12 June 2018

What do three UM alumni, Silicon Valley and Mark Zuckerberg have in common?

Imagine being invited to Silicon Valley for three months to develop your innovative app. And being given $120,000 in pocket money, plus access to a network that can get Mark Zuckerberg on the phone tomorrow, if absolutely necessary. This year, three UM alumni got to enjoy all of the above. With their new app they are hoping to conquer the market for low-threshold psychological care for everyone.

In pursuit of their mission: affordable mental healthcare

The mind-set is quite different to the Dutch step-by-step approach. “There you work 24 hours a day if necessary. It’s no problem if you fail, but at least you’ve given everything. That fit perfectly with our own attitude to work. And besides, when you’re doing something you really believe in, it doesn’t feel like work. You just wake up every day with a mission: affordable mental healthcare for everyone in the world.”

Now for the investors …

At the end of the three months in Silicon Valley, the startups get the chance to pitch their company on ‘Demo Day’. Two minutes, in which you try to persuade investors to commit a few million dollars to the further development of your idea. “You can also postpone the pitch for three months, which we did. We wanted to make it more impressive first, increase our growth, so we’re going back in August.” The three are ultimately motivated not by the promise of big money if the app takes off. “We genuinely want to help as many people as possible. And the opportunities are endless. People with a spider phobia, stressed-out students, maybe even refugees or Israeli citizens after their military service.”

It can’t go wrong

The app is currently being used by U-center in Epen, a private clinic for psychological care. Dr Stefan Jongen, who obtained his PhD at the UM Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, will study the effects of the app there. Research in Silicon Valley using a 50 person test panel showed that the intensity of the participants’ emotional responses decreased significantly after a single 15 minute session with the app. Jongen hopes to conduct further research on patients and publish his findings. Meanwhile, Verhiel can no longer imagine himself in a ‘normal’ job. Nor does he need to. The three are sure of one thing: “This can’t go wrong”, Verhiel says.

By: Femke Kools