In 2016 I had an idea to create a city-based family tourism app. I first thought of it when trying to find an innovative way to engage my children with their local city, Cambridge, and all the exciting sights it has to offer. I thought ‘how can I get the kids off their phones and interested in their surroundings?’, and it occurred to me that, instead of taking away the technology, I could instead create something that would use the technology effectively for family adventures in Cambridge.
I wasn’t aware of a city guide or app that was tailored towards parents and children, and so with a background in software and having been on a number of writing courses, I set out to research the local area and to write stories for a guide that would appeal to families – making sure to use a friendly tone, to tell jokes, and to put activities in such as challenging children to find particular things on the way, or when they reached a destination.
I also wanted to provide really useful information, such as restaurants or cafés that are really geared to welcoming families; where parents can go to find baby changing facilities; and which outdoor adventures would suit little legs, and so on.
It was fairly straightforward to put together an initial app. I developed the structure, then worked alongside graphic designers to develop the look and feel, before launching an early version of the app – named YoYo Let’s Go – on the app store in February 2017.
In the first six months the app was downloaded 200 times which was really fantastic and I received such positive feedback, such as how there was nothing else like this for children that focuses on local heritage. However, having estimated that there was a potential 450,000 users annually, I wasn’t sure beyond the thousands of flyers I had been distributing around Cambridge how to take the app to this bigger ‘waiting’ audience.
It was at this point I came across Signpost2grow, which provided with me 12 hours of consultancy around growing the business, through which I developed the business model, realised the need to register with Companies House and HMRC, and attended bookkeeping courses. I learnt about some of the essential steps I would need to take that I hadn’t previously thought of, and the experience was really helpful in formalising my business approach and formulating a marketing plan.
In July 2017 Signpost2grow put me in touch with the team at REACTOR, and I attended one of the Concept Development Workshops, which provided opportunities to develop and practise intense three-minute pitching; to refine the business model canvas; and to consider for the first time whether applying games theory would enhance the app. This was really interesting as I recognised that there was an opportunity not only to include a game as an add-on to the app, but to actually incorporate elements of reward, challenge, and levelling up into the core app – to encourage return visits, to influence behavioural change and so on. I also applied for REACTOR funding – which is available jointly from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Anglia Ruskin University. The process of applying for funding was useful in itself – I needed to get quotes from multiple organisations to work with me on implementing game mechanics into the product - this also enhanced the look and feel of the product in order to make it more professional, and progressed the product to the second stage of development with improved navigation and structure.
The team at REACTOR is always happy for people to go along to events to chat about ideas and offer advice, and the tips that the team was able to provide and the networks that grew were also invaluable – in terms of identifying who locally might be available to offer help and advice on the app’s development and, essentially, to consult on developing the gamified element of the app. Unlike the usual video games the designers had worked on, where the game element is the entire basis of playing, we had to find a way of incorporating game elements into the app that would encourage engagement with physical surroundings, not just with the app itself (which is how most traditional games boost the time players spend gaming).
The funding was approved, which gave me the ability to pay the team at Polygon Treehouse to develop the app and, by July 2018, we had a Minimum Viable Product. The most valuable element of REACTOR’s support has to be the help in defining my product through gamification. Furthermore, the reputation of the REACTOR project and its team gives projects like mine a real stamp of approval, which has been incredibly helpful.
From this point I was doing a lot of pitching events to try to secure funding to take the app to the next stage. The business model had been to give the app away for free, but I was receiving feedback from funders that this might not be the right approach. I was still in touch with REACTOR and in September 2018 the team directed me to Innovate2Succeed, part of Innovate UK and delivered by Exemplas, which offers support in taking existing businesses onto a mentoring scheme if they are perceived to have the capacity to grow. The first piece of advice I received was that the app could remain free, but that in-app purchases would offer a stronger business model. I also further developed my IP, and worked on increasing access to markets and scaling the app up from a focus on Cambridge, to a focus on other cities.
