Improving pre-natal mental health for mothers and families with Natal Mind's Annika Järvelin

Interview with Annika Järvelin by Otto Olavinen
March 20, 2024

It all started with observations at Helsinki's maternity and child health clinics (Neuvola) in 2022. Biodesign Fellows Annika Järvelin and Hanna Castren-Niemi were at Biodesign immersion and tasked to find unmet needs by observing the clinics practice involving families before and after child births. Now one and a half years later both fellows lead teams that are solving the needs they identified during their immersion.

During the fellowship Annika Järvelin recognised the need to support families on their child birth journey. Eventually her insight led to a formation of a new project that would take on this challenging need head on. The team was called Daring Birth and they set to improve pre-natal mental health. This is their journey so far.

Hanna & Annika at Biodesign Immersion at Neuvola Maternity and child health clinic in Helsinki
Daring Birth from left to right: Wintom Zecarias, Riikka Lemmetyinen, Annika Järvelin, Aura Pyykönen and Henni Tenhunen

What happened immediately after the Biodesign project ended?

The Daring Birth team got R2B funding of 700 000€ and started at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management within HEMA Institute of Healthcare Engineering, Architecture and Management (with the lead of Prof. Paul Lillrank). Team got started in June. The research is based on emotion tracking and patient experience outcomes research done at HEMA.

Tell me more about the funding you received and what it enables for you to do?

Our 700 000€ is going for nationwide clinical trials for pregnant women, starting in February 2024. Our aim is to have 200 participants. For this purpose, we need a proof-of-concept mobile application, and part of the funding goes in outsourcing that, the other part if designing the trial content and the UX of it internally. Part of the funding goes to market assessment and business model identifications in different markets. This has included travelling for example to the Women's Health Innovation Summit in Boston, Nordic Innovation Fair in Copenhagen and Frontiers Health Digital Therapeutics event in Rome.

Tell me more about the need you are solving?

We are delivering better birth with a Nordic method powered by AI. Calmer pregnancy and better birth experience improve significantly parent’s mental health during pregnancy and postpartum and reduce costs and burden in healthcare. It has long-lasting effects on the family and the offspring and can even have impact on fertility rate.

Where are you now with your project?

We now have a working proof-of-concept application and we have applied for ethical permissions in HUS and Fimea (HUS already approved, Fimea still pending), we will soon start our usability tests and soon after clinical trials.

One of the recent highlights was the polar bear pitching competition where Daring Birth (now Natal Mind) won the pitching competition that was held in the ice cold waters of Oulu. See the video below:

What are your next steps? / What are you looking forward to doing next?

In the spring we need to decide the first market to enter and to find a research partner from that market.

What would you say to people who are thinking about applying to the Biodesign Finland program?

It certainly gives you a good, very hands-on start if you are interested in founding a health tech startup. In the current financial situation it is difficult to receive funding for an idea of a startup – you need to take your initiative a bit further and make sure the idea is based on real needs on healthcare. Biodesign Finland helps you to define concrete steps on this journey.

Annika Järvelin pictured at the start of her Biodesign journey