Memrica Rides High with Uber’s Support

We’re really excited to announce that Uber has made an investment in Memrica. This follows our success in the UberPITCH contest, where we were one of only 4 start ups chosen from 4000 entries across Europe to meet Uber Co Founder Travis Kalanick. He says today in a post on his Facebook site that he was so impressed by the vision and commitment shown by all 4 businesses that Uber is investing in each one. It’s so thrilling to have our work recognised by one of the most exciting and successful entrepreneurs in the world today – as well as being a really nice guy! Here’s the announcement.

UberPITCH

This time last week I was in the back on an Uber taxi pitching to a potential investor. UberPITCH was an incredible idea – instead of businesses chasing investors, why not bring the investors to the businesses and then find the best and help them accelerate.

Uber is one of the world’s fastest growing companies and also one of the most disruptive. It offers and on demand taxi service, with a pricing model that changes with demand and anyone can become an Uber driver. It’s controversial because it challenges established taxi licensing structures and regulation.

Being in the back of the taxi, pitching Memrica Prompt and its mission to stop the fear of forgetting was a surprisingly intimate and relaxed experience. I had my listener’s undivided attention and since I had woken up that morning with laryngitis, my voice wouldn’t have carried much further than the other side of the cab! 4000 people entered from 37 cities and 21 countries across Europe.

On Sunday I received a call to tell me I had won! I was amazed, thrilled and excited and at that point I thought I’d won the Birmingham round. It wasn’t until I understood that only 4 people were being invited to go to Berlin to met Uber’s co-founder that I really understood what I’d achieved.

During the Berlin visit the 4 companies chosen spent around an hour with Travis Kalanick. He was warm and generous with his advice, incredibly supportive and to hear his feedback on our businesses was amazingly helpful. We also were able to attend the NOAH and Start up Europe conferences.

Reflecting on the experience back in the UK it feels like it was a whirlwind of great experiences. Starting a business is tough and sometimes it feels like pushing water uphill, to have the endorsement of one the world’s most exciting entrepreneurs is extraordinary and gives a real boost to the business and its profile. Wow, what a ride!

Objects of Inspiration

Memrica is based in Birmingham, which has a vibrant tech community. Two artists, Ian Andrews and Sarah Fortes Mayer, have devised works based on ‘Objects of Inspiration’ and have bee working with tech businesses to have a different conversation about inspiration. This was partly a community exercise and partly a personal journey; everyone working at the Innovation Birmingham hub was encouraged to bring an object that inspired them to the campus. The artists then worked with everyone participating to create and share stories and journeys using live drawing, photography and performance.

I love this idea as Memrica has its roots in objects of inspiration. When my sister died, I really became aware that there were things around me that sparked memories about her – a vase she’d given me for my birthday made from swirling bubble blue iridescent glass or the books we’d read together as children, tatty and dis-coloured but more precious than ever. The first Memrica app made a connection between these objects and favourite digital images so you could see those memories quickly. When people asked about using it for people living with dementia, the focus of the company changed to what you see today – but I’ve always found pleasure in the idea that when you look at something you see more than its physical presence.

The idea of sharing personal inspiration with a wider community is really exciting. It means searching deeply to express why this object is so meaningful in a way that resonates with others. I’m sure new personal insights will emerge, not only through the thought process but in the act of sharing itself and receiving other’s thoughts and feedback. Self reflection and self discovery is a powerful act, often we don’t give enough time to thinking about what motivates and moves us. Thinking about our own objects of inspiration is really rewarding, because it emphasises why we are who we are.

 

 

Pitch at Palace

Memrica was privileged to participate in Pitch at Palace, an initiative started by HRH the Duke of York to showcase UK entrepreneurs and connect them with resources and support. The journey started with a paper application, then a live pitch in Manchester.

Each company has 3 minutes to tell their story and gain interest, with just one slide to support their pitch. I have to say it was very challenging to keep a 3 minute talk in my head, without the visual clues of slides to maintain the structure of the speech. Also slides can sometimes illustrate the point you want to get across much more easily than trying to describe it!

Memrica was one of the winners in Manchester and with 45 other companies across the UK we went to another pitch event in Cambridge and then on to the final in St James Palace. We were placed 5th out of the 45 companies taking part in a People’s Choice public vote, which is a great achievement when we were competing against more established businesses and university supported spin outs.

