Mark Roddy is the entrepreneur behind MindMyths, a new mental health tech company that combines VR (virtual reality) gaming technology with traditional meditation to help individuals manage stress and anxiety when and where they want.
“The idea is that you create your own wellbeing space and once you put the headset on you are immersed in a landscape of great natural beauty,” Roddy explains.
“The location may also have links to ancient mythical, sacred, or healing spaces. For example, Lough Gill, home to the Lake Isle of Innisfree immortalised in Yeats’s poem. The backdrops are very tranquil and help create the right environment in which to acquire the systematic techniques required for managing stress effectively.”
Prior to setting up MindMyths in October 2014, Roddy had spent 14 years working for telecommunications company Lake as a product manager. He was heavily involved in research into next-generation technologies and while working on a project around the internet of things he began to see huge possibilities emerging in the VR space.
When Lake was subsequently sold Roddy decided to turn his attention full time to identifying a potential business opportunity in the VR area. This was less daunting for him than it might have been for others as MindMyths is not his first foray into business.
He already had two start-ups under his belt. The decision to focus on mental health and wellbeing came about because Roddy had become aware of the benefits of mindful meditation three years ago while training as a listening volunteer with the Samaritans.
In 2015, MindMyths won a European Commission-backed accelerator competition (Future Internet Challenge for e-Health) and this provided the company with seed funding of €220,000 to develop and beta test Roddy’s idea for a VR-connected health platform for public use.
At the same time the company received €50,000 under Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start fund to design and launch a VR-based meditation product for individuals.
MindMyths has been working closely with health professionals, including Roddy’s brother who is a psychiatrist, to validate its designs and it now offers two products: a VR software platform aimed at healthcare providers and organisations with employee wellbeing programmes, and a guided product for individuals who want to self-manage their stress. Both products have global reach, Roddy says.
“Worldwide, there is a significant increase in stress, anxiety and burnout and access to mental health services is an issue,” he says.
“Some estimates suggest that over 50 per cent of sufferers are not accessing existing services for reasons such as inconvenience and embarrassment. People also have concerns around the stigma attached to mental health problems.
“The statistics in the UK alone show that around 250,000 people can’t work due to stress-related illness.
“MindMyths is addressing the access problems by designing software solutions that offer cost-effective and anonymous access to services,” Roddy adds.
“This feeds naturally into the emerging field of connected or digital healthcare where services are delivered directly to the home. The uniquely immersive experience provided by VR has significant potential as a next-generation technology for these kinds of connected health applications.”
MindMyths employs two people (software development and subject expertise are outsourced) and its patented technology is currently based around Samsung smartphones and Gear VR headsets. The self-guided product will go on sale in a few months through the Oculus store and will cost in the region of $5. The Oculus store has more than five million customers.
MindMyths, which is still pre-revenue, is not without competitors but Roddy says its use of VR technology gives it the edge. “There are a number of products available including smartphone apps and solutions for specific problems such as phobias. However, by using VR we can offer a much richer delivery experience and we are also targeting the wider market for stress management,” he says.