Toronto, May 19, 2022—New or expecting mothers can have a lot of health-related questions and concerns. But what if it is difficult or costly to see a medical professional? This is the case in much of the world. In Brazil, for example, inequitable access to health care means that infant and maternal mortality rates are above the OECD average.
Since 2014, Grand Challenges Canada has made three investments in TNH Digital Health, which has developed SMS and chatbot solutions that make health care advice available to mothers as well as numerous other populations. TNH was co-founded by Canadian Michael Kapps. Its most recent venture, Vitalk, has just been acquired by the corporate wellness platform, Gympass, which has plans to expand its use to the 11 countries where it currently operates, including Brazil.
“AI-powered solutions like Vitalk offer a secure and non-judgmental way to talk about sensitive health care issues,” says Kapps. “I’m delighted that through this acquisition, these solutions will be rolled out to numerous people who might otherwise not get reliable access to medical help, and I’m grateful to Grand Challenges Canada for believing in our vision from the earliest days.”
Kapps credits his interest in health care to some of his early experiences in Toronto, volunteering at SickKids Hospital and participating in biology activities at the University of Toronto’s science fairs. He co-founded TNH in 2013. Grand Challenges Canada contributed seed funding of $90,000 to TNH in 2014 through its Saving Brains program. TNH developed an SMS-based engagement program to communicate with parents through their phones, informing and reminding them of best practices for parenting and to monitor the development of their children from prenatal through to the infant’s third month
GCC further invested $500,000 in 2018 via its Transition To Scale program, which helped TNH to launch SMS Baby, a mobile platform providing customized, interactive SMS messages several times per week to pregnant women and recent mothers, tailored to the gestational stage of the fetus or developmental age of the newborn.
“TNH is one of the most advanced for-profit digital innovations in our portfolio and is an example to other innovators on how to establish longer term sustainability,” said GCC co-CEO Jocelyn Mackie. “The TNH team has demonstrated the value of Grand Challenges Canada funding to grow and refine its innovation. Our catalytic investment, which came at a critical time in their growth, has strengthened TNH’s operations and scaling strategy, and will ensure that pregnant women and new mothers in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to health resources remain priority target populations for Vitalk.”
GCC’s catalytic investment strengthened TNH’s operations and scaling strategy, including a shift to a fully digital solution, resulting in the launch of Vitalk, which expanded its focus to mental health and chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, while continuing to strengthen its offering to mothers. Grand Challenges Canada’s most recent Transition To Scale grant of $290,000 will support Vitalk’s continued growth, including adding up to 62,000 new pregnant and postpartum women onto the platform in Brazil.
Expected health outcomes include increased doctor’s visits, reduction of premature births, and improvements in maternal mental health including anxiety, depression, and stress. By 2030, GCC’s impact modelling estimates that up to 392,000 pregnant and postpartum women will register for Vitalk, of which 152,000 women will have their lives improved.
Demand for Vitalk’s services during the pandemic has been particularly strong; in 2020, Brazil’s Ministry of Health sought out the company’s help in fighting the pandemic and Vitalk responded by triaging up to 2 million people, identifying tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases.
“Vitalk’s mental health offering aligns well with our vision of developing an integrated wellness platform. Michael and his team will bring a world-class digital health solution, deep clinical expertise and product experience,” says Rogerio Hirose, Head of New Ventures at Gympass. “We are excited with the synergies and value they will contribute.”
About Grand Challenges Canada
Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact®. Funded by the Government of Canada and other partners, Grand Challenges Canada funds innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. The bold ideas Grand Challenges Canada supports integrate science and technology, social and business innovation—known as Integrated Innovation®.
One of the largest impact-first investors in Canada, Grand Challenges Canada has supported a pipeline of over 1,300 innovations in 106 countries. Grand Challenges Canada estimates that these innovations have the potential to save up to 1.78 million lives and improve up to 64 million lives by 2030.
Gympass is a corporate wellbeing platform. Its core business is improving the engagement, individual performance and overall business success of employees by motivating them to exercise and stay healthy. Across 11 countries and over 50,000 gym and studio partners, Gympass partners with corporations to craft ongoing, personalized programs that will inspire workforces to enroll, stay motivated, and unlock their full potential. In recent years, Gympass has acquired other businesses such as Vitalk that align with its vision of better individual health outcomes for all.
About Michael Kapps
Michael Kapps grew up in Thornhill, Ontario and graduated from Thornhill Secondary School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University in 2012. He founded the Ahoto Partnership for Ghana in 2008 and ever since has been interested in how to create public health care solutions at scale. He worked for McKinsey & Company in San Francisco before moving to Brazil in 2013. He was the co-founder and CEO of TNH Digital Health and then of Vitalk and is currently helping integrate Vitalk’s functions at Gympass.
For more information, please contact:
Douglas Chow, Senior Manager, Communications
Grand Challenges Canada