AWS recently selected 25 startups — three of which focus on health technologies — for its AWS Impact Accelerator program, a $30 million commitment to young startups led by founders from underrepresented groups.
One such health tech startup is Oben Health, a San Francisco-based company developing a digital treatment platform to fight heart disease without drugs or surgery. The platform is designed to treat black and brown patients, as they are two to four times more likely die of heart disease than white patients.
Oben Health was founded in 2020 by Peter Njongwe, who never imagined he would start a health technology company. He studied computer information systems and entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University in Calgary and ended up working primarily in software development for mobile products after graduation.
Two and a half years ago, a personal event changed the course of his professional career. Njongwe received a call informing him that his 36-year-old brother had died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure. He went to bed one night and never woke up, devastating his family who were unaware that their loved one was suffering from heart disease.
Njongwe’s brother didn’t know he was at risk of heart failure. So, upon his brother’s untimely death, Njongwe immediately requested a personal checkup. Soon after, he was inspired to create a treatment platform to prevent tragic deaths like his brother’s.
“One sad thing about my brother’s death is that it wasn’t anything unusual,” he said. “It’s actually very common. And that, to me, is a very discouraging thing.
When Oben Health was first established, Njongwe prioritized creating a platform specifically designed to reach blacks and Brown patients. He said he didn’t want to fall into the trap of just tossing around “cultural competence” as a buzzword: he wanted to make sure the platform was well documented so his team could intentionally design it to meet people of color where they are. — culturally, economically and geographically.
The app is designed to help users incorporate heart-healthy behaviors into their daily lives. Oben Health determined this goal after its early research showed that preaching about potential mortality — “you’re going to die, if you don’t do X, Y, and Z” — was not an effective way to bring at-risk populations to take their heart health more seriously. Instead, if you tell them that high blood pressure is linked to erectile dysfunction or that it will prevent them from being able to play with their children, they are more likely to change their daily habits.
That’s why Oben Health’s app offers interactive tools to track daily habits, as well as healthy routines designed by cardiologists, therapists, and registered dietitians. Once information is captured on a user’s demographics and personal life, the platform individualizes its advice on nutrition, stress management, sleep and exercise.
To help accelerate the development of this platform, AWS is offering Oben Health $125,000 in cash and $100,000 in AWS Credits. The funding – the largest the startup has received to date – comes at an opportune time
as given that the startup is preparing to launch a pilot program for its application with UAB Medicinea healthcare system based in Birmingham, Alabama.
During the 12-week pilot program, Black and Brown UAB patients who have or are at risk for hypertension will have access to Oben Health’s app, a local health coach, and a blood pressure cuff. The pilot is designed for patients to pay $100 per month, but Njongwe said the startup is working to secure payment for health plans going forward.
AWS funding will help Oben Health leverage what it learned during the pilot and scale its platform. The grant will allow the startup to hire more health coaches and expand its reach, as well as support changes to the platform once the company reviews pilot data to better understand the clinical validity of his model.
Njongwe said currently, patients who want to try Oben Health’s platform are mostly those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease. Going forward, he aims for his company to play a bigger role in preventative care so that more black and brown people can proactively incorporate heart-healthy behaviors into their daily routines to avoid tragedies. like what happened to his brother.
Photo: FG Trade, Getty Images