Columbia VR startup aims to help mental health amid ‘stress olympics’ of COVID-19

As the number of coronavirus cases has risen over the past several months, so have stress levels. Healium, a Columbia-based startup focused on reducing stress through virtual and augmented reality media, is trying to help fight against the mental toll of COVID-19.

“This is the stress olympics,” Healium founder Sarah Hill said. “Not everyone has trained for it. Not only are we trapped in our homes, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty. … We need to be thinking about some more engaging ways to downshift our nervous system.”

Healium — a drugless stress treatment that is powered by augmented reality and consumer wearables — allows users to track and interact with their heart rate and brain patterns.

“In the wake of COVID-19, Healium has been deployed to the front lines to fight burnout and compassion fatigue among frontline health care workers, corporations looking to give their remote employees some virtual peace, addiction centers, mental health therapists, counseling centers and wellness centers,” Hill said.

That effort — and the strategy behind it — helped Healium win the P&G Ventures Innovation Challenge in June, garnering $10,000 and the opportunity to join Brandery, a nationally recognized accelerator. The startup won an additional $200,000 in other benefits.

“We pitched the idea of a digiceuticals aisle to sell our mental health products right alongside physical hygiene products in drugstores or other retailers,” Hill said.

Healium’s success in the innovation challenge was attributed to the startup’s ability to provide a unique solution to a problem impacting many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lauren Thaman, director of communication for P&G Ventures, a startup studio within Procter & Gamble.

“Sarah and Healium were definitely a really breakthrough way of solving a consumer pain point right now that is only solved through drugs,” she said. “This whole digiceuticals area we think is gonna be really hot and growing, and she has a very unique and proven solution.”

One judge of the innovation challenge, Pete Blackshaw, echoed the sentiment on Twitter.

Looking forward, Hill said she plans to press the idea of bringing digiceutical aisles to drugstores.

“Stress is incredibly tangentially related to a variety of products that you would find in a drugstore,” she said. “To have a quick affordable tool that for less than $1 a day you can improve your mood and quickly downshift your nervous system, that’s a valuable tool in the middle of the pandemic. We are in a mental wellness emergency.”

This story was produced through a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.


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