Posted on February 11, 2024
Anya is a pregnancy, parenting and breastfeeding support app which utilises cutting-edge 3D interactive technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide parents and parents-to-be with vital support on their parenting and breastfeeding journey.
With our support and expertise Anya has grown from an early-stage business idea to an NHS-ready product. Its founder, Dr Chen Mao Davies, was named as an NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow in 2023 and as ‘one of the top 40 female innovators in the UK’ by Innovate UK in 2021.
Since 2019, Anya has secured £365,000 in grant funding, £510,000 in loans and £500,000 in equity investment – and has now grown to a team of eight employees. In 2022 the company won £100,000 of SBRI funding to tackle health inequalities in maternity care.
The app (iOS and Android) is now available to more than 4.3 million NHS service users.
Early user studies indicate that over 70% of mothers increased their breastfeeding confidence and skills in just four weeks of using the app. With a 100% increase of mothers breastfeeding their babies at six weeks postnatally, compared with the national average.
The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. Sadly, 90% of mothers give up before they want to, due to lack of support, pain/health issues, and feelings of isolation and depression. Difficulties in achieving a good latch can lead to breast infections, baby weight loss and postpartum depression. This costs the NHS £50 million a year on excess appointments for babies fed on formula milk, who are more prone to illness.
Using smart technology, the Anya app provides parents and parents-to-be with vital support during the first 1,001 days of their parenting and breastfeeding journey. It delivers trusted, accurate and evidence-based information with two unique features:
- LatchAid™, a 3D animation breastfeeding support tool, using cutting-edge interactive technology to learn skills intuitively.
- Anya AI, the bespoke virtual supporter, providing information 24/7, for those times when it’s just not possible to get help or answers.
Developed alongside the country’s leading infant feeding experts, the app was originally designed to address issues associated with difficulties in breastfeeding, for parents who are having problems getting their baby to latch. An avatar provides visual demonstrations of vital breastfeeding skills, such as how the baby should take the mother’s areola into his / her mouth, achieving a ‘deep latch’ that prevents damage to the breast.
The app also allows users to join webinars and interact with Anya AI (the app’s chatbox) and lactation consultants to ask questions, as well as connect with other parents in a virtual peer-to-peer support group.
Developed by Dr Chen Mao Davies after experiencing huge breastfeeding challenges herself, Anya (originally launched as LatchAid) began its innovation journey on our Health Innovation Programme (HIP) in 2018. Here she was able to test the validity of her early-stage business proposition with experts and learn how to navigate a very complex healthcare landscape and pitch her ideas into the NHS.
In this short video, Anya’s Founder, Dr Chen Mao Davies, talks about why she created the app. You can watch it here or below.
Since graduating from the HIP, we have continued to support Chen and the company on its healthcare innovation journey, in order to develop the app towards market-readiness. Our support has included:
- Providing ongoing insight and guidance into the NHS as a marketplace.
- Brokering introductions to key contacts – connecting Chen to NHS maternity services and commissioners across the West of England region and beyond.
- Funding an expediated ORCHA Review to assess the quality of the product for listing in the ORCHA digital library.
- Sponsoring the company to exhibit at the HETT show in London ExCel (2021), in order to generate national exposure of the app amongst healthcare decision makers.
- Identifying / presenting appropriate opportunities for funding and acceleration and reviewing and steering applications. Successful applications include:
- Innovate UK Women in Innovation Award (2021), securing a £50,000 grant and support package.
- SBRI Healthcare competition to address health inequalities in maternity care (2022), securing £100,000 of Phase 1 feasibility funding. This enabled a rebuild of the app, engaging service users in the co-design and co-creation of its features. The Gen 2.0 Anya app (available in both iOS and Android) was launched in December 2022, housing LatchAid as its upgraded, 3D breastfeeding tool – which now has additional skin tone capability for mother and baby.
- NHS Innovation Accelerator (2023), securing fellowship to enhance credibility and help Anya achieve wide scale deployment across the NHS.
- Supporting with the design of the evaluation framework for a four-month NHS pilot across 12 NHS Trusts and VirginCare (Health Innovation Wessex- 2021).
- Acting as a critical friend around commissioning and procurement.
In the following short video, Chen talks about the support she has received from the Health Innovation West of England. You can watch it here or below.
“I learned a huge amount in the HIP bootcamp training and was able to share my business ideas with fellow innovators, present my business proposition to a panel of experts and start building relationships with a network of experts and fellow entrepreneurs. Since then, I have continued to receive ongoing support from Health Innovation West of England with regards to funding opportunities, application reviews, pilot evaluations and connecting me to NHS maternity services and commissioners. I definitely would not be where I am now without the help of Health Innovation West of England.”
Dr Chen Mao Davies, Founder/CEO of Anya and HIP graduate 2018
Impacts to date
To date and with our support, Anya has been awarded over £365,000 grant funding from Innovate UK, EU, UnLtd, the NHS and SBRI, including three Innovate UK grants totaling over £190,000 and, most recently, £100,000 of SBRI funding to tackle health inequalities in maternity care.
Since 2019, the company has secured one Innovate UK loan totaling £510,000 and £500,000 in equity investment.
The team has now grown to a team of eight employees (an increase from two employees in early 2022).
Patient and health care provider impact
In partnership with 12 NHS trusts and VirginCare, a four-month pilot project from October 2021 saw the Anya app prescribed for free to 5,000 families, as part of their infant feeding support. Infant feeding experts, midwives and health visitors were able to prescribe Anya for free to all new parents (iOS users) in participating regions. Read more here.
In 2022, Anya secured four contracts from NHS and NHS Providers, covering a population of 2 million.
Early user studies indicate that over 70% of mothers increased their breastfeeding confidence and skills in just four weeks. 96% of mothers using the app are breastfeeding their babies at six weeks (compared with the national UK average of 48%) – an increase of 100%.
The Anya app now has users in 95 countries.
The Anya app (iOS and Android) is now available to more than 4.3 million NHS service users.
“Put this app on your phone, it’s the closest thing you’re going to have to a Lactation Consultant or a peer supporter in your pocket.”
Emma, a breastfeeding mother
“Just to have that instant support, all hours of the night. Amazing”.
“I have used the app with colleagues who have found it really useful. They enjoy the 3D effect and the ability to view things from different angles.”
Amanda, NHS Health Visitor
In 2021, Chen was recognised as a ‘42 under 42’ rising star by South West Business Insider magazine.
She was also named as ‘one of the top 40 female innovators in the UK’ by Innovate UK and awarded a ‘Women in Innovation Award 2021’ with £50,000 of funding. You can read more about this here.
In August 2021, Anya launched its LatchAid iOS app in the Apple App store, which was followed by the launch of its Android app in the Google Play Store in November 2022. In January 2023 the app rebranded from LatchAid to Anya. The Anya app (iOS and Android) now has users in 95 countries.
Anya is the number one best breastfeeding support app in the ORCHA digital library.
With a growing media presence, Chen and her innovation have been featured in more than 70 press articles and interviews to date, including BBC News and Sky News. Watch the BBC News video here or below:
We will continue to work with the Anya team to:
- Review outcomes/outputs from pilots
- Understand any gaps in evidence base (and explore further evidence generation support)
- Review and provide feedback on NHS business case
- Continue to broker NHS relationships within the region.
We are now also working with Gloucestershire’s Local Maternity and Neonatal System (LMNS) on a ‘proof of value’ project to address healthcare inequalities in the region – implementing and evaluating the use of the Anya app to support communities who would not normally take up breastfeeding. You can read more about this work here.