REACTOR also introduced me to academic support from Anglia Ruskin University. I was able to work with travel and tourism academics in an advisory capacity who helped me to develop the concept of the app from something that works for families, to more broadly being something that can help tackle nationwide issues of over-tourism in cities like Cambridge. Through this academic support, I discovered that there was little research data about the behaviours of city visitors; quite a surprising fact bearing in mind that cities like Cambridge receive a huge portion of their income from tourists and tourism. So we are now considering how to use gamification to ‘level out’ visitors to attractions across the city and encourage visitors to make trips to attractions that are off the beaten track by looking at visitor behaviours and incentivising particular behaviours through the app – for instance, identifying not only the more well-known destinations like the Sedgwick Museum, but also the graffiti on Mill Road, which also forms an integral part of our city’s personality.
I am now going through a number of rounds of funding applications with Innovate UK, applying for Heritage grants and Research & Development grants, and the support received from all of these business catalysts has been really helpful and encouraging. The next steps for YoYo Let’s Go, once I have secured additional funding, will be to create different user profiles within the app and to add more elements of gamification; prompting children to look around, or giving adults items that they have to remember, or making the screen go off so that everyone has to collaborate to find the next destination. I also hope to establish new trails with different themes – for example environmental trails, or seasonal trails, or topical trails such as an ‘Eddie Redmayne’ trail or a ‘Science’ trail.
I’m incredibly grateful to have received all the support I have from REACTOR and the other business catalysts. It’s only through the provision of expertise and advice in these ways that people like me can have an idea one day and, in just a couple of years, have developed an MVP ready to pitch to business investors.
With a background as a product and web designer I was, by 2007, freelancing as a result of the substantial amount of time I spend caring for my daughter, who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at 18 months. Prior to this diagnosis our family was unfamiliar with CF, but we quickly learnt about living with the condition and now, 12 years later, I have developed a solution that I believe will improve the lives of CF sufferers and their families.
CF causes abnormally thick mucus to build up in sufferers’ lungs, which can lead to blockages of the pancreatic ducts, intestines, and bronchi – which can in turn cause irreparable damage. In order to dislodge much of the mucus that has built up, and to keep lungs especially healthy in the longer-term, CF sufferers complete daily physiotherapy. For very young children, this can mean parents spending time each day positioning their child, trying to gently encourage mucus to be dislodged from their lungs with various techniques. As sufferers grow up, they will begin twice-daily respiratory (blowing) physiotherapy, in which they blow into a device with a particular level of force, for a specified number of times, again in a bid to dislodge the mucus that builds up.
It was this particular element of my daughter’s daily routine that inspired me to want to make physiotherapy more fun. Families struggle to ensure that the twice-daily physiotherapy has been completed properly; there is far too much room for debate about whether each blow has been forceful enough and, without sitting and watching every single blow (which most people can understand teenagers don’t warm to); there’s plenty of debate around whether enough blows have been completed, too.
One particular morning during 2013, I remember that my daughter didn’t want to complete her physiotherapy at all. Of course, living with CF can be difficult for anyone, let alone a young person. It is a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of someone who is not yet 10 but, for each missed or incomplete session of physiotherapy, parents are acutely aware of the potential long-term repercussions. Each round can therefore be incredibly highly charged, with parents often taking the exercises much more seriously than their children might.
My idea to solve this was to harness the power of games to make physiotherapy more enjoyable for my daughter and, therefore, less of an opportunity for family arguments. As an electronics hobbyist, I initially began using little light bulbs to simply track whether an individual blow had been completed correctly. My daughter’s attitude to treatment changed immediately, but it didn’t take too long before the attraction of these little lights wore off. I realised quite quickly that I would need to come up with innovative ideas to keep any new developments exciting.
By 2015 I had worked out how to link the standard physiotherapy device to a smart phone, and the proof of concept was established. Registering each perfect blow (not too strong, nor too weak), users would be able to use the ‘power’ of each blow to drive an element of a game through the smartphone app. Think space invaders, where you can only shoot down the invaders if your shots travel far enough and quickly enough to hit your target before it moves. Most importantly, the app also keeps a tally of the number of successful blows completed, meaning that parents don’t need to be so closely involved in monitoring the process. The child can be left to their own devices and parents can check whether the physiotherapy has been completed by checking the status of the app.
