Meet the Entrepreneur: Amanda Allen Discusses emocha, Baltimore and FastForward
Emocha Mobile Health was one of the first tenants at FastForward East when it opened in 2015. Two years later, it became one of the first startups to move into Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ newest innovation hub, FastForward 1812.
As a FastForward tenant, emocha has added clients from Baltimore to Australia for its mobile health platform that connects patients to health care providers and helps solve problems such as medication adherence, linkage to care and patient engagement.
It played a key role in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s monitoring of Ebola during the outbreak in 2015. This past August, emocha secured contracts for its medication adherence mobile application from three California counties that have some of the highest rates of latent tuberculosis in the country. They’re now using the same technology for hepatitis C and opioid addiction therapy.
Below, Amanda Allen, emocha’s design lead, discusses the startup’s mission, recent successes, support from FastForward and the strengths of Baltimore (which includes delicious pizza).
In five words, what does your company do?
Mobile health for public health.
If I had a few more words I’d say:
“We help public health resources go further. Using technology that strengthens patient-provider relationships, we reduce costs and improve health outcomes.”
What’s one success that emocha has had that you’re particularly proud of?
We started working with Puerto Rico’s Tuberculosis Control Program a few months ago, and their feedback has been extremely positive. I hung up a direct quote in our office: “This has been a god send and has changed the way we operate. You guys are at the forefront of how technology improves health care.”
For context, health departments have a mandate to watch patients take every dose of their TB medication. Every day, for a six- to nine-month period, health officials drive to patients, or ask patients to come into the clinic. This is called Directly Observed Therapy (DOT). While this method is highly effective, it’s extremely burdensome and expensive to scale.
Emocha offers a digital solution. A mobile app allows a patient to video themselves taking their medication at their convenience. Health care workers then log into emocha on their desktop and review videos at their convenience, dramatically reducing the time and money that is poured into observing each patient in-person. This solution is a big deal for Puerto Rico because 30 to 50 percent of their active TB population is unable to access care and dies each year. This situation is compounded by Puerto Rico’s debt, which is currently over $70 billion.
What are emocha’s goals, and how do you plan to reach them?
Each product has a specific goal (increase medication adherence, monitor an outbreak, link more patients to care in less time), but at a high level, we aim to create technology that solves real problems in public health. We do this through a hybrid of research, design and engineering.
I think one of the reasons we’re successful is because we hold the user experience paramount. As design lead, I try to make sure every interface is easy to understand and enjoyable to use, regardless of a user’s age, location and technical savvy. We do this by engaging patients, healthcare workers and providers early on in the design process. One-on-one interviews, focus groups, direct observation and other interactive design exercises ensure we’re solving the right problem in the right way.
In terms of startups and innovation, what’s one thing that separates Baltimore from other tech hotbeds?
Baltimore is a mid-sized city that offers a diverse range of neighborhoods and people. I rarely want to leave, but when I do, I like having access to larger nearby cities. On top of this, cost of living is fairly inexpensive. Baltimore is a hidden gem, my only fear is that word gets out.
What has been the best part about the FastForward 1812 innovation hub so far?
Every product we develop has a clinical champion that guides our understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve. FastForward’s location within the medical campus allows us to meet more often with the world-renowned experts we work with in HIV, Hepatitis C and Tuberculosis.
I also enjoy the physical co-working space. I usually start my day in our office, but work in huddle spaces and phone booths the rest of the day for a change of scenery.
How has FastForward/Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures helped emocha grow?
Emocha was invented by clinicians and researchers at Johns Hopkins in 2008, and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures helped us license the technology in 2013. They also provided access to the DreamIT Health Accelerator which was instrumental to our start.
Since then, they’ve continued to make introductions to customers and thought leaders in healthcare.
What book are you currently reading?
“The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee
What innovator do you look up to? Why?
I think I’m most impressed by social entrepreneurs getting by through sheer will power, hustle. They’re usually determined to solve a problem their deeply connected to.
I’ve met two recently who are a part of FastForward’s Social Innovation Lab. Brittany Young is providing a pipeline from dirt biking to STEM jobs through her nonprofit B360, and Shantell Roberts is working to eliminate SIDS by providing an innovative safe sleep solution called a Portable Alternative Cribs (P.A.C.s). Watch out for them.
It’s after a long day of work, and you don’t feel like cooking. What is your go-to Baltimore restaurant?
Lebanese Taverna. But if I’m extra lazy, I order chicken tiki marsala pizza from Charles Restaurant and Carry Out. Look it up. You’re welcome.
What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Baltimore?
I joke that hobbies are for people who don’t like their jobs. But I do enjoy Baltimore’s vibrant bar scene. I like to bring everyone I love together at brunch as often as possible.