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No headaches developing Happyr Health’s migraine app in Cambridge

Happyr Health founders Nicola Filzmoser and Cornelius Palm
Happyr Health founders Nicola Filzmoser and Cornelius Palm

As with any crisis, from the Great Depression to the financial crash of 2008 and various meltdowns in between, the chaos brings with it opportunities: you just have to be in the right place at the right time – like Happyr Health.

Happyr Health started its journey into the spotlight last year as a student-led venture founded by Nicola Filzmoser, whose migraine back story began as a child, and Cornelius Palm, who suffered crippling abdominal pain as a youngster before going on to work as a paramedic for five years.

‘The wound reveals the cure’, as the Greek maxim states, which meant that as adults, Nicola and Cornelius applied their experience – of isolation, of worry – to developing a child-friendly way for younger migraine sufferers to connect with the outside world.

The company’s software features an augmented reality avatar that children can talk to and chat within a safe and secure environment, developed with pyschologists and migraine experts. From the child’s conversations, as well as via a parent dashboard, the app understands individual migraine triggers.

And, with the pandemic and its ongoing saga of lockdowns and disruption, there was never a better time for the Happyr Health app.

In the summer the duo were awarded a £10,000 Cambridge University Entrepreneurs grant: they embarked on an Accelerator course at Cambridge Judge Business School. A crowdfunding appeal helped get the app into the marketplace.

They have become the darlings of LinkedIn and were recently invited to speak at a week-long German entrepreneurship event – Nicola is from Austria, Cornelius is from Germany – hosted by the esteemed Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper.

“That was on November 4,” says Cornelius. “It was the ninth event on the theme ‘Found, Develop, Grow’, organised by FAZ-Fachverlag in co-operation with the Ministry of Economics, Energy, Transport and Housing in the federal state of Hesse, and other partners.

“It is the kick-off event for Hesse’s ‘Entrepreneurship Week Germany’, probably the largest national event in the field of entrepreneurship in Germany, offering exciting founder stories, workshops, theme lounges and discussions for the exchange of ideas with experts and other players in the start-up scene.”

The occasion merited a taking-stock process from the duo, who arrived last July in Cambridge for postgraduate studies in entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge.

“Nicola Filzmoser and I have been building our new life here in Cambridge since last summer,” said Cornelius, noting that both founders collected their postgraduate degrees last month.

“Our company Happyr Health celebrated its 12-month anniversary, an event to reflect on.

“As we feel that a lot of things are working very well here and we really do feel very much at home in Cambridge, we started to think about the factors that make us so happy to be doing business here in Cambridge and the UK.”

The duo were realistic from the outset, says Cornelius.

“Start-ups fail often. If we talk about total liquidation, around 30-40 per cent of start-ups fail. There are numerous reasons for failure.

Happyr Cornelius (43114689)
Happyr Cornelius (43114689)

“According to CB-Insights, the top three are a lack of market need (42 per cent), lack of funding (29 per cent) and a suboptimal team (23 per cent).

“I have experienced the failure of a young company myself – a social jewellery label that we launched with friends during our batchelor studies. Three young founders, no market need, no relevant industry experience, lack of team diversity, little capital, in a German-speaking culture where new founders have to prove themselves first.

“These are all factors that can easily be avoided if the environment is right. For Happyr Health, we chose Cambridge very strategically in advance. We wanted to stay in Europe for the early start-up phases. London leads Europe’s start-up ranking because of its high concentration of capital and abundance of talent.

“Cambridge is only a 45-minute train ride away and offers numerous advantages that we can appreciate as a digital health start-up.

“The Cambridge Judge Business School of the University of Cambridge offers a part-time master’s degree in entrepreneurship. As founders of Happyr Health, we have benefited incredibly from the experience of world-leading professors and our concepts have been rigorously improved through regular academic evaluation.

“Entrepreneurship requires many decisions in very uncertain situations. Through academic engagement with the subject, we have gained a lot of confidence to make well-founded decisions.

“The university accompanies entrepreneurs not only academically but also practically with a world-class accelerator. This provides the link between experienced entrepreneurs, mentors and start-ups.

“Because the community of entrepreneurs in the accelerator is very supportive and of high quality, we can learn from each other and even feel motivated by the healthy competitive pressure to grow beyond our limits. Cambridge hosts numerous university competitions for start-ups every year.

“The Cambridge University Entrepreneurship Community has managed to make the £10,000 competition the largest student competition in the world, but there are plenty of other opportunities across the UK for us to compete with entrepreneurs and to outgrow ourselves.”

It is estimated there are 6 million migraine sufferers in the UK. Picture: The Migraine Society
It is estimated there are 6 million migraine sufferers in the UK. Picture: The Migraine Society

The fact that no entrepreneur is left out of the loop in Cambridge makes it a very fulfilling place to work, adds Cornelius.

“When we presented our initial and very immature concepts, we were usually encouraged to continue. As a start-up, you can register your company in Great Britain in a few minutes and for £12.

“We were quickly linked to personal contacts or arranged a follow-up appointment. In Cambridge it happens regularly that high-ranking people, eg from management positions, spent time with us to help without expecting any return. I know that British people are self-critical of their start-up culture. As in other parts of Europe, the culture is too risk-averse and lacks big capital. As German-speaking founders, we perceive the culture as innovative and open to creative ideas. Instead of burning a lot of money in the case of quick failure, in the UK you can try things out in sandboxes and the national domain before entering the growth phase.

“Cambridge is also called Europe’s ‘Silicon Fen’. Many global companies like AstraZeneca, Microsoft and Apple are located here. This not only attracts highly educated talent from all over the world, but it also makes possible partnerships between start-ups and established players much more likely.”

Happyr Health has partnered with the National Migraine Centre for the beta version of the app, which works on Google Chrome. The first mobile version of the app will be launched in the new year.

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