Tech start-up of the week: My Home PE

26 Jan 2014

Pictured: My Home PE founder Brenda Cassidy

This week’s tech start-up of the week is My Home PE, an interactive online tool created for primary school children aged 4-9 to boost physical activity outside school hours and get kids healthier.

My Home PE is the brainchild of Brenda Cassidy, an occupational therapist with over 22 years experience. Cassidy worked in London and New York before returning to Ireland in 2008.

The start-up is at feasibility phaser under HPSU with Enterprise Ireland.

Future Human

“After departing the HSE in 2010 I fullfilled my ambition to pursue a career in preventative medicine and studied a diploma in Fitness & Nutrition,” Cassidy explained.

“After spending nine months immersing myself in the world of health technology I decided to put all my knowledge together from the world of health, fitness, preventative medicine and health technology and create an innovative way to get kids healthier.”

Cassidy is in the process of running pilots in a number of schools in Ireland and is also planning further trials in Scotland, Manchester and Seattle.

Advisers on board include Prof. Niall Moyna, Sports Science DCU; Eoghan Jennings, Health XL (Cassidy mentored an Australian start up for Jennings last year); and Kelly Blasko, US Military/Dept Of Defence who develops web applications for children of military personnel and also works on similar projects for Sesame St.

The technology is currently being built for Cassidy by school software company Wholeschool and will be ready to launch in late Spring.

The market

“My Home PE is an interactive and fun online tool developed for primary school aged children which uses a points based system to encourage participation in physical activity outside school hours,” Cassidy explained.

“My Home PE is targeting health organisations, health insurance companies, private schools, government bodies and we will sell it individually to parents of overweight or obese children and indeed any parent who has an interest in monitoring their children’s fitness.

“30pc of children in the UK aged 2-15 are now classed as ‘obese or overweight; 300,000 children in Ireland are now classed as the same and there are currently 12.5 million obese children in the US,” Cassidy explained.

The founder

During her time as an occupational therapist Cassidy spent 12 out of 15 years in New York  working in cancer care and end of life care.

“I decided to change career direction and studied a diploma in fitness and nutrition in 2010. This led me to research in preventative medicine and in particular children’s health.

“I have a keen interest and a year’s worth of experience in the field of health technology and wearable sensors. This culminated in the creation of My Home PE. I have three young children aged 7, 5 and 3 who were willing guinea pigs during development and helped design the My Home PE star characters that have proved extremely popular!”

The technology

Schools, sports clubs or individuals can sign up for My Home PE. After they create an account they are given lots of ideas for physical activities to do at home.

“Points are earned for activities completed; these are collected and stored in a wholeschool database. We are also in the process of planning an app to monitor the children’s fitness which will be incorporated into the My Home PE portal by the summer.

“The goal is to create an innovative interactive tool that is engaging for children & parents and dramatically increases fitness and overall health by using the latest technology.”

Moving apace

Cassidy says things are moving very quickly for My Home PE. “We are in the second phase of running pilots in a number of schools and so far the feedback has been excellent. Every school I have approached has agreed to a pilot.

“A pilot is about to start in Manchester with pilots in Scotland & Seattle soon to follow. We have intense interest from the Scottish Parliament who recognise the issues with children’s health over there.

“We are in the planning process to start pilots in collaboration the Ulster GAA coaches in primary schools throughout Northern Ireland. It is expected that we will sell the product to many schools sports groups and individual parents when the technology is perfected. We are also expecting a lot of interest in our kid’s fitness monitoring app when it is built.”

In October Cassidy showcased My Home PE at a European Telemedicine Conference in Edinburgh which resulted in European-wide interest.

“Within the next few months I will be begin to actively seek investment,” she added.

“There have been many challenges in the past five months but to be honest things are moving so fast that we have to find solutions to problems quickly and move on.

“Finding a variety of test sites has been surprisingly easy; our next challenge will be to iron out any creases in the technology. I am fortunate to have some expert advisors on board including Kelly Blasko who develops websites and apps for children for the US Military she also develops apps for Sesame St. I am a HPSU client with Enterprise Ireland but as with many start ups funding is always a challenge.”

Going the distance

Cassidy believes there is a very vibrant start up scene in Ireland at the moment. There is also a lot of support and interest in female led start up companies, she observes.

“I am fortunate to be a part of the Enterprise Ireland female entrepreneur programme. Aside from that there are a host of fantastic game changing health technology start up companies and there has been an emergence of sensor technology which has greatly enhanced the growth of many companies.

Living an hour and a half from Dublin (Cavan) is also a challenge in terms of event attendance and lets face it much of the tech start up activity is happening in the cities.”

Her advice to other start-ups or would-be founders is to make sure you have enough funding for the long-haul.

“In general health technology companies are difficult and slow to develop. Become familiar with all potential sources of start up funding as quickly as possible.

“I highly recommend becoming part of the eco system for your particular technology sector; for example I have become involved in Health2Dublin and the European Connected Health Alliance which have greatly expanded my network of contacts and that is what you will need most of….networking and support,” she concluded.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years