I presented this concept to the CF team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and, with their early support, headed to the CF Trust in London just two weeks later. The Chief Executive and Head of Research ‘got it’ straight away, but the Trust couldn’t simply give money away, so I then realised that I would need to source some initial investment, because the CF Trust would only be able to support my concept through match-funding.
I won a place at Cambridge Social Ventures Incubator (at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge), and later that year I was one of the winners of the Big Venture Challenge (unLtd). Through these programmes I benefitted from support to build a social venture. Although I hadn’t known what ‘social ventures’ were beforehand, I discovered this was a fantastic fit for me because I felt it appropriate, that grant income secured from charities would directly benefit families managing chronic diseases. The time spent around other like-minded individuals was invaluable, especially in learning about sources of funding and support only available to a social venture.
In 2017 having graduated from Cambridge Social Ventures incubator I founded Playphysio®, as I realised I would need to develop a sustainable business plan and get started on fundraising. This was supported by Allia’s Cambridge based ‘Serious Impact’ incubator. By this point my daughter, now a teenager, was less interested in the arcade style games but increasingly receptive to treatment tracking. There is a dangerous trend in teenagers living with CF that as they get older they do tend to become more laid back in their approach to physiotherapy. However, pretending that everything is fine, sadly results in serious irreparable lung damage. So it’s imperative that Playphysio® continues to develop solutions to suit CF sufferers of all ages – ensuring there is always another style, or level, of solution to keep patients engaged with their physiotherapy treatment.
It was this realisation that led me to approach REACTOR – while I had managed to develop one game, I realised that to keep the ‘solution’ working day after day, month after month, year after year, I would need truly enjoyable and engaging games to be incorporated into the app. Whether this would be achieved by asking existing game studios to create a version of their game to work with the app, or by working with game developers to create new games, I wasn’t yet sure. But REACTOR’s network was really helpful, introducing me to game developers and existing studios, but also helping me to better understand the different elements of gaming that would be essential to keep CF sufferers engaged in their physiotherapy. I applied for one of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) REACTOR grants, which was awarded to me for the specific project of enhancing the gamified elements of my app, through creating code to link existing games to work with the app’s software. I initially had one game and, as a result of the support provided to me by REACTOR, I was able to develop the first game and an additional three games along with a code framework to enable existing games to easily work with the app.
With more games available to play, I was ready to support Addenbrooke’s Hospital in writing a grant application to Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, with a view to running a clinical trial into the safety and acceptance of gamifying physiotherapy for children with CF. The application was successful and enabled a match-funded grant from the CF Trust, and the trial kicked off in December 2018. It is on a rolling recruitment programme to May 2019 with space for up to 30 participants aged eight to 16 to take part. At the end of 2018 we were thrilled to be awarded some additional funding from Comic Relief’s Tech for Good fund, to build an online ‘clinical dashboard’ which care teams can use to view patient data remotely.
Today there are more than 4,000 children in the UK living with CF, and more than 10,000 people of all ages – and encouraging all patients to commit to daily physiotherapy has the potential to save the health service millions of pounds by helping to prevent some of the irreparable lung damage caused by repeat infections. Our mission remains to reduce the burden of care for families; to collect data to inform medical research; and to save on costs of care.
My ambition once the trial is complete is to transform the daily experience of physiotherapy for as many CF sufferers, and their families, as possible. From there, the technology could easily be developed to support patients who manage other respiratory diseases with similar daily physiotherapy. And in the same way that fitness apps use gamification to keep people active, or to track their diet, Playphysio® can provide a similarly usable, engaging and rewarding – yet bespoke – service to CF sufferers, and make a world of difference to their lives.
