On the up · 10 March 2016

Mental Snapp co-founder: “Find the currency of your idea and sell it”

Mentall Snapp co-founder s Hannah Chamberlain and Tex Dunstan
Mental Snapp co-founders Hannah Chamberlain and Tex Dunstan

Mental Snapp’s video sharing platform has quickly attracted the attention of the mental health profession. Business Advice sat down with co-founder Hannah Chamberlain to find out how the platform improves mental ill health in the UK.

Set up by entrepreneurs Chamberlain and Tex Dunstan in June 2015, the company has recently achieved an innovation grant from charity The Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

Mental Snapp was founded by myself and Tex Dunstan. Between us we have 30 years’ experience working in the shared ground between mental health, film and academic research.

Mental Snapp is a digital platform for mental health service users to record short video diary clips, which they can use to manage their own mental health or share with mental health professionals.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We started the business in June 2015, but the idea was in germination for a couple of years prior to that. Even the first mental health film that I made contained the idea in its early stage – it reflected on the power balance in Victorian health archives, where sepia images of individuals are held in massive books with labels like “mania” or “idiot” written at the tops of pages.

Our belief is that mental health is a journey, and that the documenting of it can reclaim the story for the mental health service user and be therapeutic in itself. We also think that the mental health service model needs overhauling to encourage users to live their lives authentically and in a way that empowers them to take ownership.

(3) How do you make money?

At the moment we don’t. We have been given a generous grant by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation to develop a prototype, which we will be road testing and evaluating over the course of the next year. We would like ultimately to sell to the NHS, but recognise the difficulty of doing this. It would require operational changes that we just wouldn’t be able to cope with.

At the moment we have our eyes on interim markets such as university welfare offices, insurance companies, and corporate mental health, where we hope to sell on a one-to-one business model – similar to that of Tom’s Shoes, whereby for every product purchased the company will provide one essential item clothing or first aid to an individual living in poverty. So, say if a big corporate bought 200 licenses, we would give 200 licenses to the local Job Centre to work with people trying to get into work.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

We are part of a broad digital revolution that is taking place in both the public sector and private sector. There is a whole load of opportunities for small businesses to change the way digital governance is delivered, and these opportunities apply particularly to health, where there is a mini revolution taking place.

However, a lot of these developments are fairly niche. Mental health is a massive area – one that costs the UK economy £105bn per year in lost revenue – and affects 2.5m working age adults. Mental Snapp represents a grass roots revolution in that it is led by mental health service users and people with direct experiences, and we want to encourage people on their recovery journey and to becoming fully contributing members of society by addressing the ownership of their life stories.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

There have been some pivotal moments on the way, but the help that we’ve had from mentors has been fundamental. I’d particularly like to name check Paddy Willis of Bathtub 2 Boardroom, where we have offices. His wise advice, calm consideration, and encouragement has been key, and the whole experience of being surrounded by like minded people at Bathtub 2 Boardroom has been invaluable.

We must also name check UnLtd, our first funder, which give us loads of encouragement, advice and mentoring as part of our journey with them. And we’re looking forward to starting our work with The Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Definitely getting The Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s investment – it takes what we are doing from the “idea” stage to something that people can work with and see in action. I can’t wait for the journey that we have ahead in the next year of bringing Mental Snapp to life!

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Electronic health records are enormously complicated, just like the NHS system generally. There are ethical and legal dilemmas in connecting to erecords, and we have to create something that mental health service users can comfortably and confidently use.
Thought leadership within the community of mental health service users and health professionals remains on the agenda for us, and we have had a few knocks in terms of the scale and the speed with which we can realise our ambition. I think we’ve now staged it to make it a scaleable journey, and are recognising the value of research and of “optimistic blind spots” as we navigate our way.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

In five years’ time we’d like Mental Snapp established as a market leader in the UK, and making waves abroad. As founders, myself and Tex have personal goals that we’d like to achieve as part of the development of the company.

Tex is keen to develop his research interests in entrepreneurialism and mental health along with his work furthering the business strategy for Mental Snapp. I would like to be conducting thought leadership amongst the community of mental health service users nationally and internationally as part of Mental Snapp’s agenda to encourage people to raise their life expectations and achieve more than they ever thought they could be living with a mental health condition.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Ideas have currency, and it has helped us enormously that we’re doing something that is topical and on message with the health, digital, ethical, tech, and political agendas. Find the currency of your idea and sell it. The reason it occurred to you in the first place is because these thoughts are out there in the ether. That means that other people will resonate with it if you use their language.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

John Bird, who founded the Big Issue, took a social problem, that of homeless people being perceived to be relying on handouts, and saw the opportunity to show that they have potential, ambition, and the ability to hold down a job.

The Big Issue has been through many different interpretations in the public eye since he originally founded it, but the lesson he taught in setting it up remains. He fundamentally changed the debate around homelessness by demonstrating the get up and go of Big Issue sellers. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have something to offer society and those around you.

Read on to find out how Benefacto engages Britain’s professionals in more meaningful volunteer work.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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