iThrive: attack counterproductivity with smart app and VR

August 1, 2017

Healthy and happy employees are generally more productive, but many people still experience stress and burnout issues. “iThrive transforms counterproductive behavior and changes habits. With a smart app and virtual reality, we increase productivity at work with 400%”, says Nadja Muller den Blijker, founder and CEO at iThrive.


Nadja, how would you describe iThrive in one tweet?

“iThrive is your personal coach that helps you to transform counterproductive habits and thrive.”


What is iThrive?

“We ensure a positive behavior change at work and at home. iThrive mainly focuses on stress and burnout prevention. We work with a positive behavior change model, which is five times as effective as the ‘golden standard’ that doctors currently use. At least, that is what Omada Health tested in their clinical trial with diabetes patients. The app serves as a personal coach with whom you follow a program. Meanwhile, you can get support from fellow-thrivers and iThrive records your progress. It’s all about changing habits. Companies enjoy healthy, happy, and productive teams.”


Who benefits from iThrive?

“Our business model relies for the most part on companies that use iThrive to let their employees thrive: they feel good, healthy and strong, make a positive impact, and optimally utilize their opportunities. Research from Gallup showed that employees that are that driven, can be up to 400% more productive.”


How does iThrive ensure a higher productivity at work?

“Less stress causes a positive rhythm, if you feel good you do things that are good for you. For instance, sleeping, working out and getaways with friends. iThrive helps people find their intrinsic motivation and wisdom to do things that are good for you, the app facilitates the process. A positive mindset makes us resourceful and creative. iThrive provides practical, directly applicable tips in the app and inspires to set concrete goals about how you want to feel. It could be simple suggestions, like how to meditate for five minutes per day, or more challenging suggestions, like 28 days without social media.”


What you do, is it unique?

“If we look at long term behavior change, then there are also other solutions that are effective, like life coaching and therapy, but those are expensive and unrealistic for companies to offer their employees. We combine four effective methods in one program: mindfulness, life coaching, tracking, and humanistic psychology. Our most effective tool is the smartphone, and with it, iThrive becomes your 24/7 digital coach. We gradually add artificial intelligence to improve our product, virtual reality is already a part of it.”



Virtual Reality in iThrive


How did that start?

“We started as SonoVR, here we used virtual reality as thé method for positive behavior change. We participated in the digital health accelerator program of Rockstart, we entered as SonoVR and exited as iThrive. What we wanted to do with VR – the life simulator – was not yet possible, but also we found out that VR was merely a means to our goals. There were other techniques we could utilize to reach the same goals, so we moved to smartphone.”


How do you currently use VR?

“Many programs only focus on the person him/herself, we take the surrounding environment into account as well. We use VR to simulate interventions. The visual and audiovisual inspiration can help people reach their goal. Imagine that you want to make a decision, but fear the reaction of your environment. In two years, that will be a typical situation that you can practice with VR and see how your environment will respond.”



How is it to run a tech-startup like iThrive?

“So much fun, but also stressful at moments – so we also use our own app…!”


Are you doing this alone?

“Together with Klaas Punselie I founded iThrive. Klaas mostly works with the developers and I work with the team to break up psychological steps in small technical parts. For me, this is really a dream team. I benefit from my background in life coaching, I think that men just talk about mental health more easily with a woman.”


Many startups face the same challenges, what challenges do you see in startup-land?

“You start with a mission that you believe in and choose who will benefit from your product or service. Traction in the market is the first obstacle. There is little support and financing in the beginning of your existence, because you often need traction to bring in investors. The more radical the innovation, the more difficult it is to directly prove your concept. Accelerators and incubators fill this gap nicely, but the support in the transition from idea to sales is still scarce.”



Tip for startups


What would be your tip for startups, that enter the market with limited resources?

“The answer to that is: b2b. Both my cofounder and I are relationship builders, and that works. We searched for companies that want to collaborate, we shared challenges and found communalities. You start with a conversation, what does your potential partner need, is there a problem that we could fix? It works better than cold acquisition, the personal touch is very important. I would say, visit them in person, pitch your concept wherever you can. Are you in the phase of scaling up, then participate in an innovation program.”


What are you currently doing yourself?

“We are participating in this years’ Accenture Innovation Awards. The advantage is that it’s a year-round program, we take on any chance to pitch our product and get feedback. For example, a few weeks ago, I joined the Scale Up Academy, where I got to know other entrepreneurs that face similar challenges. It’s always nice to talk to someone who understands the startup-process, but might have found other solutions that you had never thought of yourself. Hopefully we’ll make it to the finals, so that I can do my pitch in front of 2.500 potential clients, investors and partners.”


What is on your agenda for now?

“Currently we are looking for business angels to help us realize the implementation of artificial intelligence and gamify the app, to ensure an even more effective behavior change. In the upcoming twelve months, we need 650.000 euro in total, mainly for the fundamental psychological research, gamification, development of a virtual agent and simple VR-interventions.”


Read the original article in Dutch on EMERCE



Nadja Muller-den Blijker

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