The first time I had the idea for Movements Map was nearly 20 years ago, when I was in my 20s. It stemmed from my interest in the way the world works, and the way people work within it. For example, when we carry out an action – what is it that makes us do this? And, more interestingly for me, what is it that makes me do something differently to someone else? Essentially, nearly everything we do in life has a physical movement attached. And when we think of these movements, although in the moment our range of action can seem infinite, there are actually a finite number of movements we can make. The idea behind Movements Map is to work backwards from these movements, to break them down into actions, and then further into single components of action, until we find the building blocks that are at the root of any skill we develop.
Although the way I think about movement has been with me for as long as I can remember, it was actually martial arts that made me take this thought and start to formulate it into an idea, and then a product. Martial arts catalysed this because, once I got to a higher level, I couldn’t help thinking about how it didn’t matter whether you were the most advanced or most amateur martial artist, the essential building blocks of movement were exactly the same. Ultimately, the basic movements of martial arts come down to the extension of limbs in different ways; the difference between a winner and a loser just comes down to execution and reason. So I thought, if we can create a stimulated environment that allows people to grasp this concept of the basic blocks of movement, they can begin to understand the concept of movement choice, the reason behind people’s choice of movement, and ultimately help them understand why one movement would win a fight, and one would lose it, for example.
Once my idea started to formulate in my mind, I reached out to friends around me for advice – and through my network of friends I was introduced to REACTOR. REACTOR provided me with a framework that was really imperative to the progress of my product’s development. Through series of networking events REACTOR organised, I was surrounded by like-minded people who wanted to learn how to get an idea off the ground or further expand on a product that was already in the works. This environment had an intangible result for me and my product; simply being around people that were working towards similar goals encouraged me and kept me on track with my product. This sort of motivation and environment is really important to someone that is taking a leap on a project or idea that can take up a lot of personal time and resources. Through the match funding element of the programme, REACTOR has also supported me with funding – which is helping me develop the idea as well as I possibly can at this stage. Alongside the pitching support, one-to-one mentoring, and financial backing, I’ve also been able to make use of REACTOR’s incubator space; this has been the most critical element in the formulation of my product, especially in its current alpha phase.
With REACTOR’s help, my product began to evolve. It progressed into a strong alpha stage application which utilises a central, 3D character in order for users to play with and experience the building blocks of movement that have been incorporated. The character is set into a stimulated environment that will allow the user to not only consider the movements of their character, but, at a later stage, also the movements of opponent characters. For example, continuing with the example of martial arts; if you want to develop this skill, you must be able to simultaneously consider your own movement and the movement of someone else, you must perceive and react and shape your own movement in response – perception is the reason behind movement.
The example I have given, of a martial arts combat environment, would be a high level stage of the application, which forms the third of three components within the application. So the application reduces movement to its basic blocks, and this is the first stage, which we call Building Blocks, the second stage is a further development on Building Blocks, and the third stage is concerned with the higher level of thinking needed for combat skills; such as the example I provided earlier. Currently, the application is at Building Block stage, but the second and third layers will be the next addition. Because the application is designed to help people understand the concept of skill, and so better their skills, it really is designed for everyone - whether you want to learn the basic hand movement for piano, or advanced combat.
The product has been gaining a lot of momentum in the past few months; it now takes up the majority of my working hours. Although I took part in the 2017-18 REACTOR Big Gamification Challenge and Showcase, the network and resources of REACTOR are still available to me; with the incubator space being essential to the development of my product, forming the foundation where which I can research and develop my application. While gamification is a big part of REACTOR, gamified elements do not yet exist in literal terms within my application – however, the idea of gaining a skill is a gamified concept in itself. Gaining skills or being an expert at something has the same effect as winning in terms of gamification, so in that sense, gamification really is in the core essence of the product itself. In the future, once we have built the further layers, I believe we will add gamification concepts to the product to increase its user experience further. We will also be looking to develop the application past its current alpha stage into a beta stage, and continue to develop upon that until we have a final, finished version, and product, of a simple thought I had almost 20 years ago.
