Chronic illness platform created by University alum wins international award

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Courtesy of Shep Doniger
Sunday, January 8, 2017 - 6:05pm

Find Your Ditto, a project created by a University of Michigan alum and a current student in the School of Public Health, began as an entry into a University-sponsored entrepreneurial competition. The project has evolved since then and last month, it was awarded the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award at the Innovation Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

FYD is a mobile platform which creates support groups for people with the same chronic illnesses living in the same area. The platform, while still in the works, aims to relieve people with chronic illness of common feelings of depression and loneliness.

Co-founders Brianna Wolin, who graduated from the University in April 2016, and Parisa Soraya, a candidate for a Master in Health Informatics at the School of Public Health, began working together after Soraya reached out to University students on Facebook. She was looking for individuals living with chronic illnesses to talk about what they perceived as their greatest management struggle. Wolin responded to Soraya’s post.

“I personally live with Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease,” Wolin said. “I’m pretty much an open book and I wanted to see what she was interested in.”

Soraya reached out later to Wolin and informed her of an annual competition sponsored by the Public Health School called Innovation in Action, which encourages Michigan students to create projects to address real-world problems.

After graduating from Michigan in April, Wolin submitted the project for the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award, which strives to award patient entrepreneurs that have created projects that advance the care of diabetes.

Lyfebulb founder Karin Hehenberger, the award’s creator, commended Wolin for her simple idea that appealed to many patients.

“Four individuals picked Brianna (Wolin), the youngest person, a spunky girl — it was incredible,” she said.

The award attracted applications from more than 100 people from 15 different countries. Ten applicants, including Wolin, were chosen to attend the Innovation Summit hosted by Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen. At the conference, the applicants first pitched their ideas to entrepreneurs, then to a patient panel, which ultimately picked Wolin as the winner.

“Winning the award really meant that I took a circumstance given to me without an option and that I was able to turn it around into something that is impactful to others,” Wolin said. “People are finally taking a moment to realize the mental health impact of chronic illness.”

For Wolin, winning the award highlighted the importance of FYD for individuals with chronic illness. When Soraya graduates from the University with her master’s, Wolin is hopeful that the project can continue to be impactful. In the meantime, Wolin will continue to work on launching the project.  

“My work on FYD grew out of absolute need that I felt going to a university where it’s easy sometimes to feel alone,” she said. “You need to leverage what’s available until the next thing comes around. I promise to bring Find Your Ditto as soon as possible.”

LSA freshman Sari Grossman currently lives with Crohn's disease. Grossman joined the Crohn's and Colitis Student Initiative at the beginning of her freshman year, and affirmed the need to have connections with people with similar experiences.

“I have been able to meet people who had similar experiences, but also very different ones from me, Grossman said. “(FYD) would be really beneficial for a lot of people that are in the club on campus, or this is their first time talking about their illness. It will be a really great first step for people."