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When Sachin Aggarwal joined the healthtech company a decade ago, established healthcare systems weren’t sold on its value. But, he says, hard work and smart hiring have helped Think Research acquire thousands of clients in North America and Europe

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Brody White/The Globe and Mail

It might seem like quite a leap to move from politics to health care, but for Think Research chief executive officer Sachin Aggarwal, it was a natural move.

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The Toronto native had long been a pro at pivots; he spent his university days as a “science guy” studying biochemistry, went on to earn a law degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA at the Rotman School of Management, then built a thriving career in corporate commercial law at Bay Street firm Torys LLP. He’d always been passionate about politics, so when the opportunity arose to embark on a new chapter of his career as deputy chief of staff for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff, he took it.

In 2010, Aggarwal then joined Think Research, a clinical content and tech company that aims to implement digital health software solutions, as CEO. His innate interest in aid and leadership were a perfect fit, as was his insight into how governments—who are some of the company’s biggest clients—function.

“Our mission is to organize the world’s health knowledge so everyone gets the best care,” he says. “So, it may seem like a big change from politics, but politics is all about public service. You’re thinking about big important things that need to be achieved. And in a country like Canada, there is no bigger thing than health care. We spend more dollars on health care than on anything else.”

Sachin’s best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

Savour your wins

Aggarwal says it’s important to take the highs when they come—because lows are inevitable. "You've got to celebrate with your team when you get a big win, because they're important, they motivate, they get you through those more difficult circumstances,” he says. “For example, when you don't have the cash to meet payroll, when you can't get the attention of investors, when your customers take a long time to sign their contracts. You need the fuel in the tank to make it through those low periods."

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It’s okay to reach out to mentors, industry leaders or even your fellow entrepreneurs to ask for advice. "They want to see you succeed," says Aggarwal.

Have confidence in your skills

If, like Aggarwal, you embody the “Gold-Getter” spirit, and want to change industries, remember that your skills will almost always apply in more than one area. "Don't allow yourself to be pigeonholed," he says. "Skills like leadership, financial capabilities [and] your ability to manage and motivate transcend any one industry, so don't be afraid to jump around, take some risks and enter a new space.

At the time, the team was also small, consisting of just five employees, which to Aggarwal felt like starting at the ground level of a campaign, or, as a former lawyer, like working in little break-out teams.

Getting buy-in from healthcare systems and workers posed a far bigger challenge. A decade ago, health-care systems and workers were resistant to external assistance when it came to making care decisions, providing patients’ medical data and organizing knowledge tools. Think Research’s work was sometimes considered nothing more than “cookbook medicine,” he says—and not in a good way. But he kept his eye on the long-term. (Though even he couldn’t have anticipated a pandemic changing health-care systems everywhere.)

“Ten years ago, I saw a real future where the types of things that we were doing were going to be really central to how health care was delivered,” Aggarwal says. “Fast-forward another 10 years, and it’s obvious to everyone. Just look at this past year, where doctors, hospitals, health-care systems, and governments weren’t able to keep on top of just the one condition that was the most important, that was at the top of the news every single day, and all the changing information.”

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Brody White/The Globe and Mail

Indeed, services like those Think Research provides are now considered essential, and it’s grown to match the demand. The company has amassed over 2,800 client partners in North America and the European Union and over 2.5 million patients worldwide. It went public in December 2020, and made several acquisitions that same year, including of Toronto-based HealthCare Plus and Clinic 360. The company also partnered with the Ontario Psychological Association, offering mental health care at a time when it’s been needed most through its virtual platform.

But Aggarwal stresses that Think Research is not a one-man show—he knows it’s the team that makes the company work.

“In healthcare, we are a mission-driven company, and the people that come to work here believe in that mission,” he says. “Many of them enter healthcare because they want to make a difference. Maybe they’ve had a family member that has gone through a difficult health situation, maybe they themselves have, and they want to spend a meaningful amount of their career giving back. So, the mission matters to them and in return we get a great deal from them and so we nurture that, and remember that our mission always comes first.”

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