The path that led to the creation of my app, Virtual Nick, started back in 2014; when I was just 19 years old and fresh out of college. Finishing college can be a daunting prospect for young people as they look ahead to their future to decide what the best next steps for them are – luckily, I had already decided that I wanted to become a personal trainer, which I set about doing as soon as I finished college. I have never been one to do things by half measures, so at the same time that I embarked on becoming a self-employed personal trainer, I also became a CrossFit Stags & Does coach. CrossFit is a mixture of gymnastics, weight lifting and metabolic conditioning that is both mentally and physically challenging. Through this I met a huge range of inspiring people from all walks of life, and I also competed at a high level of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit training.
I worked extremely hard on my career in the fitness industry (quite literally), and over time my client list reached near maximum capacity. Although this was a fantastic achievement, it was frustrating for the size of my business to be limited to a certain capacity, especially as a fair amount of my professional time as a personal trainer was spent planning and personalising my clients’ fitness programmes, not just training them. As the business and client list continued to grow, I decided to walk away from CrossFit, as both a coach and an athlete, so that I could dedicate enough of my time and resources into the expansion. During this period of coaching, I started to discuss Artificial Intelligence with one of my clients, who explained it as a simple process of working through questions and answers using technology. I realised that the process of asking and answering questions made up a lot of my planning process, which confirmed that AI could potentially help me take my business one step further, making the process of personal training more time and money efficient, and giving me the extra hours and resources to expand.
The idea of introducing modern technology into my personal training approach led me to the initial concept for Virtual Nick, and made me realise that, while I had great experience as a successful self-employed personal trainer, the development of a virtual, personal training app was a different ball game. So, I started to look for further information online, and in the local area, to support my development and came across a REACTOR MeetUp event. At the Meetup event, I learnt more about the REACTOR Project, and by November 2018, I became part of the programme. Through REACTOR, I was connected with several important networks within Cambridge and exposed to a variety of accelerator schemes. Not only did the event series allow me to meet like-minded people, they also taught me important matters such as the finer details of IP law, which in turn supported me in securing a Gamification and Innovation Grant through REACTOR.
Virtual Nick is now a fully developed product; it is an Artificial Intelligence fitness app that utilises user information to create and suggest bespoke workouts for the user. In the same way that a personal trainer is able to track client progress and adapt workout programmes in line with progression, the app collects data feedback to ensure clients are progressing at an optimal rate. As part of the REACTOR project, I also learnt about the concept of gamification. There is already an element of gamification within fitness, as improvements generally act as rewards that encourage further commitment and improvement. However, progress can be hard to track; Virtual Nick utilises games mechanics within the app by tracking and displaying user statistics in a clear way, allowing users to attempt to beat their previous efforts and consistently improve. I am currently using the REACTOR Incubator space weekly to further develop the app to its next stages; this involves getting the product out into local, independent gyms as a retention tool and to help gym goers stay on top of their training. We want to grow Virtual Nick across the UK over the next two years, and from there expand over Europe within the next five years – we have a big vision for the future of fitness and Virtual Nick. We want to put the power of personal training into the hands of everyone who wants to live a better, healthier lifestyle.
Working in finance and asset management for many years, I have always had a sound understanding of money and the way it works in our society. My career involved investing pensions in UK and global listed companies; a role that led to me becoming the go-to person for money guidance among my friends and family, on matters such as investments, consolidating pensions, and other day-to-day financial issues. While I’m sure this is common for professionals in any field, it always struck me that money – used by almost everyone, almost every day – shouldn’t be something that only experts are educated about; it should be something taught from a young age as an important life skill, something I had been keen to pass on to my own children. The challenge was how to make money ‘fun’; that is what led me to the idea of Moneyready.
Moneyready is an online financial education platform for young people, aged six to 18 years old; designed to provide independent, easy-to-access, guided learning. As a comprehensive resource, it will allow young people to learn at their own pace and in their own time, and can also be utilised in a school setting, saving preparation time and avoiding the need for specialist knowledge. To turn my idea into a reality, I first set about designing the concept myself, then engaging games developers for support to bring my idea to life. Before long, I needed support with taking it yet another step further. This is when I was put in contact with REACTOR.