More than that it was a great experience. I met some amazingly talented people and as part of sharing my story and asking people to vote for us, I have received some incredibly supportive feedback. The wonderful thing about Pitch at Palace is that it brings people who are passionate about supporting start up businesses together with those companies who most need support. People from all over the world attended and so it’s also a showcase for the incredible ideas that are being developed in the UK – everything from a new cosmetic paint to whiten teeth, to a sensor worn by cows to alert farmers to foot damage, to new approaches to treating cancer, to a nipple shield embedded with the right dose medication for breast feeding mothers in developing countries.

Memrica is so proud to have been among such wonderful companies, whose ideas aim to make the world a better place. We hope we will make a contribution too.

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New Look for Memrica Prompt

Over the last few months the team has been working hard to digest feedback from the test of the last prototype. We’ve listened hard and made some significant changes. We’ve realised that recognising a person or a place is not just about what they look like, it’s also about the back story linked to that person or place… when did you last meet someone, what did you talk about, who else do you know who is linked to that person? Or when were you last in this place, why were you there, who did you meet here and what did you do? These are things many of us take for granted and they help us make sense of life, give us confidence that we can have a great conversation or feel comfortable somewhere. It’s when this background is missing that anxiety sets in and it becomes difficult to meet people or go places.

We’re now working on a system that will collate this information and relate it to images, video and audio to bring users that deep insight that brings confidence. Of course this relies on the information being in the system in the first place and so we’re adding a web dashboard for families to help manage importing and inputting content. As before though, the main user is always in control and can choose who does what in the system. After all you might not want to share notes about medication or personal thoughts with everyone!

Here’s a link to a video giving a quick overview of what’s planned – and if we haven’t met before, yes this is what I look like! https://youtu.be/WP3wtZnMr-k

 

 

New award for Prompt

Memrica is proud and delighted to share that founder, Mary Matthews, has been selected for an award by UnLtd. The organisation is the UK’s leading supporter of social entrepreneurship and is working with the Coutts Foundation to accelerate the development of solutions to help an aging society. The award recognises Prompt’s potential to help people live well with memory problems as well as prolonging independence, which may reduce the need for more complex and expensive interventions.

More information: https://unltd.org.uk/coutts-foundation/

Turning knowledge into insight – lessons learned

Turning knowledge into insight, lessons learned

To mangle a quote ‘It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that a business with a great idea for health tech must be in want of people with lived experience to help design it.’ There’s a real buzz around co-creation at the moment, ‘nothing for me, without me’ is a common cry. But how easy is it to achieve and is it the best approach?

Memrica Prompt’s design has been informed by and tested with people living with memory problems and early dementia. However it took more time to find those people, talk to them to understand what they needed and refine initial designs than it took to develop the current prototype app.

Finding people in the right demographic was challenging. The ideal candidate was a smartphone and tablet user, who might already be creating their own coping strategies and who might or might not have a diagnosis. People often don’t admit to having memory or cognitive function problems, often their families will be aware before they are but may not broach the subject, so these people are under the radar. This is as much as problem for researching disease pathways as it is for the people living with the memory problem and those who care about them.

People seeking a diagnosis are in the national health system and, quite rightly, are protected against harmful or exploitative studies. Talking to patients about what they need from technology is worlds away from a clinical trial, yet there appears to be no ‘light touch’ route to gain access.  Potentially, the NHS new Test Bed approach, now being set up, could remove this barrier.

Clinical staff have been more than willing to share knowledge and have a depth of experience that has been exceptionally helpful; but they don’t have a lived perspective that turns knowledge into deep insight. In some cases, clinical staff questioned whether people living with early dementia would be able to use smartphones and tablets and were genuinely surprised to hear that people regularly used these devices and were active on social networks. Their view is undoubtedly coloured by the patient population they see, which is often people with a higher degree of impairment, but it does mean that they can underestimate capability.

The answer to this challenge lay with the many community groups and organisations around the UK who are doing wonderful work supporting people living with dementia and their families and carers. They have a very personal perspective and are close to their users and can ask them directly if they’d like to be involved. This makes it a personal choice and only those who are genuinely interested will participate. Coventry University’s Health Design Technology Institute also sent out an invitation through their newsletter, which brought considerable interest. There were also serendipitous conversations in unexpected places that brought new people into the volunteer group. For the first test of the prototype, 20 volunteers were on board.

The second challenge has been that people, whether they have a memory problem or not, find it difficult to discuss something that’s outside of their experience. Talking about and demonstrating potential technologies generates excitement and interest, but ultimately confusion as interviewees tend to focus in on small details, rather than looking at the technology as a solution in a wider perspective.  I quickly learned that focusing on the problems that needed to be solved was a better approach than trying to determine which features would be most useful. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but this journey started because people asked me about whether an app I had already developed could be used to support people with dementia.  Since I was focused on developing technology, it seemed sensible to explore the possibilities. It did generate conversation, but didn’t really get to the root of what was needed.

