This week we put Memrica founder Mary Matthews under the V3 spotlight to find out more about the Birmingham Innovation Campus-based startup that provides apps to help with memory problems such as dementia.
The aim is to reduce anxiety about forgetting, increase confidence and prolong independence by giving people a tool to create their own intelligent prompts.
The system uses recognition technologies to link information users want to remember to the people and things around them, and offers a smart reminder system where data, image and sound files are collated to help people make the most of each event and appointment.
When did you start Memrica?
The company was founded in October 2013 to create apps to help people find their stored favourite memories more easily.
The Memrica app uses recognition technologies to create a virtual shortcut between digital content and personal mementos to create a canvas of memories around them. Work on Prompt started in July 2014.
Why did you choose to develop the Prompt app?
Families supporting people living with dementia contacted Memrica to ask about using the original Memrica app to support reminiscence therapy.
At the time my mother-in-law was in the final stages of dementia and I felt that, if technology could help, I should make it happen.
I spoke to a lead clinician at an NHS memory clinic and he felt the technology had much greater potential to help people live well as long as possible.
Further research with people living with dementia, families, carers and clinical staff refined a list of requirements.
I was completely shocked at the lack of support for people worried about their memory, waiting for a diagnosis and then, when someone does receive a diagnosis, typically they're told to come back in six months for a check-up.
I could not believe people were not using today's ubiquitous and clever technology to make life better at a time when their world has collapsed. I felt I could make a difference and set out to make it happen.
Tell us how you got Memrica off the ground?
I secured a grant from Nominet Trust's Social Seed fund, which supported initial research, co-design workshops and development. An alpha version is currently being tested with volunteers.
What technology do you use to develop the memory aids?
Prompt is being developed for iOS on iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini and iPod, in the first instance, to take advantage of a single camera specification.
Stored content will be synced to the cloud, but most functionality will also be available locally to ensure the app works while offline. Flurry is integrated to track crashes during testing.
What level of funding have you received so far?
A grant from Nominet Trust Social Seed fund and an offer of a SMART proof-of-concept award from Innovate UK. Currently, I'm in discussion with potential investors.
What challenges have you encountered to date?
The biggest challenge, aside from development, has been finding people in the right demographic to participate in testing. I am very focused on helping people with early memory problems and working age dementia.
This group might not already be in the medical system and so are difficult to identify. If they do have a diagnosis and are in the system there are, quite rightly, systems in place to prevent them being exploited through unregulated research.
However, these systems are really designed to control drug trials and are not agile enough to support the rapid feedback mechanisms needed to co-design, develop and test an app.
I've got round this challenge by making contact with community organisations around the country and I've met some amazing people.
What's been the biggest highlight of Memrica to date?
The feedback I receive from people who are so happy that I'm working to create a solution that could help them improve their quality of life.
What you do to relax or have fun after a busy day?
I go to a tap or adult ballet class. I find the discipline needed to execute exercises and steps correctly clears my mind as well as giving me a good workout.
What did you do before starting Memrica?
I was the strategy and business development director for Blitz Games Studios, which was one of the UK's leading independent videogame developers.
I led work on creating games for health and secured a contract from the US Department of Defence to create a motion controlled game for rehabilitation.
It was working at Blitz that helped me discover that I understood technology concepts and had an aptitude for combining different features to create something completely new.
What are your favourite and worst things about running your own startup?
Favourite: feeling that I can use my knowledge and skills to make a difference to people's lives.
Worst: loneliness. Being a single founder can be tough. Being part of Innovation Birmingham Campus really helps as there are other businesses I can discuss issues with. I would love to hear from people who'd like to work with me to grow the company either on the technical side or on the marketing side. Equity options will be available as well as salary.
If you could emulate the success of another startup, which company would it be?
I'm a great fan of Big White Wall and Buddi. They've both made a real impact in raising awareness that technology can be valuable in healthcare and that it's possible to be committed to make a difference and be a viable business.
I love Ayogo Health's work in blending gamification, psychology and social networking. My Cognition is another innovative company using game-based approaches to assess and improve cognitive function.
Do you work remotely, in a shared environment or have your own office space?
I work remotely from home as well as using a shared space at Innovation Birmingham Campus.
Coffee shop of choice?
I rarely visit a coffee shop. I like Caffè Nero as they put water out to help yourself. There's also a great indie coffee shop in Birmingham's Piccadilly Arcade, Faculty Coffee, which also offers unusual blended teas.
Beverage of choice?
Black tea first thing, coffee mid-morning, hot or cold water most of the day and then maybe a glass of wine in the evening.
Difficult. The ones I use most frequently are Network Rail's travel planner, Tube Map, Evernote, Citymapper and Twitter.
Do you benefit from startup communities and related networking?
Birmingham has a great tech scene with several ‘meet up' groups and communities. Birmingham.io is a forum for posting queries, suggestions and jobs and there's a very supportive community online too.
There's also a very vibrant startup scene at Innovation Birmingham Campus, which offers a tech startup support programme with hot desking and mentoring.
Could the government and technology industry do more to support UK startups?
There's some great support out there for young people in particular. The thinking is that they'll have great ideas and skills to make great tech products, but they need the business skills to execute the idea.
There's also support for businesses that are beginning to grow via schemes like Growth Accelerator.
There's less support for startups that are in between these stages, businesses that have a concept and a plan and now need to move forward.
Seed stage funding is, I think, one of the most difficult to get right for startups in the UK, balancing investors' expectations against retaining equity for future rounds.
One of my personal gripes is that the Midlands is often forgotten as a tech hub. Most accelerator schemes are based in London.
In the last budget we saw support announced for Northern Tech hubs. We need to consider the UK as a whole and how startups can thrive in every location.
If you want to take part in the V3 Startup Spotlight contact Roland Moore-Colyer.
Previous startups under the spotlight have included smartphone maker Kazam, cloud collaboration company Huddle, smart cities analytics company Future Decisions and cloud computing services firm Fedr8.
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