Entrepreneur of the Week: Mandy Salomon, Mentia
Mentia is the creator of Deva World, an interactive tablet-based companion designed for seniors with dementia. The program aims to support dementia patients while minimizing symptoms such as agitation and feelings of loneliness through.
We talked to co-founder and CEO Mandy Salomon about Mentia and the opportunity they see in the 50+ market.
Longevity Network: What does Mentia, the company, do?
Mandy Salomon: As a person’s dementia progresses, independence is lost, confidence is eroded, and the world shrinks. We are working to change that. We’re a digital therapeutics company that delivers best practice wellbeing therapies through a dementia-friendly interface. We are the first to do this.
LN: Can you tell us about your product and how it works?
MN: Sure. It’s a playful interactive virtual world called Deva. We co-designed it with people with significant dementia so it is truly optimized for people with cognitive impairments. Inside Deva, players come across all sorts of stimuli that help to reduce the sense of isolation. Deva is customizable, which helps people to experience a sense of belonging and express aspects of themselves. They can also undertake virtual activities of daily living that they can no longer undertake in the actual world. Deva is played on a touchscreen tablet with the help of a supporter, such as a caregiver or family member. We see this shared experience as crucial to improved wellbeing as people have the opportunity to build new connections and enrich existing ones.
LN: What opportunity did you want to address with the development of your technology?
MS: There are a many wonderful enrichment activities that help people living with dementia to be engaged and find meaning. There are also many non-pharmacological strategies to help people feel less agitated and disturbed as they contend with their dementia. The problem is how do you scale these activities or interventions so that they can be accessed affordably anytime, anywhere? That’s where we come in. We’re working to solve the care management crisis that comes with longevity in a creative and novel digital way.
LN: Who are your primary users? In what ways can your products benefit the 50+ population?
MS: Our target users are people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their care circle, such as family, friends and professional caregivers.
LN: How did you assemble your team?
MS: Most of the conceptual work for Deva was undertaken during my PhD, which I completed in 2016. I was looking at how new media thinking could help people with dementia. Mentia was formed after that, so we’re a very new company. My co-founder Serge Soudoplatoff and I had collaborated on a range of projects prior to Mentia. We are both known for helping companies understand digital transformation, particularly Serge, who is very influential in his home country, France. However, we bring a different set of skills to the problem: Serge started life as a mathematician and software engineer before becoming an entrepreneur and angel investor, whereas I’m a storyteller: film, theatre, television, media production is my thing. We bought Mentia to the US in 2017 and are building our team out of San Francisco, where there is a lot energy around aging and tech. Launchpad Digital Health invested in us at seed stage, and we work out of their hub alongside their other portfolio companies. We have strong links with Aging 2.0, and their professional network, and local groups like Creative Aging San Francisco and the Institute On Aging feed our thinking. Our tech team is located in Europe, Australia and China.
LN: How has Mentia the company differed from what you envisioned it would be (if at all)?
MS: My experience in the creative industries has helped me to manage the uncertainties of running a startup – this, I envisaged. What took me some time to realise is that we are building a new category of care – we call it Creative Digital Therapeutics (CDTx) – and because this is a new domain there is no blueprint, no how-to manual and no ready-made market. Fortunately we have a number of wonderful advisors and mentors who share our vision and they are helping us to steer the course.
LN: What do you wish you had known before developing your concept?
MS: I’d like to turn this question around. Starting with the unknown was a huge privilege. My doctorate was an incredible opportunity to investigate, interrogate and explore. It allowed me to think about dementia care with an outsider’s eyes and rigorously test assumptions, mine and others.This is Mentia’s strength and point of difference.
LN: What most excites you about the aging and / or health technology market?
MS: Everything about it excites me – aging is life’s existential truth – we can’t escape it, we must come to terms with it and we must bring others along on our journey. People with dementia have a fundamental need for that opportunity, and it is their right. By using technology creatively we can assist individuals to do this in their way, on their terms and in their time.
LN: What is your best piece of advice for startups who want to include or target the 50+ market?
MS: Make a commitment to codesign.
We couldn’t have built Deva World any other way. We worked for several months with care home residents. They selected content and played with low-fidelity versions of Deva which taught us a lot about interaction design. An increasing number of retirement and assisted living service providers are realising the importance of working with early-stage developers, and will open their door to you.
LN: Do you have any other products in development?
MS: Our focus right now is on building out Deva World with new places, scenes and interactive content. It’s an extensible rich-media platform so as we develop Deva, we will introduce new services within it.
LN: Where do you see Mentia five years from now?
MS: Home is becoming the new hospital. People aging-in-place will have telehealth and all types of reminders and sensors – but what about their psychosocial well-being? We want to be the leading provider in that field.
LN: Anything else you’d like to share?
MS: We’d love to hear from innovative caregivers who would like to be part of our early adopter circle. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mandy’s mission to untap the digital world so that people with dementia can use it builds upon a distinguished media career in television, radio, theater and print journalism in her home country, Australia. Her Ph.D (awarded 2016), which investigated ways to do this, led to DEVA WORLD, which she and her team at Mentia are bringing to market. Mandy is a Research and Industry Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, and is an active member of Aging 2.0 and Creative Aging San Francisco.