Hackathon project mirrors courage, accelerates progress in the Microsoft Garage Residency

The project team of epilepsy data tracking app “MirrorHR” finds success and support in a Residency with The Garage.

For seven years, Microsoft’s Hackathon has sparked new opportunities and given employees the creative space to champion innovative solutions and ideas that can make a difference and solve critical problems. MirrorHR is here to accomplish just that, to achieve a vast mission of helping families cope with the daily hardships brought on by epilepsy. One employee’s personal story inspired a group of worldwide employees to collaborate on the MirrorHR project during the Microsoft Global Hackathon, a project further cultivated in The Microsoft Garage Residency program, where core members of the MirrorHR team worked on it full-time for a dedicated six months in true startup fashion. MirrorHR is a working app providing support to manage the challenges that families living with epilepsy experience.

Mario holding the hands of his parents

Mario walking with his parents Francesca and Roberto

Meet Mario

Francesca Fedeli and Roberto D’Angelo are the co-founders of FightTheStroke, a nonprofit founded in 2014 that supports the cause of young stroke survivors and children with cerebral palsy, like their son, Mario. He was born in 2011 and ten days after his birth, Mario experienced a perinatal stroke on the right side of his brain. According to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy also develop epilepsy. The nonprofit created the MirrorHR project and, since Roberto is a Microsoft employee, he brought the idea to the Microsoft Global Hackathon. With the help of employees during Hackathon, and six months in the Residency program, MirrorHR was brought to life as a mobile app solution called “MirrorHR – Epilepsy Research Kit.” Its prime focus is to help struggling families and caregivers of children who suffer from seizures related to epilepsy.

FightTheStroke.org gathers and shares the experiences of families living with epilepsy, as a result of stroke and cerebral palsy. Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by unpredictable seizures that impacts millions of people and their families. Mario’s parents never gave up hope. With countless nights of exhaustion, they were determined to build solutions to improve their son’s quality of life. They wanted to mirror a normal life for Mario, themselves, and their family. For families with young children living with epilepsy, the anxiety of their child experiencing nighttime seizures robs parents of their sleep and peace of mind. On a 24-hour basis, families are concerned with trips to the emergency room from seizures that could potentially have lasting damage and trauma.

Hackathon sparks collaboration and passion for a cause

The Microsoft Global Hackathon fosters a culture of innovation and creates opportunities to build solutions that empower employees and their customers. The Hackathon paved the way for a simple idea that grew to help families around the world. As the Hackathon was ramping up, so was the MirrorHR team. After researching and interviewing many families, the MirrorHR team found a common sense of hopelessness and the feeling of being alone. A recurring theme was that connecting with others created a culture of learning together and coming up with solutions that benefit the patients.

The knowledge each family has is immense and the data they provide can complement and improve a doctor’s ability to be effective. Doctors treat the symptoms of epilepsy through medication, while the families have the daily routine of observation and understanding the condition. This gap of knowledge is where technology like the MirrorHR app connects all groups directly by aggregating structured and unstructured data.

The technology

MirrorHR app on smartwatch and smartphones

MirrorHR app running on several smart phones and a smart watch

MirrorHR uses artificial intelligence in Microsoft Azure to capture, process, and monitor telltale data for potential seizures. Instead of hovering over their children at night, parents can go to bed knowing that they have an “early warning system” to help them intervene as soon as possible.

The MirrorHR nighttime monitoring and video diary solution is a mobile app connected to a wearable device (like a smart watch) that sends alerts when anomalous heart rate activity occurs, which may indicate the start of a seizure. These alerts prompt the caretaker to help the child by administering medication and providing support. The video diary solution tracks daily routines for personalized care. By intervening more quickly, caretakers can help preempt trauma and avoid trips to the hospital emergency room while being able to share more valuable insight with doctors and change their behaviors to mitigate potential triggers.

As the work grew, many stakeholders started to get involved. Dr. Gabriel Variane, a Brazilian Neonatologist, said, “Keeping a diary with biometric and anecdotal information, tracking and monitoring what is happening at home, will help doctors to better diagnose and improve the wellbeing of patients with epilepsy.”

Microsoft Garage Residency program accelerates development

Considering all their tenacity and ingenuity, the MirrorHR project team never imagined winning the Microsoft Global Hackathon, let alone being the 2019 grand-prize winner. Their win expanded their vision and efforts as Microsoft gave four significant and hardworking members of the team six months in The Garage Residency program to realize their mission. The time in Residency allowed them to focus on testing, trials, growth, and further quantifying their goals. The Residency was an opportunity for the team to experiment and experience a full product lifecycle in a safe environment.

Even before the pandemic, the team had been working across borders and time zones. The core members had not met each other until after they won the Hackathon grand prize. When it came time for the Residency, their bond grew stronger as they collaborated online, leveraging Teams to synchronize their work and strengthen partnerships with the families and neurologists along their journey.

