Please introduce our readers to your company and team members.
Our company, Naima Health, was spun out of CMU and the Pitt. The flagship product of our company, the MyHealthyPregnancyTM mobile health platform, is designed to help identify and intervene on preventable pregnancy risks related to preterm birth. The platform comprises a patient-facing smartphone app and a provider-facing portal that is integrated with the electronic health record.
There are three co-founders of our company and we all played a role in inventing the foundational IP and developing the MyHealthyPregnancy tool. I am a behavioral scientist and faculty member in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Pitt. Professor Alex Davis does work in applied statistics and is a faculty member in the Engineering & Public Policy Department at CMU and Dr. Hy Simhan is an expert in maternal-fetal medicine and the Executive Vice Chair, Obstetrics at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.
What is one pleasant surprise that you have found as a new company or group of entrepreneurs?
It was our hope, when we spun out our company, that we would be able to scale and have an impact in a way that would have been less speedy or certain if we had remained as only an academic pursuit. We are currently engaged in a large-scale beta test at UPMC with over 5,000 patients. Even though it was our hope, it has still been a pleasant surprise to see how quickly we could have an impact on patient health and wellbeing. For example, we have seen considerable engagement in our product among patients that are often underserved or at higher risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we were also able to quickly embed symptom assessment and triaging communications to help assist pregnant people in their care decision making.
What is one piece of advice or wisdom you would like to share with other academic researchers who are interested in innovating and commercialization in digital health?
The SBIR program has been incredible in supporting our time in developing our technology and in ensuring that it is aligned with our internal company philosophy, without the pressure of outside investment. Academic researchers already have the skills to successfully pursue these grants and I would strongly recommend them as a first step before seeking other types of external funding.
Can you point to any sources of support (e.g., advisors, mentors, funding, etc.) that were pivotal in your journey so far?
The folks at CMU’s Tech Transfer office, like Reed McManigle, and absolutely everyone at CMU’s Center for Machine Learning and Health (CMLH) have been so helpful in offering guidance and support in getting started. Joe Marks (former Executive Director of the CMLH) helped connect us to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who recently funded us to do some international pregnancy risk prediction and intervention research. During our beta testing of MyHealthyPregnancy, the UPMC Magee-Womens health service line clinicians and staff have also been fantastic to work with and learn from. I’ve also been personally lucky to have some strong female mentors at Pitt, like Drs.’ Doris Rubio and Sonya Borrero, who have championed me to follow my entrepreneurial pursuits and helped talk through how I can balance the practical implementation of a product with my professional passion for sexual and reproductive health equity. In fact, at our Pitt’s Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation, we are now beginning to offer services and support to other researchers who are interested in building Femtech tools.
Can you point to any takeaways or experiences from your PHDA project that impact your company today?
Our regular meetings with UPMC-Enterprises, as part of the PHDA project experience, helped us to see the potential that our academic research had to positively affect maternal health through a commercial pathway. If we hadn’t received funding through PHDA but had instead taken a more traditional academic funding route, we may not have spun out at all.
Please note that UPMC has a financial interest in Naima Health.