Having been through the research phase, gathering thoughts about the problems that needed addressing, the next phase was to identify those that could be solved using technology and sift out issues that needed a different solution. The simplest approach is often the best and technology is not always the answer, but that has to be balanced against knowledge of what is possible.  As a tech start up founder, it’s essential to have a vision and to see beyond what people ask for to deliver a solution that’s delightful, meaningful and becomes essential.  This is where the knowledge gathered becomes insight and that’s what delivers beautiful technology that helps people live their lives in a better way.

Is Memrica Prompt at that stage yet?  Well executing on that insight is the current challenge. The feedback from the first test of the first prototype highlighted some areas where things could be improved and others where it could be simplified. For the second version, some features have been removed – things the development team and I thought would be useful, but testers found confusing – and other processes have been simplified.  The second version is about to go out to the wonderful group of volunteers and I’m looking forward to their feedback and insights. If you would like to be involved, please contact me at info@memrica.com.

Technology Must be Part of Dementia Strategy

As the UK Government launches its dementia strategy 2020, there’s no doubt great strides have been made in the last 5 years in bringing this devastating disease to the forefront of public consciousness. Initiatives from Purple Angel, the Alzheimer’s Society, Innovations in Dementia, Alive Activities, Dementia Adventures, The Memory Box Network and many more committed groups have made the UK a much more friendly and responsive place for people living with the disease.  Despite major pharmaceutical companies pulling out of further drug research, Alzheimer’s Research UK is at the forefront of spearheading new thinking with a £100m fund to fast track new treatments and clinical trials. While this work continues, people living with dementia, as well as those who don’t yet have a diagnosis, need support to live as well as possible.  Carers need support too. Two thirds of the UK’s £26bn cost of dementia is picked up by unpaid carers supporting loved ones. Without a cure on the immediate horizon, it’s time to look seriously at how technology can help today and in the next decade.

There’s an assumption that the future profile of people living with dementia will be similar to those of today. In fact they are likely to be very different; they have grown up with technology all around them, they are comfortable with augmenting their lives with information from the web, apps, sensors and wearables and expect responsive, personalised information streams to inform, improve and manage day to day living. They will continue to use social networks, virtual communications and digital tools to monitor and improve their health, well into what we now consider to be ‘old age’. The habit of using these virtual services and devices will persist as they have become embedded early on, so new learning won’t be required. Services will also continue to become smarter at serving us what we need when we need it. Digital communication technologies to support people to live as well as possible as long as possible must therefore be an essential part of any strategy, alongside pharmaceutical research and structured support for informal and formal care circles.

The NHS 5 Year Forward View recognises the impact technology, including smartphones and tablets, can have on individual health as well as the wider medical system and that we must become more agile at experimentation, validation and dissemination. This conversation is beginning to address dementia, but it is fragmented and often targeted at monitoring and managing people, rather than providing tools to maintain individuality and independence as long as possible.

This is a discussion that must accelerate as the National Dementia Strategy is re-launched. Around 9% of people living with dementia are under 65 and many are already using tablets and smartphones to create their own coping strategies. These are the trailblazers who point to what will become the norm in a relatively short term as this group ages, diagnoses are made more rapidly and new cases emerge as Millennials age. We cannot be confident new drugs and therapies will emerge quickly enough to meet this demand.

The last National Dementia Strategy only addressed technology in the context of assistive technology and telecare in housing. Since it was written in 2009/10, the personal technology landscape has exploded; the first iPad, released in 2010, paved the way for tablets to become ubiquitous, health and fitness wearable trackers have moved from special interest devices to the mainstream and the use of the internet has become an essential part of life, for all generations. 96% of UK adults aged 55 – 65 go online, according to the Office of National Statistics, along with 93% of 65 -75 year olds and 86% of those aged 75+ used the internet in the first quarter of 2014, the most recent statistics available.

Technology alone is rarely the answer and we must continue to ‘Put People First’, which includes carers and families as well as accelerating research to find a cure or way of delaying onset, but the way in which we could use our connected devices to make a difference in dementia care must have a higher priority in the next strategy, whichever political party comes to power after the next election.

People living with early dementia can….

Over the last few months Memrica has been talking to people about the concept of a mobile memory aid, discussing how mobile technology could help people living with memory problems. Using these responses, we’ve been drawing up a list of what the app should offer  – often called a feature set or list – and then creating some initial designs to test whether people could make it do what they wanted it to. The process has been illuminating and we’ve met some amazing people.

