By David Hamilton
If any doubt existed about innovation in Kentucky, look no further than Riya Shah, who while navigating high school developed a pregnancy-health-monitoring technology and stair-stepped it through multiple Team Kentucky programs to commercialize and market her company’s product.
Shah, a rising senior at North Oldham High School in Goshen, Ky., is the president of Fetal Life LLC, a tech company she founded as a 15-year-old freshman. In March, the budding entrepreneur received a patent for the portable smart uterine contraction monitoring device she designed and developed. Expecting mothers can use the device and the myFetalLife smart pregnancy tracking app to receive care remotely, make informed decisions and manage their pregnancy outcomes.
To propel her startup, Shah used multiple state and partner programs designed for small businesses, exporters and tech entrepreneurs. Through KY Innovation, an office in the Cabinet helping Kentucky’s startups and small businesses succeed, Shah received assistance through the Kentucky Innovation Investment Program (KIIP), which offers help with outreach, recruitment, analysis, expert grant writing services and post-grant management.
Last fall, the company received a $4,000 KIIP micro-Grant to help commercialize and conduct market research. The micro-Grant enabled Fetal Life to develop a marketing video and land its first customer. Also, the company leveraged KIIP’s grant-writing assistance, leading to an application in April to the National Institutes of Health for a competitive SBIR/STTR grant.
In February Shah received a $10,000 grant through the Cabinet-administered State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), an initiative to help companies establish and grow their international exports. Qualifying companies can use STEP grants of up to $10,000 to cover or lower the costs of international trade missions, sales trips and subscription services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Additionally, STEP funds can assist companies with export trade show exhibit costs, training workshops, travel expenses, translation services and product compliance testing.
Shah conceived the idea for Fetal Life after learning of the difficulties her mother faced while pregnant with her. Shah’s mom experienced multiple false contractions causing unnecessary doctor visits and even a hospital visit. These stories inspired Shah to create affordable technology helping women measure their contractions and use that information to make better-informed decisions. She subsequently filed for multiple patents for related medical devices, including the recently approved tracker as well as a smart fetal heart rate monitoring device, and raised funding from several angel investors.
The Kentucky teen’s innovative idea developed into a valuable tool for both expecting mothers and nurses to manage pregnancies remotely. That benefit held great value in normal times, but as the novel coronavirus pandemic spurred shutdowns across the globe and telehealth rose to the forefront like never before, Fetal Life’s potential became even more apparent.
“From the start, our goal has been to create a portable and affordable contraction monitoring device that can be used in clinical and non-clinical settings by expecting mothers to manage their pregnancy outcomes,” Shah said. “Our telemonitoring platform is already a game-changer for expecting mothers who geographically require remote care, but what we didn’t anticipate was that telehealth would become the global norm this spring in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. In these days of self-quarantine and social distancing when most OB/GYN offices are trying to provide as much care as possible via telemedicine, we can engage our Nurse Telemonitoring feature in the myFetalLife application, along with effective use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, to provide further guidance and help monitor expectant mother health.”
Since late 2018, when Riya launched the myFetalLife mobile app, the company has partnered as a collaborator with the American Pregnancy Association (APA). Today, the app has been endorsed by the APA and has registered over 30,000 users from 140 countries. It allows users to monitor and track their weight, blood pressure and fetal heart rate, while also featuring medication management and meal recommender tools, and educational materials like weekly baby growth information and an AI chatbot that uses patent-pending algorithms.
“Based on the strong customer response, we are excited to continue to introduce new features to help pregnant mothers better manage their health during pregnancy,” Shah said. “To meet telehealth and other changing needs, we are committed to keeping the app relevant and always at the forefront of the market.”
Shah embodies the entrepreneurial spirit found in many of Kentucky’s brightest young minds, and the state’s efforts to cultivate this spirit have played a role in her story. In addition to participating in the aforementioned programs, Shah also took part in the 2019 Kentucky Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs, a competitive summer program where high school student teams develop a business model, design a prototype and pitch their startup to a large audience and panel of judges. She also participated in the University of Louisville’s LaunchIt Entrepreneurship Training program, a 10-week lean start-up training course with coaching to help develop her pitch and validate customer interest.
With all these accomplishments in hand, Shah is now preparing for college. She plans to continue growing her business while attending Georgia Tech, which awarded her a full-ride Stamps President’s Scholarship, offered annually to the top 1% of the university’s first-year students.
To learn more about Kentucky’s SBIR/STTR related programs, click here. For more information on exporting and the STEP program, visit this page. The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs is online at www.kentuckygse.com. Additional information on the LaunchIt program is available here.