Located in Bangladesh, Maya Is dedicated to making it easier for women to receive healthcare, particularly for sensitive issues such as reproduction and mental health. The startup announced today that it has raised $ 2.2 million in seed funding. The round, which Maya said is the largest ever raised by a Bangladeshi health tech company, was led by early-stage funds Anchorless Bangladesh and Osiris Group, a private equity firm that invests in Asian markets Focuses.
The funding will be used to introduce new products into Maya’s telehealth platform and expand to more countries. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and plans to expand to India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern markets and Indonesia.
Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health questions and decides whether to send users to human experts. It has approximately 10 million unique users and currently has more than 300 licensed healthcare providers on its platform.
Maya started as a blog with healthcare information in 2011, before founding and CEO Ivy Hook Russell, who grew up in Chittagong and Dhaka, before going to university in the United Kingdom. At the time, Russell worked in finance. She gave birth to her first child and her mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Russell told TechCrunch that he felt there were many challenges in Bangladesh, including medical care, a shortage of providers and a long trip to clinics.
She started Maya with the goal of providing reliable health information, but quickly realized that site visitors needed more support. Many people sent messages via WhatsApp, email or through the site’s chat box, which avoided sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. After receiving a grant from BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization, Maya’s team began developing an app to connect users with medical information and experts.
“We were very focused on two things,” Russell said. “One is how we build trust in our community, in their language, because it is very important that they communicate in the language they are comfortable using. At the same time, we realized that as we started getting hundreds and hundreds of questions, that we are just 50 experts in computer typing, we would not be able to scale. “
To support Bengali and regional dialects, Maya spent more than two years focusing on the development of her natural language processing technology. It collaborated with data scientists and linguists and participated in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program, working on tokens and training its machine learning algorithms. Russell stated that Maya is capable of giving automatic answers in Bengali with about 95% accuracy in 50 subjects. Of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, nearly half were answered by its AI technology.
Many have to do with sexual or reproductive health and the forum has seen an increase in questions about mental health. These are topics on which users often hesitate to demand in-person in-consultation.
“Growing up in Bangladesh, we got minimum sex education. The school has no curriculum. Recently in the last one or two years, we have also started looking at a lot of mental health questions, because I think we have created a good campaign towards talking about mental health, ”said Russell . “It is quite natural that whatever they could not go through and very openly ask a question in traditional health systems, they come and ask us,” he said.
More consultations are also coming from men, who now make up about 30% of Maya users. Many ask questions about birth control and family planning, or how to support their partners’ medical issues. To protect users’ privacy, consultations are encrypted end-to-end, and experts look for a randomly generated ID rather than just personal information.
To understand whether someone should be referred to a human expert, Maya’s algorithms consider the length, complexity, and urgency of the questions based on their tone. For example, if someone “please, please, help me,” they automatically direct someone. Most questions about mental health are also referred to a specialist.
Russell said that Maya’s approach is to take a holistic approach to physical health and mental well-being, rather than treating them as separate issues.
“People do not ask only about physical health issues. They also ask, “I wear a hijab and I want to go for a run, but I feel so weird,” Russell said. “It seems like a very common question, but it is actually quite a question, because it is affecting their mental health day by day.”
One of the company’s goals is to make the app accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support. “We have literally delivered sweets to our office when a user has a child,” Russell said. “These are personal touches that I think Maya has worked closely with both physical and mental health conditions.”
The company is currently operating with various monetization models. One is business-to-business sales, positioning Maya as a software-as-a-service platform that employers can offer to workers as a benefit. Apparel Manufacturing belongs to Bangladesh Largest export area, And many activists are young women, fitting Maya’s typical user profile. The startup has worked with Marks & Spencer, Primark and Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Another B2B route is partnering with insurance providers that offer Maya as a benefit. On the direct-to-consumer side, Maya recently launched premium services, including in-app video consulting and prescription delivery. During the COVID-19 pandemic the demand for consultations increased rapidly, and it now handles about 300,000 video visits a month. Russell has expected many users to continue using telehealth services even after the epidemic.
“They really just saw the benefit of having a doctor in front of you,” she said. “For people with chronic conditions, it is easy because they don’t have to go anywhere every week, and the fact that they are monitored and their history collected is also useful for regular users.”