A Founder Faces Cancer

What do you do when you are a woman in Silicon Valley, age 50, and you get a cancer diagnosis?

You start a company, as Tatyana Kanzaveli did. The company is Open Health Network, a drag and drop platform that allows any medical organization, professional or researcher to create a customized mobile app to offer patients in five minutes. Her customers are pharma companies and researchers doing clinical trials, insurance companies or provider networks trying to promote patient engagement, data gathering, analytics and more.

The company received its first funds from angel investors in 2014. Now it works with leading healthcare organizations such as McGill, lung cancer research foundations, the Rare Cancers Research Organization and many others, with the a goal to collect and analyze massive amounts of data across many chronic diseases and impact causation, treatment and outcomes.

I’m not sure Tatyana could have done it if she hadn’t been that now precious commodity, a first-generation immigrant. She came to the US in 1990 with her husband, daughter, and six suitcases, escaping the war going on in Azerbaijan at the time. In her home country, she had worked for the Academy of Sciences, was a chess master, a USSR chess champion, and a teammate of Gary Kasparov.

Arriving in California, she left all that behind, sleeping on a twin bed with her daughter while her husband slept on the floor. For a while, she lived without a TV and the family ate one person at a time using the table from a sewing machine.

However, she was a very decent programmer and in true SV fashion, within a month landed a software development job at a transportation company in Palo Alto. After that, she had an amazing opportunity to work for almost nine years at PricewaterhouseCoopers leading the Global Technology Competency Center for its SAP practice, managing its West Region Technical Resources, and leading technical team of over 60 people at SAP’s largest SAP deployment at Micron.

From there she was recruited to join an amazing startup that changed her mind about what kind of companies she wanted to work at, and she went on to hold executive roles at a number of startups, including CEO, VP of Sales, Marketing, Business Development titles. At the same time, she started hosting TEDxBayArea events.

Not bad for a woman in Silicon Valley. Tatyana was leading the good life. But during her annual physical exam in December 2012, there was an issue with a blood test that led to a terrifying diagnosis early 2013 — colon cancer. That was the trigger for Open Health Network. She received the diagnosis over the phone, alone in her living room, without knowing how to find the resources she would need.

But even before she had surgery, Tatyana pinged a long time friend of hers, Dr Maksim Tsvetovat, asking his help in finding big data experts. After she explained the idea, Max quit his job and joined her as a co-founder.

Fast forward two years and they’ve built a very powerful platform, a Wordpress-like offering for mobile health. Any healthcare organization can develop a custom mobile health applications that will run on any device and in any language within a day without coding.

Age discrimination? Sex discrimination? Tatyana Kanzaveli beat them all as easily as she beat the cancer.