The first time Elsie Amoako pitched Mommy Monitor – a maternal health app aimed at reducing complications for African, Caribbean and Latin American women in North America – people loved the idea. But had some constructive criticism about her presentation.
“I put together this horrible PowerPoint,” she laughs. “It was a bunch of white pages with just black writing.” She had found out about the competition at the last minute, so the presentation had to come together fast. She spent the afternoon fixing her slides for her second pitch that night.
She didn’t win, but she was asked to join the University of Toronto’s Health Innovation Hub (H2i) after the competition.
That first pitch prepared Amoako to put herself forward for the CSI’s 2016 Agents of Change Community Health program. She was in the Middle East when she applied online and was surprised to get a call back saying she had been selected.
Mommy Monitor launches in 2018. It collects personal information from expectant mothers to predict and mitigate any risks. It then creates a maternal care package, including a tailored list of resources.
Amoako calls it a “customized maternal health care experience”.
Mommy Monitor will also connect the mother-to-be with a maternal mentor. This person will serve as a peer mentor and patient navigator. Amoako says that most pregnant women reach out to friends or Facebook groups when they have questions.
“As helpful as it can be it’s also risky,” she says. “You don’t know who you’re getting information from, you don’t know how valid it is,” says Amoako.
“We’re like, OK if we can give you that same friend but they’re trained and they have the proper information to direct you to the right resources, that’s a lot more efficient and effective.”
The mentors will help the women figure out “what the heck is going on”. They will also help their mentees self-advocate within the healthcare system.
Mommy Monitor hopes to match users with someone who is from the same country, and speaks the same language. Amoako says this is an important piece of providing pre- and post-natal care.
“Generalized care isn’t working.”
Amoako is a healthcare researcher with three degrees, including a Masters in Health and Aging. Amoako created Mommy Monitor after learning that African, Caribbean and Latin American women in North America are about four times more likely to experience complications in childbirth. It was also personal.
“These things happen to so many people around me,” she said. “I realized that they had no support and they didn’t even know that there was a problem,” she said.
After finishing her Masters Amoako felt discouraged.
“In the healthcare field, and for academics specifically, we’re likely to write a million and one papers and provide recommendations or create frameworks or guidelines or whatever but there is never really a real effort made to produce a solution,” she said.
She had told the women she interviewed for her thesis that the research would lead to change, but felt as if she had lied.
“That’s when I realized that I had to do more,” she says.
For a year, she explored research and attended health conferences. Then she came up with Mommy Monitor.
The health tech conferences helped the her understand the tech side of things. She also worked with a mentor at H2i to develop a business model.
Amoako had worked at the CSI before for various non-profits. She was excited to join the “amazing community” as an Agent of Change.
Amoako says there are two best parts to being a CSI member. The first is the CSI members list-serv – which she calls “the best thing that’s ever happened to anyone”. The second is the people and the support they’ve offered.
“We have someone who understands and believes in what we’re doing. And is willing to go out of their way to find resources for us,” Amoako says.
The tech startup world is very white and male, and dominated by machine learning and virtual reality. As a Black woman focused on maternal health, Amoako knows she stands out.
“In the tech space, there are a very limited number of Black women,” says Amoako. “So the tech space doesn’t know what to do with them with they do show up.”
For Amoako, the most beautiful part of her work is when she’s surrounded by other Black professionals and innovators. In February, Amoako won the Lion’s Lair Competition at the Black Arts & Innovation Expo 2017, a prize worth $10, 000.
Seeing Black women, specifically, excited about her work assures Amoako her work isn’t in vain.
This past September Amoako attended a conference in Brooklyn called “Decolonized Birth: Addressing Systems of Trauma Through a Collaborative Care Approach”. It blew her mind and changed her life, she says.
Amoako hopes that her work in maternal health will leave a legacy, and she’s working hard to make that happen.
Mommy Monitor is currently her life. As we wrap up our phone call she confesses: “While having this conversation I have come off the train, gone home to change, and I’m going back out for another meeting right now.”