The REACTOR Project’s programme of events, workshops and mentoring provided skills and knowledge to grow Moneyready further. A big part of the REACTOR Project is its event series; one event that I really benefitted from focused on gamification, protection of intellectual property and how to seek funding. This event not only gave me a great insight into these matters, but also provided me with the opportunity to meet a variety of like-minded entrepreneurs and development experts that helped me to evolve Moneyready. The most important thing I learned from REACTOR – something which helped solved my aim to make learning about money fun – was the concept of gamification, which has become a key component of the product.
Working with REACTOR supported my recent decision to move Moneyready from my side passion to a full-time career. From the project, I not only gained the confidence and expertise to make this move, I also benefited from its matched grant funding. Having fully committed to Moneyready, I am now in the process of developing a minimal viable product for use, with the Moneyready content platform and games still in their development phase, soon to be complemented by animated video explainers. I’m currently in conversations with partners about how to ensure Moneyready is market ready, and I can’t wait to get to the point that we are able to start benefitting young people and having a long-lasting impact on their financial competency and, hopefully, their lives.
Before setting up Outfield Technologies, I worked at Marshall Airspace and Defence Group in Cambridge. This was the result of a lifelong interest in aerospace, technology and essentially anything that challenged the human expectation of what is possible – particularly, the use of technology for positive change. My career at Marshall’s lasted several years; as an engineer, I was able to explore the ins and outs of aircraft moderation, which was hugely exciting for me. However, as technology continued to develop beyond the supposed limits of aviation: manned aircrafts, to drone technology and robotic aviation; my ideas for what was possible continued to grow.
My main motivation continues to be seeing real life impact of technology on the world – it can often have a bad reputation, but that is when it isn’t used to create positive impact. For example, you can design a revolutionary new social media platform with all of the latest functionalities, but what does this really mean for society or the world? So, as technology continued to advance, so did the realms of possibility for positive change. I began to think about society as a whole, and the areas within it that could be supported or enhanced through the use of technology, specifically drone technology. It soon became obvious that there was one area that, despite the entire world relying on it, had remained fairly untouched by the benefits of technology, and that was agriculture. So, alongside Jim McDougall, my Co-Founder, we set up Outfield Technologies in order to change this.
Outfield Technologies is an agri-tech start-up that is building a crop management tool for fruit growers, farmers, orchards, and agriculturists. Agriculture presented us with a fantastic opportunity to improve a range of issues in the real world; making a significant positive impact on the environment and global food security as well as having commercial benefits. Even small increases in agricultural efficiency could allow us to have a significant impact when applied on a global scale. Our end goal from the start has been to develop a product, or technology, which could support the agriculture industry, make it more efficient, or improve its impact on the environment. If we did this, we knew we would be able to have a tangible impact on the world.
There was a lot of research and development needed from the day the company was founded, and it was not until 2018 that we first became aware of REACTOR and the support that it could offer us, which is what we needed to launch our product into the next phase of development. Through REACTOR, we were able to utilise its match funding grant, meet a huge range of innovative and like-minded entrepreneurs in the local area, and also showcase Outfield Technologies at REACTOR’s annual showcase event to interested start-ups and potential investors. It was interesting to learn about the concept of gamification through REACTOR, which we have grasped the concept of for use in our pitches and demonstrations of the product – the reward to our customers being a more intuitive platform and an improved agriculture process with cost efficiency. Our experience with REACTOR, which began towards the end of 2018, ties with our most promising year of Outfield Technologies to date.
Looking to the future, we will shortly be trialling and testing our first full scale product, which estimates the yield of apple orchards in early 2020. This will allow us to be ready for full deployment to the UK market by the next apple season – at which point, farmers across the UK will be able to benefit from the improvement of efficiency that our technology will enable. As the climate continues to become ever more unpredictable, technology that can analyse and predict yields will become ever more important. We are starting with apple orchards in the UK and South Africa, but we’re already seeing demand for our technology to be used worldwide for the global benefit of everyone.