2021 was the year we all hoped the world would go back to ‘normal’. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, not by a long shot. We had major new Covid variants, supply chain crises, natural disasters, a political uprising and much more besides. We also had Peppa Pig World, Jackie Weaver, Cat Filters, and digital artwork selling for hundreds of millions that wouldn’t look out of place on a tamagotchi. It seems that ‘normal’ is a constantly shifting definition these days.
For neumind, 2021 was our first full-year and one that will be remembered fondly. It has been the busiest year of my life, packed full of discovery, purpose, successes and failures. But most significantly, it has been a year full of learning - the year neumind cut its teeth so to speak.
If you’re in a rush, you can click here for 2021 in numbers. Otherwise, read on!
In January 2021, neumind were operating out of a garden shed, a prototype of a smartphone-based cognitive assistant, a handful of users and £20k in the bank. We now have hundreds of early-adopters, a huge waiting list and successfully closed our first major round. More importantly, we have laid the groundwork for what neumind will become.
Below, I have described briefly some of the activities I feel have been most beneficial to neumind in 2021.
We kickstarted 2021 by participating in two accelerators, simultaneously. It was utter madness but transformational.
The Elevate program run by the Oxford Foundry (OXFO) is an equity-free accelerator for Oxford University alumni. Simply put, the program was incredible. It involved six months of intense and focused workshops, mentorship from genuine thought-leaders, and bespoke support from the excellent foundry team. We had sessions from the likes of Managing Director of Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Bill Aulet, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to mention just a few, as well as personal mentorship from ex-CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, Kevin Roberts, Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, and many excellent resident experts from the foundry. It is the perfect environment for growth and we all emerged more capable, confident and resilient founders.
Due to Covid, the accelerator was fully remote bar demo day, where we had the opportunity to meet the outstanding OXFO team and founders in our cohort. Having spent so much time with other in the virtual world, it was a very special couple of days meeting everyone in the flesh and hearing the excellent pitches during demo day - held at the inspiring Oxford Natural History Museum. Turning the tables somewhat, we pitched directly below a real Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
The other accelerator was run by Bethnal Green Ventures - Europe’s leading early-stage tech for good VC. They delivered a fantastically well put-together program designed to propel companies to their first major funding round. We benefited from some brilliant mentorship and some inspiring founders from our cohort. The result of holiday Covid compromise rather than suave design, Rufus and I conducted our demo-day pitch from a beautiful Sardinian beach complete with sunset and Aperol Spritz (just out of shot of the webcam).
When we started this journey, we were guilty of committing the cardinal start-up sin of building too early, without a thorough enough understanding of our market and positioning. These accelerators not only matured our strategy, but provided us with a solid base of expertise and experience necessary to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. The right accelerator at the right time can add huge value to a start-up and it is something I’d highly recommend, especially as first-time founders.
This year also saw Neumind’s first hires and internships. As CEO, I know this is an experience gap I have and so come April, I was excited to welcome a group of high-flying university graduates to work on Alexa integrations for Alfred - our cognitive assistant app. Smarthome tech is becoming ever more ubiquitous and is hugely promising for improving functionality and accessibility of cognitive assistive technologies. The project allowed us to explore the feasibility of Alexa integrations whilst giving us the opportunity to manage a team. The students successfully delivered a working prototype which demonstrated integrating the Alexa smart speaker with the neumind API, while helping us to understand the strengths and limitations of such technologies.
One of the students also stayed on for an internship, becoming our first official hire and data engineer. We also welcomed another excellent engineering intern, provided by OXFO’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship program.
Neumind was fully remote at this stage which required another layer of consideration during hiring and onboarding. Although I appreciate the possibilities remote work brings, when it comes to focused product work, I am firmly in the camp of in-person work.
It was an excellent learning experience that really forced us to reassess our management approach and processes. As of this year, neumind now has its own office space in North London and we have kick-started the year by welcoming the excellent Claudia Hill full-time.
The past year we have fully immersed ourselves into our sector – from navigating the ludicrously complex care pathway, to the peculiarities of the medico-legal industry. We’ve investigated insurance, distribution channels, the clinicians responsible for coordinating care, and those who deliver it, but most importantly the survivors and family members we serve. The goal? To guide us in making the right business and product decisions to grow neumind and deliver a truly valuable service to our users.
What is the best way to go about this? Primary research. Well over a hundred interviews with neurologists, case managers, lawyers, service leads, occupational therapists and neuropsychologists. We already know the statistics like the back of our hands, but this level of deeper and targeted discovery yields far richer learnings and gives a sharper perspective to the statistics already known.
Some of what we have found is shocking. Waiting lists for community and outpatient neuro services – a critical part of the pathway that aims to deliver longer term support – are commonly exceeding 8 months. And with the current funding and personnel shortages, only 15% of neuro services feel they are able to adequately support patients. The pandemic has certainly compounded these problems, but also offers some hope. 2021 has seen a 60% increase in the adoption of digital tools within the NHS, a change many believe will become permanent.
For neumind, this work has by no means led to a linear trajectory, more of a winding series of investigations and experiments. This process allowed us to zero in on our current strategy and bring greater clarity on our real customers and the pain points we address for them.
There is also a growing awareness of acquired brain injury (ABI) and the inadequacy of the support currently available. MP Chris Byrant recently proposed a new ‘ABI Bill’ which urges a governmental strategy for improving services for those with ABI. Due to overwhelming evidence and support, the government has committed to implementing a cross-departmental strategy in 2022, effectively fast-tracking the bill through parliament.
My personal experience as a caregiver and family member has given me unique insight into the key problems faced. But, the problems are numerous and, by the very nature of neurological conditions, highly diverse. ABI and similar conditions need and deserve a quality digitally enabled service, however to achieve this, the solution must be highly-versatile. To design this, we returned once again to the problems, but at a far deeper level to find the similarities at the core of the problem.
Towards the end of the year, it has been a privilege to listen to dozens of survivors recount their stories, each one a hero’s journey in itself. This type of work has undoubtedly been the greatest learning experience of 2021, helping to shape all aspects of our product and business, as well as helping us form the partnerships, influencers and early adopters that will propel us forward. This work has provided the bedrock for the product work we will undertake this year. We are incredibly grateful to all those who have shared their stories, experience and expertise with us.
The foundation has been laid and preparations made. It is armed with all of this learning that neumind enters 2022 and I’m incredibly excited to share what we have in store over the next few months!!!
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- written by Ellis Parry