out of our own pockets. We’re looking for investors. 

Now I have five children in my life. From my first marriage, I have a boy, who is 8 years old. After that I had a little girl with a girlfriend, and she’s now 3. And my fiancée’s girls, my two stepdaughters, are 9 and 7. And of course there’s Laura, who is not physically with us, but lives on, in a different interface.