Women Entrepreneurs: Lonnie Kurlander & Celina Ansari, Founders of Parzival

Look no further for women power than with the groundbreaking company, Parzival.  The company was imagined by two women in the medical field who had the same vision – to create something that would improve learning and medical practice.

Lonnie Kurlander and Celina Ansari, MD met while they were research partners at Stanford University.  While researching they soon discovered the large amount of time wasted sifting through searches. “I was overwhelmed by the quantity of resources and by the differences in accuracy of those resources,” said Kurlander.

Ansari said that the inefficient searches ate up their time in more than one way, “It took two to three days to train our interns on how to do literature searches because there is just so much information out there.”

The time lost to database searches was the inspiration for their product, software that would more efficiently organize resources and accuracy of content.

They talked to their now engineer and co-founder, Glenn Willen, a former employee of Google, about how to create a search engine that would only present relevant data that is validated by other doctors in the field.

Another co-founder of Parzival, Tim Peck MD, a Harvard-affiliate emergency medicine chief resident, began showing it to his peers in the program.

“Within a couple of weeks we had people from Stanford using it, University of California San Francisco using it, University of Texas Austin, and now today we found out that it’s used internationally in Istanbul, India, the Netherlands, and Pakistan,” said Ansari, “It’s been pretty amazing how it’s grown.”

However, their journey hasn’t always been smooth.  Lonnie says in her first year at medical school when she suggested that the search could be done better, “They laughed at me.”

Kurlander had some difficulties starting a business venture as a woman in the medical field.  She said that some didn’t take her seriously, and even other women put her down.   “I’ve had other female entrepreneurs tell me that I needed to slick my hair back in my photos and look more nerdy because my long, blonde hair would make people second guess me, ” she said, “Luckily, there are a lot of people who don’t think that way.”

Ansari mentions that when she and Kurlander walked into meetings for their product, they sometimes saw surprised faces, “It just makes us work harder and makes us want to earn the respect from our colleagues even more.”

Ansari and Kurlander hope to set an example to other girls who might be interested in any of the STEM subjects.  Ansari wants to spread the message that girls not only can do well in sciences and medicine, but that they can thrive and do innovative things in the field.  “We really need to push girls to believe that they can do it, and they can be the best at it,” Ansari said.

“Celina and I believe that there should be more strong females in the tech sector and in the medical center who are leading the way,” said Kurlander, “We’re really proud to be a part of that movement.”

In order to do well with large business undertakings, Kurlander suggests finding mentors or experts who understand the field.  Kurlander found a mentor in John Polk, a dean at Boston University and one of the first African American cardiac surgeons in America.  “He understands difficulties and has been so wonderful and so supportive,” she said.

Ansari finds strength in mentors and her peers, “Surround yourself with really good people,” she said, “If you have a strong team behind you, you will prevail.”

Kurlander and Ansari also motivate each other, “It’s nice to have two female founders doing a company like this that’s in the heart of tech, and in the heart of medicine,” said Kurlander.

Ansari is proud of her team and the trust that they put into their vision, “It wasn’t just Lonnie taking leave from medical school, it wasn’t just me leaving Stanford, it was four of us willing to put all the stuff we worked hard for on the side to work on this.”  The dedication to their product is what proved their project has been worth it, said Ansari.

So far, the product has shown that the Parzival team has been justified in their conviction.   Kurlander said that leaders in the field around the world saw what they were doing and supported their efforts.

When asked what was her measure of success, Ansari answered, “When you gain the respect of people you really respect, it makes you feel validated.”

Parzival was first offered to emergency medical physicians and has an end goal to reach every medical specialty, so that each community of doctors can have their own relevant search engine.

Parzival is releasing 1,000 additional access codes available to programs around the country.  Follow the link to sign up for a code for your department or for yourself. www.parziv.al  Registration began on Monday, December 9th.

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.