Migraines be gone: Meet the Cambridge students crowdfunding a revolutionary healthcare app

‘We both suffered from chronic pain in our childhood’

Meet Happyr Health co-founders Nicola Filzmoser and Cornelius Palm, two Masters students at the University of Cambridge who are developing a mobile app for children suffering from chronic migraines. Nicola is at Lucy Cavendish and Cornelius is at Homerton. Since last summer, these young entrepreneurs at the Judge Business School have grafted to turn their inspiring idea into a reality.

So how does it work? “Happyr Health uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to support children with migraines. The app is based on a virtual character that children can talk to. This character and mobile games teach the child how to cope with their migraines”.

More than just colleagues, the pair have a long history of friendship. “We are both studying the MSt in Entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge Business School but met before that in Austria. We were part of a rapidly growing startup together!”

From this, they discovered a joint background in the health sector. Nicola’s parents are an occupational therapist and a personal trainer, and Cornelius has previously worked as a paramedic.

Cornelius: “I was a passionate paramedic but I still could only help about 12 people during a shift. I always believed that this number should be higher.”

They believe that an app can be used to have a wider impact on healthcare. “We believe that that progress has to be made to make processes more efficient and enjoyable. To help more people at once.”

Photo Credit: Nicola Fitzmoser

“The problem we are trying to solve is a very personal one”

Not only are they passionate about helping children using technology, they too were long term sufferers from chronic pain.

“Experiencing pain is especially challenging when growing up. You start asking yourself, why you? As we both had a very supportive family and the resources to try different therapies or ways to help, we learned how to cope with it early on. Yet, we learned that this is not the case for everyone.

“The earlier we help, the better outcomes can be”

Nicola and Cornelius feel that for children especially, there is a huge gap in psychological support. “You have to teach children early how to cope with chronic pain. Otherwise, they might fall into a pattern of counterproductive behaviour.”

“There is evidence that psychological interventions such as CBT yield positive results. Now, it’s our goal to make this easily accessible, affordable, and child-friendly.”

“What also fuels our passion is the potential impact we can have. Already seeing that you make one child happy gives you the motivation to keep on working on the project. Even if it’s challenging.”

“We are facing an additional workload”

Photo Credit: Youtube, Happyr Health

When asked if managing their project has been difficult alongside the pressures of a Cambridge degree, the two admit to having a lot more to do. “But still, it feels more like an extension to our work at Happyr Health. A backbone, kind of. We strategically chose the MSt in Entrepreneurship as the part-time nature of it allows us to focus on building a venture simultaneously.

“The MSt has been a great help in shaping our idea. The slightly more theoretical view on founding a business has probably helped us avoid several mistakes we would have made in the very early stage.” So a Cambridge education does eventually come in handy – who would’ve thought?

“We saw how the pandemic impacted migraine patients…”

In the wake of COVID-19, the pair have set up a crowdfunding campaign to give those in isolation the support they need.

“It becomes more and more apparent that remote therapy is needed and we wanted to make people aware of how important it is for young migraine sufferers. The campaign took off, which came unexpectedly to both of us. We are extremely happy about how many people already supported us.”

Lockdown has slowed their progress down, however. “We were used to working from home, (an office would exceed our very startup-like budget), but we experienced some delays in clinical studies planned with hospitals. Still, we are proceeding with developing the product, working remotely with our development team and our scientific and medical advisors.”

“The crowdfunding campaign is a huge step forward”

“Crowdfunding will allow us to start technical development. We have set the basis with our advisors and have specified what the app should look like. We are ready to put this into action – but of course – will need some funds to do this. We’ll start by developing the chat and framework which we can show to children and parents to get early feedback.”

Photo Credit: Nicola Filzmoser

“It is our goal to shape pain management for children in the future”

“There is so much more potential in this area and we can make the process much more enjoyable for children by using games and the latest AR or even VR technology. We have a lot planned for future extensions and also are working towards what we call ‘seamless therapy’. By giving children something to work with at home, but also supporting hospitals, GPs, and health systems, we can innovate in this area. Many digital health solutions are fully excluding the practitioner, but we are focusing on integration from the very beginning.”

“Our overall vision is that technology can strongly support the quality of care for adults and children alike. Digital health has great potential to make care more accessible, more fun, and personalised!”

Cover photo credit: Nicola Fitzmoser