Several things have struck us. If people don’t know what’s possible, they won’t discuss it, let alone ask for it. Henry Ford famously said, ‘If I’d asked what customers wanted they’d have said a faster horse’. Any good product designer will tell you that you shouldn’t ask what people want, you ask about what problems they’re facing. For example, many people use wall calendars and sticky notes to remind themselves about upcoming events and things to do. They also say that these can be misinterpreted; what does ‘Meet June 3pm Longley Gardens’ mean for example? Is it meet a lady called June at 3pm, or are you having a meeting in June? Sticky notes can also fall off and get lost. Many people rely on a partner to help them make sense of these notes and are aware it can become stressful for them to have to answer repeated questions about them.

However when you come to explore solutions, if something is outside their experience they may balk at the idea, however intuitively it may be put together. Showing a working example makes a huge difference – seeing really is believing! Giving people time to play with the app and explore it with the reassurance that they can’t break anything has shown us that if a person is familiar with how apps work, they’re instantly comfortable and happy to see what it can do, and then we get some great feedback. We’ve made quite a few design changes already and no doubt we’ll make more!

One of the most surprising findings is that some clinical and care staff have very low expectations of what a person living with early stage dementia can achieve. We’ve been faced with scorn; ‘You expect a 70 year old to be able to use a tablet? Ain’t gonna happen!’, puzzlement, ‘I don’t know anyone who lives with young dementia who uses Facebook’ as well as scepticism, ‘How will they remember to use the app?’ It seems obvious to us that each person is an individual and this isn’t going to be the right solution for everyone, but for people who are still using smartphones and tablets and just need a prompt to remember something, technology can really help them remain independent as long as possible. Equally, the more a user is rewarded with remembering something and feels good, the longer the memory of how to use the app should be embedded.

The sad thing about these questions is that, like when a teacher has low expectations of a pupil, they never supported to continue to stretch themselves. It appears people, even professionals working in the field, define dementia as ‘Can’t’ rather than ‘Can’. Our medical system is built around helping people who can’t do something return to the state when they can. In dementia, although at least one study has shown early decline in mice might be partially reversed through exercise http://www.dementiatoday.com/treadmill-running-reverses-cognitive-declines-in-alzheimers-disease-mouse-model/, it is a degenerative condition and so people. at the moment, can’t be returned to the optimum state when they ‘Can’. In addition, care professionals rarely see people at the pre or early stages of dementia because people either rarely come forward for diagnosis or the diagnosis takes so long that their condition has deteriorated. And even if they do, despite the current focus on living well with the disease, there’s so little to help they’re generally just given a follow up appointment and left to cope.

Memrica Prompt aims to change this helping people with any memory issue build their own personal reminder system so they focus on Can rather than Can’t.

We need your help to continue to test the technology. If you’re worried about your memory, or someone else’s, please get in touch and join our panel of testers. You don’t need a diagnosis of dementia to take part and you can also support someone else to explore the technology. Use the email icon at the top of the home page to say hello. Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you!

 

The palest ink is better than the best memory – Chinese Proverb

When I read this for the first time, I was puzzled by the meaning. Being quite a visual person I pictured pale ink on  a page and compared it to the best memories I have, which are bright, vibrant and full of detail.  I couldn’t grasp why something that was almost a shadow was better than a  vivid image. So I looked it up.

In summary it means that writing things down is better than trying to remember them, as even the best memory is not infallible and a written record is indisputable. This seems eminently sensible, but what happens when you can no longer read or write and your memory is failing? This is the double bind faced by many people with dementia who, in the early stages, may actually have quite a lot of their thinking skills intact, but who can no longer keep a lot of new data in their minds and so can’t read beyond a few sentences.

In designing Memrica Prompt, we’re looking at using images and sound rather than text to prompt recall of the things people want to remember; the names of friends and family, just what the neighbour said when they popped round or who’s going to be at the next social event. It seems to me that this is how memory works, we visualise things and hear the associated sounds  when we’re recalling something and so this seems a very natural way to prompt recall. It’s a challenge to get it right though, and that’s why we’ll be testing it with volunteers across the UK. Of course a prompt is only that, it’s not the actual memory, it’s a shade of a memory designed to bring back the fully fleshed version. And if you can’t access that, it’s still a useful reminder to the people around you of what you wanted to remember.

My original interpretation was wrong – if the original memory is no longer accessible, then a prompt is like the palest ink, it is there as a valuable record, a testament of what you wanted to remember, even if it’s not the brightest, deepest original.