AI Innovator Spotlight: Sophie Bot

An Interview with  Irving Amukasa, Founder of Sophie Bot.

Sophie Bot 3

Tell us a little bit about your innovation. What is the problem? What solution are you offering?

At Sophie Bot, we use AI to answer your questions on sexual and reproductive health. It can be challenging to openly and honestly talk about these issues and when we avoid talking about it, there can be dire consequences. During COVID-19, we saw teenage pregnancy and HIV prevalence increase significantly. A lack of actionable information has very real life consequences and at Sophie Bot we want to drive more open and honest conversations that lead to health-seeking behaviors. 

Sophie Bot is an anonymous chat bot that people can reach out to on multiple platforms. We started off with an Android app, but now you can also talk to her on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp, or an SMS toll free number. We don’t care who people are, we only care about offering answers to their questions. We want to take the stigma out of sexual and reproductive health. 

What is a recent example of progress? What are you currently celebrating?

We always wanted to go live on multiple channels and SMS has been the most impactful one. We recently received 1,700 queries in only one week, so we are excited to see high volumes of questions coming in.

We are also very excited to explore how we can better support local languages, expanding our reaching beyond just English speakers. We are starting with Swahili, Luo and Luhya languages and will continue to expand as we grow. 

We’ve also developed a new AI model that has really been connecting with people. We noticed that when people were getting to the end of the conversation, they were saying things like “goodbye” and “thank you.” We realized that people are treating this as if they are in a real conversation, which we hadn’t initially catered for. 

We review our data every month and then retrain our model from scratch, which is very time intensive. While it used to take me four weeks, now that we’re in the AI4H program, we have access to Cloud Credits, which has really helped us speed up the process. 

What are the primary challenges you’re currently facing? 

One significant challenge is paying for the additional services we offer, SMS being the most expensive. 

Another challenge we have, although we continue to build safeguard to solve this, is when people don’t come to ask about sexual health but instead get very explicit and inappropriate with their chats. We want people to have less shame talking about sexual health, but we also want to curb misuse of the chat bot.  

Over the course of developing your innovation, what is something you have learned that stands out and that might help other innovators?

You need to be patient with results. That is something I keep learning. Even last month, I thought we were stalling, it felt like nothing was moving, but this month things have really picked up. All of a sudden, we received 1,700 questions in a week. Your innovation is an engine you’re starting and it takes time to shift gears and get up to speed. Also, test out your assumptions so that, while you’re being patient, you know that what you’re working towards is actually working. 

It’s also important to maintain a laser focus on your vision and reiterate that vision over and over again. Your job as a founder is to maintain the vision and keep anyone you bring on board in line with it. 

How has Villgro impacted your growth? 

Funding aside, from the training sessions to access to cloud services that mean we can train models faster, Villgro has been a solid sounding board for whenever I have new ideas and am testing them out. I discuss things with my portfolio manager, Edwin, and we end up talking for hours, bouncing ideas off each other. 

Also, Sophie Bot grows through video content on Instagram. Villgro supported us by providing training so that I can shoot and edit videos on my own. That’s now an extra skill that’s in my toolbox. 

Lastly, being in a program like AI4H validates Sophie Bot’s work. It gets much easier to be welcomed into different rooms once people find out we’re supported by Villgro. Because Villgro is the most respected health incubator around, it means that our business has credibility as a result of working with you.