Ed Essey is the Director of The Garage Residency program. He has worked with numerous diverse and intrapreneurial teams to move projects forward. Whether it’s securing a sponsorship to make a product real, releasing experimental apps to customers, or helping teams find the right home or market for their ideas to take root and flourish, Ed has deep knowledge of how to work like a successful startup and build something quickly that meets a need. Experimenting, trying new things, failing fast and learning in weekly sprints may sound chaotic, but in that process lies a method to success, a method which Ed has used to coach teams to achieve their goals.

“We know that any new project or idea like this one that has impact deserves dedicated time for people to work on it because there’s so much complexity,” Ed remarked. “The Garage Residency was a way for the team to work 100% on this but still have their day job to return to after six months. Their managers agreed that it’d be a good opportunity for them and for Microsoft to invest in their talents.”

The Residency began with a week dedicated to chartering, or, getting everyone on the same page about what they know, what their shared vision and goals are, and the values and principles that guide them. Who are the stakeholders, and what technology would they need? What problems or roadblocks did they face?

Ed described their rhythm of working geared towards de-risking the project to give it the best chance at success. “We used agile planning practices to decompose goals into what we believed would be the main things needed to be done to accomplish them.” The team would break their work down into pieces, and every week they would revisit where they were in their goals, what happened to get there, and what they needed next. A project can have layers of ambiguity with an infinite number of things a team can do, and it can be overwhelming. Having a straightforward method to follow allows teams to focus on what to do next.

“I also think the method, especially the liftoff, helped a team of four people from different backgrounds, become a team faster,” said Ed. “It got them all to connect with each other on the things they value, and the team never shied away from talking about what mattered or calling out when something could be better. They formed a deep trust in each other and were stronger because of it.”

MirrorHR hackathon project team photo

MirrorHR’s Hackathon project team, from left to right: Mervin Johnsingh, Michael Schmidt, Jessica Glago, Maki Roggers, Jacopo Mangiavacchi, Ricardo Wagner, Roberto D’Angelo, Pritika Mehra, Robert Brais, Scott Thompson, Jun Taek Lee, Joel Gillespie, Angie Maddox, Juan Sepulveda. Not pictured: Aditya Singh, Akansha Gawade, Alessandro Bigi, Aroma Mahendru, Devagnanam Jayaseelan, Elena Terenzi, Giuseppe Martinelli, Guenda Sciancalepore, Hervi Icban, Melike Ceylan, Mikayla Jones, Neil Gat, Rui Xia, Spencer Morris, Scott Kivitz

The methods applied in the Garage Residency are borrowed from lean startup, agile engineering, and design thinking, but the magic is in how they are weaved together and applied in the context of working in an enterprise setting. “That same method we’ve been using with other Hackathon teams to move their projects forward, we’ve now made it available to all employees at Microsoft,” Ed explained. “Having a method that the team can align to is only half the equation. It’s also having the right people work on the project. Each member working on MirrorHR has a deep passion and motivation for creating something that will help families.”

At the core of their mission is an approach focused on empathy, which creates the conditions to develop grassroots healthcare that benefits everyone. Families are at the center of everything the team does. Each data point has a person behind it, a candid experience shared, a unique challenge to overcome. The team discovered that some who were trying the MirrorHR app on their Apple watches kept opening the clasp and taking it off in the middle of the night. One child would play with their hands so the device had to be worn on their ankle. Another had sensitive skin. It’s these kind of things that teams need to learn by deeply connecting with individuals.

Learning from the lives of caretakers and patients of epilepsy brings a new dimension of knowledge. Data from the app provide a more meaningful and informative conversation as insights and the exchange of information can help save the next life. A child’s data is sensitive, so families are the decision-makers on how private their child’s data should be. In certain cases, only doctors and researchers have access to data as it may reside within certain databases critical to patient care and study.

Get involved

MirrorHR.orgWhile the team’s time in the Garage Residency has come to an end, the work is not over. Nonprofit FightTheStroke still needs help raising awareness and increasing trials that can incubate new solutions.

Does your child have epilepsy? Do you know someone with epilepsy? FightTheStroke announced a public trial that is seeking families living with epilepsy to participate in their mobile app trial study. Visit www.MirrorHR.org to learn about and join the limited trial.

To continue their efforts and inspire new innovators, the MirrorHR team had a chance to share their story and perspective. Watch their story here.

To learn more about Roberto D’Angelo and Francesca Fedeli’s journey, check out their TED Talk from 2013, In our baby’s illness, a life lesson and also their book “Fight and Smile” published by Sperling & Kupfer in 2015.

MirrorHR welcomes and appreciates any help from donors and investors that are willing to support this project. Please kindly reach out to Roberto.DAngelo@microsoft.com.