Interview Series:  Avril Chester, Founder & CEO, Cancer Central

In our latest interview series we caught up with Avril Chester the Founder & CEO of a new start-up called Cancer Central.

Could you tell me a bit about your organisation?

Cancer Central is a concept born from my own personal experience of breast cancer and launched in October 2018, Cancer Central is a new digital platform created to provide those affected by cancer with the help and support they need during their cancer journey.

The platform combines a database with an innovative conversational search engine to connect people to the products, services and products, when and where they need them. These services include benefits advice, insurance products, counselling, complementary therapy, respite care, hats, wigs, lingerie, skincare, financial help, nutrition advice, local societies or communities, meals on wheels, books, blogs, forums, local hospital taxi services and so on. It’s all based on geographical location and cancer type to provide individualised information.

What is the most significant achievement for your organisation in the past 12 months and what will be over the next 12 months?

From concept to 2nd iteration site with no funding!

Cancer Central is being developed by the community, for the community. We provide everyone who has been affected by cancer with the opportunity to use their skill set to help and support others. We describe this way of working as cominovation (community + innovation).

Subject matter experts have contributed to everything from the ideas, suggestions, design, processes, build, testing, policies, data, and so on.

So far over 20,000 hours from 100+ individuals and 20+ organisations, with major contributions from TechFINIUM and ROQ have been donated to create Cancer Central. This is #TechforGood at its finest. We have partnered with leading corporates such as IBM & American Express and some of the sharpest minds in the tech start-up / SME community.

What problems and challenges are there to overcome?

Knowing who all the businesses, charities and communities are who support those affected by cancer is a challenge. Particularly the very local offering of support, only known by that village or town.

We are constantly looking for help and support to spread the word and ask organisations to register on Cancer Central for free. This way we can signpost people to them in time of need.

What do you think is the biggest technology challenge?

I wouldn’t say it is a challenge, but it is more about trying to correctly handle perception and expectation. Our site is being built with thanks to kindness, this takes time. I readily admit, Ave, your digital assistant is still in diapers. She has a lot to learn, but that is part of the process.

Our primary purpose is to signpost to the support and services available however if somebody asks a cancer question, we wish to help where we can. On this basis we have launched a pilot connecting Ave to the NHS website, she will bring back a small paragraph and link to the page with further information. It currently works for standard questions such as, what is bowel cancer?, but if you explore, what is a mastectomy? for example, this is the next level.

What advice would you give to other organisations or professionals?

For established organisations – You already have a lot of talent and ideas within your departments. If you can encourage people to think outside of their day-to-day role and ask them to contribute to ideation / hackathon / cominovation days, then you will be super surprised at the innovation and possibilities to progress with.

For professionals – Be you and believe in yourself. Ultimately you are the best at being you. Find your strength, build on that. Your enjoyment and passion will increase exponentially as a result.

What is next in your space?

At Cancer Central we work around quarterly themes, right now our theme is, Provide Greater Choice. Over the next few months we have some very exciting new feature workshops, a smarter results hackathon with thanks to CGI, supported by Code Untapped, plus Manchester designathon sponsored by The Data Company, User Conversion and Evouke. Each of these cominovation events are to focus on a specific section of the platform, so that we can provide greater choice to those searching. I cannot wait to see the next iteration implemented.

What are you working on at the moment?

My immediate objectives are to secure social impact investment. This will allow me to recruit a core team and grow the organisation at more pace, in parallel with continuous cominovation.

Thank you to Avril and if you would like to find out more please do so here.