Inc. magazine released its 11th annual 30 Under 30 list featuring young entrepreneurs working to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. The founders of Neopenda made the list – the startup makes wearables that monitor four newborn vitals in developing countries. The women who founded Neopenda, which launched in 2015, studied biomedical engineering and came up with their idea on a trip to Uganda.
In Uganda, nearly 600,000 newborns require medical interventions at birth. The staff at the country’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) had to do much with few resources. Typically, one physician or nurse cares for 15 to 30 newborns. A 2015 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund shows that fewer than 25 percent of newborns in the least developed countries receive proper health checks in the days after birth. Having better technology to monitor vital signs – heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen saturation, and temperature – would improve the quality of care the newborns received.
The device the company created is a battery-charged sensor that tucks into a baby hat and wirelessly transmits data to a central monitor that alerts the care team if the infant is in distress. The entrepreneurs raised money through Kickstarter, grants, venture capital investments, and competitions. The company also benefits from a diverse board of experts in pediatrics and nonprofit research and advocacy.
While a typical medical-grade monitor in the US costs $2,500, the company is targeting a price of $50 per cap, including the tablet. The system can handle 15 babies at a time. Neopenda is integrating user feedback from some clinics in Uganda and hopes to enter the market in 2018. If the company receives government approval, it can expand across East Africa.
Related: The monitoring market for infants is on the rise, with more products for clinical settings, especially in developing countries, and for anxious parents who want to monitor their babies from home. These monitors come in several forms, with wireless electronics integrated into socks, leg bands, buttons, onesies, or diaper clips that send data to parents’ smartphones. Some use motion sensors that can determine if a baby stops breathing. Others use pulse-oximetry probes, which shine a light through the skin to measure blood-oxygen levels. Parents can purchase these devices online or at a store.
Market research analysts at Technavio forecast the global smart connected baby monitors market to grow at a compounded annual rate of more than 28 percent over the next four years. However, for the home monitoring market, some pediatricians and other health care specialists warn that the information may not always be accurate and that parents or medical providers may not know how to use the information. Anxious parents may take a healthy baby to the hospital for monitoring and interventions, which might not be necessary. At the same time, many families have touted the benefits of the devices for their peace of mind and for alerting them of when their infant needs medical attention. In the coming years, as more devices enter the market, manufacturers, researchers, and regulators will have to work together to figure out how best to strike a balance between spurring innovation and providing appropriate and efficient oversight of the rapidly expanding mobile medical app market.
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