‘A Fitbit for mental health’: Innovate UK invests in workplace wellbeing AI

James Cortis
Content Producer | Business West
29th January 2021

A workplace wellbeing start-up has secured a £500,000 Innovate UK Continuity Loan to scale its analytics platform, with help from Innovate UK EDGE.

Founded in 2018, People Matter is already working closely with the likes of Experian and Microsoft while building on gathering momentum. The start-up took home the coveted Tech Nation Rising Star Award in 2019, both at the South West and National finals. 

“We think there needs to be a more data led, systematic approach to tackling unhappiness in the workplace,” says Nigel Winship, Managing Director, People Matter. 

“And while businesses may have a sense of how their staff are holding up, there’s a lack of tangibility when measuring something like burnout. For staff, wellbeing policies can often feel more like a broad-brush stroke than personalised support.”

According to research from Perkbox, the number of Brits experiencing stress in work has increased by 20% since 2018. Today, 79% feel stressed by or at their jobs.

Okina, the People Matter app, works like a Fitbit for mental health, monitoring and improving employee wellbeing. Rather than just running surveys, it engages users through activities such as journaling while also measuring their wider digital footprint. 

“Online advertisers are continuously analysing our digital exhausts, monitoring behaviours and searching for clues on what we might buy. Our aim is to harness that power for the user’s own benefit, finding ways to improve their mental health.”

The People Matter wellbeing analytics platform looks at how environmental factors such as digital workplace communication impacts on mental health. This insight is then used to suggest interventions at both an individual and organisational level, aimed at creating happier, more resilient businesses. 

Okina will combine these data points to create a mental health score and display progress over time. It can even highlight issues that individuals may not have acknowledged yet, and surface useful content based on what’s going on in their life. 

Businesses benefit by overseeing anonymised wellbeing data; comparing different locations, departments or age ranges, but never at a granular level where individuals could be identified or assessed. 

“By bringing a data lens to wellbeing, businesses – particularly those growing, merging or adapting – can monitor how the evolving culture is impacting the team.” 

Okina’s predictive modelling can also highlight things like burnout risk for particular groups. Businesses can then tweak workflows and wellbeing policies before staff come anywhere near breaking point.

While workplace wellbeing continues to rise up the national agenda, particularly in relation to the pandemic, there’s also some hard-nosed financial incentives driving this cultural shift. A 2020 Deloitte report found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year. For those that invest in mental health interventions, £1 gives them £5 back in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover. 

People Matter is aiming to add to the tools available; going beyond pulse surveys by working out how people are, rather than just repeatedly asking them. 

Nigel’s co-founder, Business Psychologist Amy King, devised this technique by building a framework on burnout prediction. She then partnered with Experian and began testing and refining her theories against the company’s huge stores of anonymised datasets. Experian became People Matter’s first client and the start-up is now looking to integrate with Microsoft Teams and Google’s suite of services. 

Enter Innovate UK EDGE

In June 2020, Nigel and Amy began work with Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by Business West in the South West. Innovation and Growth Specialist, Jayne Codling, quickly identified the Continuity Loan opportunity. 

“We probably wouldn’t have even considered the loan without Jayne’s intervention and she also helped us scope out our approach and chances of success. Overall, it’s been really useful for us.”

“The loan has come at just the right time because the pandemic has created huge demand for better wellbeing and a better understanding between employers and employees working remotely. We will now be able to meet that demand by doubling down on R&D and scaling the platform.”

Earlier in the year, Innovate UK EDGE also supported People Matter in securing a £50,000 Innovate UK COVID-19 Rapid Response grant.

Jayne will next be delivering IP support through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO)-funded IP Audit Programme, helping to protect the company’s latest innovations. 

Innovate UK EDGE will continue to support People Matter throughout every stage of their innovation and growth journey. 

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