Everyone could use a bit of help to improve their mental wellbeing – especially in these uncertain times.
Maia is a startup focused on helping people do just that. The company was founded by Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara, together with Jerome Humphrey and Jenna Cunning, and is based on their work at the Augmented Human Lab at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. Maia resides at Cloud9, the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s start-up space where fledgling companies associated with its research are nurtured until they can stand on their own.
“Everyone at Maia is passionate about seeing their work help people in the real world,” says Jerome, who is now the business lead at Maia.
“We are solving the problems associated with traditional mental health therapy methods with modern tech solutions. We want to create a more connected journey between therapists and their clients – hopefully this will give clients oversight of their progress towards therapeutic goals and improved mental health. Practitioners will gain an easy and efficient way to deliver homework activities and monitor client engagement between sessions. And real time monitoring provides opportunities for practitioners to adapt and personalise their treatment plans.”
Jerome says the team is currently developing the core platform that mental health practitioners will use to improve client engagement and treatment outcomes. He says it is the first important step on their long term product roadmap to creating a truly valuable AI mental health assistant.
“We’re developing our proprietary machine learning algorithms to be able to interpret human behaviour, just as a therapist would – by the tone of their voice, text they write, video footage, and biometrics like heart rate.”
The team has been able to quickly adapt and improve their work based on the feedback they’ve received so far.
“It’s been amazing to see how our original hypotheses have pivoted, led to new understandings and subsequent hypotheses, or just proven wrong,” he says. “Coming from a qualitative research background, I’ve always known the power of just talking with your market, stakeholders and subject matter experts. But there’s nothing quite like talking with someone you want to help and seeing the spark in their eye when they realise what you’re trying to achieve and how much it could help them.”
Jerome says the support from Cloud9 and investors is worth more than just the dollar amount.
“There’s nothing quite like getting your first investment,” he says. “We iterate and iterate, which I think naturally leads you to believe in yourselves and your business, but getting external validation from an organisation willing to invest in what you’re developing is something special. We’ve used funding to develop our product and fine tune it into something truly valuable to our customers. The benefits of investment aren’t just financial – for example, gaining the expertise and networks of Joe Rouse and Vivek Kumar from UniServices has added greatly to our business and helped us focus on what’s most important for our stage of development.”
For Jerome and his team, Maia is all about making it as simple and effective as possible for people to take care of their mental health.
“We live in a fast paced world in which we are often forced to sacrifice our own mental health for other gains,” says Jerome. “Those that do reach out for help are faced with an often antiquated sector that relies on pen and paper to manage the therapy process. We have larger ambitions to empower ordinary people to manage their mental health on their own.”