The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be breastfed for their first six months of life.

By Dave DeFusco

When Boaz Grof’s wife was breastfeeding their oldest daughter, she developed a painful inflammation called mastitis (clogged milk ducts) that prevented her from continuing. At first, she blamed her slight build for making her susceptible to the inflammation, but then she began struggling with undeserved feelings of guilt about her own motherhood. When Grof, an Israeli dairy farmer and entrepreneur, noticed that his wife’s friends were developing the same condition, he decided to start a company that would attempt to revolutionize the breastfeeding experience for mothers worldwide.

An artificial insemination and genetics expert, Grof reached out to his friends in the industry for advice on how to start his company, called Linok, and met up with Dr. Maria Blekher, director of the YU Innovation Lab, and Thom Kennon, industry professor in the Katz School’s M.S. in Digital Marketing and Media, to nurse the idea of a partnership while the latter was on a junket to Israel. The YU team agreed to have graduate students conduct market research on Grof’s product, a digital platform that utilizes AI technologies to analyze real-time data from just a few drops of breast milk.

Boaz Grof, an Israeli dairy farmer turned entrepreneur, has gotten help from the YU Innovation Lab and YU students to launch a digital platform that will use AI technology to analyze data from just a few drops of breast milk.

“Our platform provides direct access to a team of experienced professionals, including lactation consultants, clinical nutritionists and care providers to ensure that mothers receive the best possible care,” said Grof. “By providing seamless access to personalized support and real-time data, we aim to improve the health and well-being of both mothers and babies around the world.”

Students from the Katz School and the Sy Syms School of Business conducted comprehensive market research for Linok as part of their YU Innovation lab courses. They discovered that mothers want validation, support and community; need help with their milk supply; feel guilt for not being able to breastfeed longer; and benefit from the advice of peers as much as they do from medical providers.

“The students provided amazing insights,” said Grof. “They did a really, really great job. I feel like I didn’t tell them enough how much we appreciate the work they did.”

Dr. Blekher said the YU Innovation Lab is “opening the gates” for new and important technologies and startups, such as Linok, and providing Yeshiva University students with invaluable experience nurturing dynamic new businesses. She said Linok is part of a booming niche industry called FemTech—technology-based companies that concentrate on developing drugs and treatments for women.

“For many years, these companies were marginalized. There either wasn’t enough money or interest in solving health care issues specific to women,” said Dr. Blekher. “Today the YU Innovation Lab is nurturing four startups from the FemTech industry, helping these startups produce products and services that will enable women to live healthier, longer and more productive lives.”

Joseph Panzarella, director of the M.S. in Digital Marketing and Media, hailed the growing collaboration between the Katz School and YU Innovation Lab.

“It’s inspiring to see Katz students collaborate with startups from the innovation lab, shaping research and insights for an entire semester,” said Panzarella. “All universities promote real-world experiences, but this joint effort ensures that Katz School students will learn of emerging fields, such as FemTech, while providing startups with time-tested strategies for accelerating their growth.”

Exclusive breast-feeding is correlated with lower rates of ear infection, respiratory illness and SIDS, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that babies be breastfed for their first six months of life.

With Linok’s device, mothers can place a sensor on their breast pump that uses cloud-based AI to calculate and analyze the breast milk’s nutritional value, including the percentage of fat, protein and lactose; to suggest areas of dietary improvement; and to provide alerts for the onset of inflammation. The data is automatically sent to an app on their smartphone.

Grof said that as they add more data to the algorithm, the app will be able to give breastfeeding mothers more information to optimize their routine, including recommended hours of breastfeeding and specific breastfeeding positions. They’re also considering adding a digital forum where breastfeeding mothers can share concerns about their experience and support each other.

“After my wife’s struggles,” he said, “I want to improve the deep, loving and healthy connection between mothers and their babies.”

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