MyHealthEd Inc. co-founders standing in front of an Innovation Next backdrop
Left to right: Cristina Leos, Liz Chen (E.N.C. '10), and Vichi Jagannathan (E.N.C. '11) share a moment after winning the Innovation Next grant.

Teach For America Alumni Win Innovation Next Award for Sex Education App

A nonprofit co-founded by a pair of TFA–Eastern North Carolina alumni has earned a grant worth up to $325,000 toward changing the way middle school students learn about sex education.
Thursday, September 15, 2016

After their time together as Teach For America corps members in Eastern North Carolina, Liz Chen ’10 and Vichi Jagannathan ’11 teamed up in hopes of revolutionizing the health education field.

Last week, they enjoyed a watershed moment when their nonprofit MyHealthEd, Inc. received a grant from the Innovation Next program potentially worth up to $325,000 to further advance their concept for Real Talk, a phone-based sex education app for middle school students. The app will utilize daily storytelling from their peers in order to engage them in the subject more effectively than contemporary curricula.

Jagannathan, an M.B.A. candidate at Yale University School of Management, co-founded MyHealthEd with Chen and Cristina Leos, who are currently health behavior doctoral students at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. The trio seamlessly integrated their complementary skill sets in public health and management to create their proposal for Innovation Next, which is part of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite a loaded field with 126 competing teams, Chen, Leos, and Jagannathan were named one of 10 finalist teams in March and received $80,000 in preliminary funding. The next five months entailed the trio participating in workshops with IDEO, a global design and innovation consulting firm that aided them in market research, as well as the production of a Real Talk prototype. The team worked alongside middle school students in rural Eastern North Carolina and West Texas to develop their current prototype.

MyHealthEd will now focus on using its award to “develop innovative technology interventions for preventing teen pregnancy,” according to a press release from The National Campaign, which will continue to support the nonprofit in conjunction with IDEO.

“Reducing unplanned pregnancy—and its emotional, familial, fiscal, and social impact—has significant implications for all of us,” said Kate Lydon, IDEO’s public sector portfolio director in that same press release. “We’re excited to see how the winning Innovation Next teams create lasting, positive change by bringing a design thinking lens to this issue.”         

MyHealthEd has already set goals to complete beta testing Real Talk and reach 5000 users by the end of 2018.

“As we forge ahead, I am also excited to build new skills in nonprofit management and marketing so that we can successfully develop Real Talk and disseminate it broadly,” Chen told the Gillings School’s official website.


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