Grace Castillo-Soyao, 53, is founder and chief executive of Toronto-based Self Care Catalysts, a health-care analytics firm giving patients power through data and intelligence.
My parents were 16 and 18 when they had me, in Lucena, Philippines. I couldn’t imagine how two teenagers could raise six children; all professionals. I’m the eldest. I have one, always worried I’d raise my child properly, so thought it a remarkable achievement for my parents. Mom became an entrepreneur after raising us and successfully sold her business. Much of how I came to be can be ascribed to DNA.
I had few friends, very much an introvert. I’m a curious person; I read, learn and translate it into something to solve a problem. I’d read biographies and memoirs of successful people and imagined being one. I wanted to be a lawyer, went into economics, got bored … went into tourism, got bored … statistics, computer science – my dad said to graduate so my siblings could go to school. I got a [bachelor of science], University of the Philippines. When I was a marketing director, I started an MBA but was drawn more to my career, so instead got a strategic business economics certificate.
Work always took pre-eminence. I worked for multinational companies in marketing and management. I was going to be sent to [a] U.S. head office but just bought a house, gave birth – thinking of my husband’s career. I was headhunted for a role in Manila, got to engage in joint ventures, big deals, travelled Asia – one of my favourite jobs. It allowed me to go to Wharton School’s executive development program.
I liked negotiation [class] but didn’t do well because, in forecasting what the other party is trying to do, I think everyone has the same noble objectives. I’d take the other party’s statements hook, line and sinker without any sense of cynicism or skepticism.
I came to Canada December, 2000, to work; in 2014 started a health technology company. Entrepreneurism is much harder than being a corporate executive with large teams, money, existing products and templates.
Different companies developed different apps for different diseases; one for heart failure, one for diabetes. We created an integrated, customizable platform. If someone also has lung cancer it delivers unique tools for all those conditions or proclivities, connecting patients and providers to track health. With access to more information, ‘Dr. Google’ and online communities learning from each other, gone are the days when patients only go to doctors who tell them about disease and treatment.
The most significant benefit is everything about patients’ health is in one place. Why don’t we have our own health reports? Why is it locked inside physicians’ offices? If you want to participate in research, tell us; we connect you to studies. Patient-reported outcomes are critical, the Citizen Science movement combining real-world evidence – data generated for scientists and analysts – with the rigour of science for better decisions and solutions.
Health Storylines is a collection of what happens to you every minute using the app that a patient can share with doctors, a powerful trigger for more productive conversations. Storylines can be used by scientists, like a factory of facts. You participate in navigating your health, it’s better for doctors because between clinical visits they don’t know what happens. Our tool collects all that, currently for more than 53,000 people. We’re launching the first document patients – owners – can transform into a PDF and share with physicians and the health-care system, driving people to be more pro-active about their health.
We talk about privacy, yet people are open to sharing – they go on Facebook, Instagram. There is opaqueness [for a company] because of competitive advantage, but patients are driving their health care because they decide to be transparent, share data if they can leave a legacy to other patients and if transparency will help improve their own care.
I’ve been privileged to work with companies that gave me a lot of latitude and were generous because I invested in myself and my work. I worked hard, looking at companies as mine. That advice I give to staff. I go to work every day feeling I’m being paid a million bucks because I enjoy my job. For an immigrant to build a company helping to transform health care by data transparency driving care is actually quite cool.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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