You’ve heard the saying “You are never too old,” in regards to starting a new venture. Riya Shah, Founder and President of Fetal Life, has proven that you can never be too young, as well. Shah thought of an idea for a mobile app to help pregnant women measure their contractions at home—when she was 15 years old.
Now, at the ripe old age of 19, she runs her own company that offers the patented contraction monitoring device, a patent-pending fetal heartbeat device, a mobile app promoting self-management of health, telemonitoring, and telemedicine platform along with other 3rd party devices.
We spoke to Shah about her journey and what she wants to see from her company.
Most high school freshman don’t start their own companies. How did yours come about?
Shah: My idea for Fetal Life was inspired from my mom’s stories about when she was pregnant with me. I’m her first child, so she didn’t really know what to expect or not to expect with a pregnancy. She faced a lot of instances of false positive contractions, which added to her anxiety and stress with the whole pregnancy.
She and my dad had gone back and forth to the hospital, all excited and packed up, ready to have a baby only to find out it was false labor. It made me realize there are so many other women out there who are facing this issue. I invented a pregnancy contraction monitor that pregnant women could use remotely.
What’s unique about your monitor?
Shah: The big difference between Fetal Life’s contraction monitor and a regular hospital contraction monitor is the cost. It’s affordable, portable, and very small–a couple of inches wide. It’s a divided strap you wrap around your abdomen with a belt we provide, as well. The device connects wirelessly with the app I developed called My Fetal Life.
Now the pregnant mom who’s experiencing contractions can easily view these contraction trends through the app. The device records the intensity and frequency of contractions and that information is plotted on a graph.
The information is then shared with her physician. We don’t make any informed calls–we help pregnant moms and physicians get the information remotely, so they can make an informed call.
This helps if mom lives a couple hours away from the hospital, can’t get to a hospital as efficiently, or is facing false positive contractions regularly and doesn’t want to have to keep going back and forth to the hospital. Her doctor can look at the app output and decide whether she needs to go into the hospital or whether she’s okay for a little bit. The data output from the app and the machine determines what kind of labor mom is experiencing.
It’s safe to say you have an innovative spirit.
Shah: I’ve been in love with innovation since I was little. I didn’t know the word ‘entrepreneur’ when I was little, couldn’t even pronounce it, but I loved watching Shark Tank. My dad used to work for an Intel startup company where he’d regularly work with different innovative devices. He’d come home and tell us about the new device his company was working on and that sparked my interest in building innovation devices. I’ve always been fascinated with the health care industry. I’m actually majoring in biomedical engineering now.
Did you develop the software yourself?
Shah: I worked with a technology team because, at the time, I was learning how to code. I gave them all the requirements and told them how I needed it to be done and what I wanted. There were more fingers on the keyboard, but I developed the actual physical prototype for the device.
How did you develop the prototype?
Shah: I worked with the University of Louisville where we designed the prototype concept and tested it out. We did clinical studies and everything looked great.
Did you get funding?
Shah: I’m very thankful I had an angel investor early on who believed in me and in the idea I wanted to chase. I started this company in late 2017, and then early 2018, I pitched the idea to an angel investor in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was fascinated and I was very honored he invested. Then in 2019, another investor came in.
What does your company look like now?
Shah: I serve as the founder and president. I have a board that consists of the investors as well as a medical consultant who is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
What’s the next step?
Shah: We have a batch of devices manufactured and we’re happy with the product right now. It’s ready to go to market, so that’s our next step.
How was it creating a business in Louisville?
Shah: Louisville has so much potential and so many bright minds. It doesn’t get the recognition that bigger areas like those in California and New York. And that’s kind of unfortunate because there’s so much talent right here in the Ohio Valley. Support from my own community meant a lot to me. I participated in the University of Louisville’s LaunchIt Entrepreneurship Training program and attended the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs.
I really love just being able to inspire other kids around the area. I’ve been a keynote speaker at different conferences at different events. I love being able to give back like that.