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This app restores calm in a stressful world

 

When I get nervous I can feel a tightening in my chest, and my breathing gets shallow. I’m an adult and I know what’s happening to my body, but for young children, these signs of anxiety can be unsettling for kids.

TakeTen is a biofeedback app that helps young people manage their physiology and emotions. It shows them a visual depiction of their stress levels, via an iPad or iPhone, and teaches them how to bring themselves back to calm.

Be it the pressure of school, exams, and social media, there is no denying that children have big stressors in their lives. This trend only seems to be worsening.

At the same time, we’ve gone biofeedback mad, culturally. FitBit sold 300,000 devices in 2011 and 10.5 million devices in 2015, and it is still growing around 45% annually. People want to know how mobile they are, how many calories they eat, what their heartrate is – anything that can give a picture of the insides of their bodies.

TakeTen is looking to capitalise on this trend. TakeTen comprises a visual app and a sensor pulse oximeter, which clips onto your earlobe, converting signals to HRV (heart rate variability). That fluttery feeling you get in your chest when you’re anxious? That’s what TakeTen is capturing. It means your heart is beating irregularly. Getting your nervous system out of the ‘fight or flight’ response mode is key to releasing anxiety. These processes can be measured through relatively low-cost sensor technology. TakeTen has brought it all together in one ingenious, yet user-friendly, solution.

Founder and owner Fintan Connolly told me, “Kids watch themselves go from stressed to calm on our app. If they’re in the ‘red’ they need to calm down to get into the ‘green’ zone. The process distracts the mind away from the original anxious thoughts. Once they are calm, the app offers games to play, but the games don’t start until they regulate themselves. It’s important that they make the correlation between being calm and being able to learn efficiently.”


I know, from parenting two small children, that getting kids to recognise emotions (anger versus sadness, for instance) is critical to self-regulation.

“Right now 88 per cent of 12-18 year olds report feeling stressed out,” said Fintan. “Educators are very worried about this trend. This is why our app has been in-demand by schools, and we are getting lots of requests for in-home use.”

From a schoolteacher’s perspective, having this technology at the ready can help them manage busy classrooms.

But selling to schools isn’t easy. As Fintan describes, “They have a slow sales cycle.” This means that it’s crucial to set up distribution agreements with companies that bring tech into schools. TakeTen has partnered with InnovateMySchool to expand their current reach. At present 200 schools across Great Britain and Northern Ireland use TakeTen. The app also comes with a “Steady Eddie” eight-minute meditation exercise that teachers play over their interactive whiteboards.

Headquartered at Belfast Metropolitan College’s E3 campus, TakeTen has been bootstrapped to date, and is turning over impressive revenues already, even though there are only two partners involved. The company is seeking a seed investment of £500,000 at present. Fintan said, “We have been in discussions with California’s Department of Education. They’ve indicated that there would be great receptivity for TakeTen in their schools because it addresses an issue they’re struggling with.”

A deal of that size would obviously require some necessary scaling up. But having achieved so much already, Fintan is up for the challenge.

The future is bright for this ambitious entrepreneur.

Fintan told me he’s developed a new app specifically for paediatric oncology patients, to help children recently diagnosed with cancer to manage their stress and anxiety. It will be launched next month and represents the company’s first foray into healthcare. Also, corporate wellness is a promising growth area they can explore.

“Our other plans are to become a software-only business, and give up the hardware sensors. All the monitoring is possible through the latest Smartphone camera technology,” said Fintan.

What is the revenue model?

At present the revenue model involves a set-up cost for the school, which typically comes from their discretionary budget. In addition, schools pay an annual licensing charge per pupil.

TakeTen is a finalist for the #INVENT2016 awards in the Life and Health category. I had one more question for Fintan: “Did you stay in the green during your pitch at INVENT?”

Fintan said, “No! I was well in the red the whole time. Once my partner (Aidan McKenna) started speaking and the attention was off me, I got back into the green.”

With potential sales in lucrative American markets, the future may truly be green for this startup.

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