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INSIGHTS / INTERVIEWS

Aurora Tech AI: Helping new parents sleep at night, and not on the job

Portugal · Sep 19, 2019· By Gareth Gardiner Jones

When employees become new parents, the challenges they face can lead to sleep deprivation and a loss of productivity at work. Aurora Tech AI says it has a solution

Sleep deprivation after childbirth is a hidden problem in the workplace, causing a loss of productivity and creativity that employers are seldom aware of. It is a problem that Cláudia Morgado, founder and CEO of Aurora Tech AI, wants to help resolve with her B2B2C and B2C parenting advice platform.

"The idea is that Aurora is like a friend to whom you can talk naturally," Morgado told CompassList at the recent Lisbon Investment Summit. “People really need this help, especially men. They experience the problem more because it is more difficult for them to open up in the workplace."

Morgado offers a stark piece of data for prospective parents that gives a new perspective on an issue many are unaware of and are ill-prepared for. “Studies say new parents face up to six years of sleep deprivation. When I approach companies and show them the data, they are not aware of this and see my services as a benefit,” she said.

Founded under a year ago, and with no outside investment or acceleration to date, Aurora is an NLP-driven chatbot helping new parents to overcome the most common problems affecting their baby, namely those surrounding sleep and breastfeeding.

Loss of traditional knowledge   

These problems, Morgado said, are entirely a symptom of modern-day life in developed societies. “The problem is most of the time we think we will naturally know what to do when a baby is born, which is not true," she said. "Looking back 60 years, first-time parents had people to ask for advice and to assist them in feeding or helping babies to fall asleep. Nowadays, however, when you have your first baby, most of the time it's the first time you've held a baby and you have no preparation or knowledge.” These circumstances made Morgado realize that there was a gap in the market and helped her give birth to Aurora Tech.ai.

“The idea is that Aurora is like an experienced friend who you can turn to and talk to naturally, as we use a branch of AI that utilises natural language processing,” Morgado said. The company assists families via online chat and training programs in two crucial areas: problems with breastfeeding (from birth until whenever the mother or baby decides to stop) and problems with children's sleep (children aged zero to six years old). “My long term goal is to be a reference for parents at any time. I aim to help couples from the moment they start thinking about having kids through pregnancy and then addressing all problems may have as parents,” she said.

A lifetime in preparation

As a mother of two children aged eight and nine, Morgado is just the person to deliver Aurora. Indeed, she has devised and written all of its chatbot and course content. “For as long as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with parenting. I remember being in high school and telling a friend I thought I'd love to be pregnant, so it was very unusual.”

Morgado is a qualified pharmacist with a wealth of knowledge in childcare, from having worked summer jobs in the field, and in pediatric health – a subject she studied in her free time. Following graduation, she initially worked as a pharmacist in the towns of Coimbra and Leiria – “a position connected with my personal hobby, because a pharmacist's job is to make sure everyone is healthy.” There, Morgado noticed that first-time parents, “were not at all prepared for, or knowledgeable about, the day-to-day care of babies.”

When her workplace closed, she took advantage to open her own space in her hometown of Coimbra, advising couples on their babies' care and delivering classes on specific issues like breastfeeding. “I was doing exactly what Aurora is doing right now automatically, but in a personal way. The main reason for the platform was an inability to scale my business working face-to-face with families,” she said. After a couple of years, and with a full agenda, Morgado decided to put her business on the backburner rather than take on more employees, “because I felt I was stuck and needed a new challenge." In 2016, she began working as COO of local software company RedLight.

Networking to digitize

At Redlight, Morgado gained “experience common to setting up any business, such as HR, PR and legal matters,” and was surrounded by techies, “who provided me with a vital network and helped me to understand I could use tech to solve my own company's problem.” As a hobby, and learning from her colleagues, Morgado started building a chatbot central to her startup's offer – initially just to schedule training sessions and consultations in her private business. “When I left RedLight last year, I was able to build my own prototype for testing with three groups of users, but when I noticed I was spending more time learning than building, I invited an expert on chatbots to develop my current chatbot, Curricula 4.0, named after my offline business,” she said.

Aurora was officially launched in Portuguese and English after a year in development in October 2018, and started serving customers in June. Since then, Aurora has already garnered about 2,000 B2C users, who are family customers, and 7,400 B2B2C users, who are parents and employees at large companies.

At present, the first of Aurora's two main revenue streams – its B2C online training sessions on sleep and breastfeeding – charges a fee but allows a free trial to bring customers on board. The B2B2C stream is free for employees and operates on a SaaS basis for corporates depending on the number of employees. Both systems' main feature is an advice-giving 24/7 NLP chatbot that provides “an interactive dialogue between a digital expert and parents.”

Corporate fringe benefit stream

Morgado has gained many of her B2C users via word of mouth, but sells her corporate service by approaching “big companies with more than 250 employees that we already know have some fringe benefits and will want to have tools to help their employees balance their work and family life.” Morgado says that once corporates realize the effect of long-term sleep deprivation on new parents in the workplace “it opens their eyes to a problem most never consider because it has a long-term impact and is not obvious like an illness.”

The founder is currently focusing more on the B2B2C model “to bring in more customers so we can develop more products,” and, at present, is not actively looking for investment. She hopes to grow internationally organically via Portugal-based international companies that contract her services. Portugal is a “small but great market in which to start a business and to do testing” Morgado said. Unlike in larger markets, where securing a meeting with a large corporate may prove a lengthy or difficult process, in Portugal, “you only need to contact them and in a couple of days, you will have a meeting with the right person.” 

Morgado, who has also graduated from Lisbon's Founder Institute and been a local guest speaker for TEDx, is now in the process of enlisting a co-founder who is a data specialist and AI expert. “Though I am an expert in my area, being a solo founder has disadvantages, mainly in terms of stress and workload but also in terms of seeking acceleration and investment. Often a co-founder is a prerequisite,” she concluded.

Edited by Matt Stanley