Dara & Co: Teaching the art of living one masterclass at a time

22 Jan 2024

Founder and CEO Naomh McElhatton. Image: Dara & Co

Naomh McElhatton’s latest project wants to help people turn ‘personal adversity’ into an opportunity for transformation – with a little help from AI.

“My ambition has always been to build a company that improves the lives of others in some shape or form,” says Naomh McElhatton, co-founder and CEO of Start-up of the Week Dara & Co.

Founded last year and launched just a week ago, Dublin-based Dara & Co describes itself as an edtech platform with an unconventional objective – to help people build healthier relationships.

And while the object is novel, the method is familiar: expert-led masterclasses, podcasts, articles and online events, all on one platform.

It all started when an investor told McElhatton that despite being bright, the serial entrepreneur was a “bad judge of character”.

“This moment brought real clarity to me – that I needed to start listening to my gut instead of defending people that I knew deep down were not good enough! This made me think of all the challenging relationships and issues I had and still have around trust and forming new relationships,” she explains.

“Dara & Co was borne by an ambition to forge a pathway to healing and growth, for everyone facing similar struggles. The root of many of life’s challenges is a need for deeper self-awareness and more effective communication, and to have courage to speak our truth.”

Using AI to personalise experiences

A tech solution to a social problem, the platform’s inception is informed by a few “alarming” statistics. According to the start-up, more than half (54pc) of respondents to a survey it conducted acknowledged experiencing feelings of loneliness.

McElhatton says this figure sharply increases among specific demographics such as females aged 18-24 (77pc) and those “uncomfortable” with their financial situation (64pc).

“A significant 34pc of survey participants admit to not loving themselves completely as they are. This sentiment intensifies among specific age groups, reaching 46pc among females aged 25-34 and further escalating to 48pc among females aged 35-44,” says McElhatton.

It is in the context of this pandemic of isolation that Dara & Co wants to help users work on personal development and teach them the art of building healthy relationships through its many programmes, finding the right one to fit each user’s specific needs.

“I want the platform to be the embodiment of my commitment to turning personal adversity into a collective opportunity for transformation,” she goes on.

But the success of a platform with such a high and noble ambition will rest on its ability to provide a personalised experience. And that’s where – you guessed it – artificial intelligence comes in.

“It’s early doors, but our plan is to utilise the power of emotive AI. We want to provide personalised learning experiences that adapt to a user’s progress and interests,” McElhatton explains.

“Considering users who may be dealing with stress or emotional issues – we want to match them with relevant masterclasses, resources and groups that align with their specific needs at that time.”

From cyberpsychologists to ‘sexperts’

Other than AI, Dara & Co has the advantage of having on board some experienced individuals at the vanguard of their respective fields – including former SiliconRepublic.com editor Elaine Burke, who has taken up the role of editor-in-chief at the start-up.

“When Naomh McElhatton approached me last year to bring my expert-led content style to a whole new context, I was quite excited by the concept. Not least because everyone I told about Dara & Co since has, like me, felt like this would be a much-needed resource,” she wrote on LinkedIn last week.

“In the digital age, we have been inundated with tools that offer connection and support but my experience covering the tech sector for many years taught me that something was amiss here.

“Sometimes these tools are working against our best interests and often they don’t tackle the root cause of issues such as loneliness, burnout and failures to communicate. And narratives in the media, too, have a vital role to play here.”

Others on the Dara & Co team include life coaches Mark Fennell and Aoife McElwain, cyberpsychologist Dr Nicola Fox Hamilton, columnist and contributor Deirdre McArdle, ‘sexpert’ Grace Alice Ó Sé and LGBTQIA+ consultant Sam Stewart.

Now on a mission to strengthen the team with new recruits, McElhatton says Dara & Co will be building partnerships with brands that “share a vision” for connecting and bringing people together as well as improve the platform’s user experience and expand content.

In the (very) short time that the edtech has been around, it has been supported by private investment and the local enterprise office. McElhatton says the company is now on track to join Enterprise Ireland’s coveted high-potential start-up programme.

“There is no doubt that we will look to raise solid investment to develop our technology and catapult Dara & Co onto a global stage. We have massive growth plans and will only be able to do this by securing additional investment.”

A seasoned speaker, STEM ambassador and entrepreneurial lead at Women in AI Ireland, McElhatton hopes her company can become the go-to platform for those seeking to understand themselves and interact with others better.

“[We want] to build a community where individuals feel safe to share and explore their relationship challenges, and to learn from the experiences of others and to make a meaningful impact on all societal levels by improving relationship health, which can contribute to the wellbeing of families, communities and workplaces,” she goes on.

“In a world full of nonsense, I want people to learn to live a life of contentment, just as they are.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic