Women In Innovation Success Stories: Deborah Coughlin, Method X Studios, Wales
Deborah and her team bring tech, science, research and media together in unique digital products, aimed at ending the mental health poverty gap.
Deborah Coughlin is bringing mental health support to all through prescription entertainment created at Method X Studios. Deborah and her team bring tech, science, research and media together in unique digital products, aimed at ending the mental health poverty gap. The introduction of their first product, ‘Wakey’ in 2020, was a pivotal moment. Wakey provided personalised, interactive morning content and a community for those wanting to improve their mental health.
However, when Deborah first applied for Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards in late 2020, she never imagined how much would change in a year. As the Women in Innovation programme kicked off in March 2021, Deborah made the brave decision to pause delivery of their Wakey product, and pivot to developing their new product, whathelped.me, a decision fully supported by Innovate UK.
A change in direction
“Because the company had changed direction, we needed to get the right talent on board. It meant making sure I had the right core team to make this next stage a success,” said Sarah.
She continued: “That included onboarding our COO/CFO Paul Rootham and Chief Product Officer, Martin Ashplant. Both bring strengths I don’t have, and together with our creative, digital and scientific talent, it means we are going into our next funding round from a position of strength.”
R&D included five months of ‘sprints’, three successful research commissions completed, dozens of experts consulted, 17 products tested, thousands of users and lots of new learnings. “All of this led to the pivoted product, whathelped.me, and we then went into a period of rapid prototyping and testing with users,” said Deborah.
She continued: “We’ve built two partnerships that will help make whathelped.me a success, including Centric community research in Brixton, and West Wales Action for Mental Health, which supports over 100 local groups in Wales, and there’s more partnerships in the pipeline,” said Deborah. They’ve also just begun a seed round, to take whathelped.me to the public for the first time and are having conversations with a range of funders including Venture Capitalists, Angel Investors and grant bodies.
For the future
Over the next 12 months, the company wants to launch a Minimal Viable Product and see it being used by the public and aim to raise £1.5 million seed funding to see them through for the next 16-18 months. Deborah said: “We want to see 55,000 monthly active users and a team of six.” She continued: “After five years, we hope to see 10 million monthly active users, revenues of £20m and a team of 70.”
Personal growth and learning
For Deborah, coping with uncertainty during COVID and pivoting the product have been moments of personal growth. She said: “Creating the right team culture, delivering multiple grant research projects, and navigating the Innovate UK system, have all been areas of learning. I am now much more confident and feel supported.”
“In a landscape where I am statistically unlikely to get funding based on gender alone (1% of VC investments in the UK are in women led businesses), I’m proud to have been able to raise both equity and grant investment,” Deborah said.
She added: “The biggest challenge I face is that people underestimate my commercial ambition. I find people often assume that I am not as competitive or as ambitious as my male or MBA peers. They are wrong.”
Deborah said: “Innovate UK EDGE’s Innovation and Growth Specialists have offered invaluable support and have been amazing in helping us navigate the Innovate UK system. The PR support has been great and it is encouraging to hear the stories from other winners.” She added: “My advice to potential award winners is to ask for what you need and make sure you set aside the time for the bootcamps and other sessions.”
Women in Innovation
Innovate UK’s Women In Innovation programme consists of funding competitions and events that enables brilliant women to fully achieve their visions and change the world, while championing and celebrating gender diversity throughout UK innovation.