A Tamworth company crowned the No.1 most innovative company in the Midlands is looking to tackle South Korea’s endemic suicide problem through the use of augmented reality.
Enlighten was voted the winner of this year’s inaugural Midlands Tech 50 ranking after impressing judges and the general public with its AR solution which is used by UK mental health charities, colleges and universities and the armed forces as well as businesses.
Co-founder Suzanne Edwards told BusinessCloud that a trade visit to South Korea has the potential to become a £2 million contract to help develop the country’s first mental health suicide prevention centre.
“South Korea is the ‘kingdom of suicides’: it has the highest suicide rate in the world,” she said.
“Because mental health is so stigmatised, it doesn’t have a strategy [to manage it] at all.
“They know they need one and that it needs addressing; and because they are one of the top technology-based nations globally, they looked for tech to be the solution.
“When we explained about our mental health materials, it captured their imagination. They are building their country’s first suicide prevention centre and using our augmented reality within that.”
A delegation of nine officials from Gyeonggi and Pyeongtaek visited Enlighten’s HQ in March. The company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Korean firm Naviworks to look at developing the nation’s mental health strategy.
Gyeonggi is the most densely populated region in South Korea and a major centre for technologically advanced industries, while the city of Pyeongtaek has a population of over 400,000.
“The mental health suicide prevention centres are a huge undertaking. We’re looking to start work on it in January,” she continued.
“One of the things that we’re looking at doing is recognising micro expressions through artificial intelligence: reading emotions to tell when people are emotionally distressed, for example when they’re unlocking their phone.”
Edwards’ background in prison and secondary education gave her the idea for the business, which was founded in 2016.
“Traditional education is limited and doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. So you look for new, creative ways of kind of engaging young people,” she explained.
“We recognise the need for somebody to do all this creating because teachers are time-poor. Schools are cash-poor. Knowhow isn’t necessarily there within the establishment. So there was a niche there to use tech and a need to create e-learning.
“A lot of EdTech companies have the technology background, but we’re coming at it with a teaching background as well. I know how to map things to assessment criteria. We’ve got English and history courses which map to Key Stage 3 National Curriculum. The ability to do that is not common.”
The business initially focused on a variety of technologies, but quickly found its calling in AR.
“Although we were always interested in the augmented reality side, we thought it would be a slow burn. But there was far more call for augmented reality than we thought,” said Edwards.
“In the summer of 2016, Pokemon GO came out and that did us a huge favour because it gave people a reference point [in popular culture].
“AR is now our primary remit. We are now an augmented reality company.”
Enlighten’s mental health awareness raising app, launched in partnership with charity Rethink Mental Illness, then “developed a life of its own”, according to Edwards.
The firm has also worked with the British Armed Forces to raise awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the use of AR posters, which a similar campaign featuring World War II icon Rosie the Riveter for International Women’s Day reached five million people.
“Using the AR embedded into the posters, you can create your own Rosie updated for the 21st Century: choose her ethnicity, her hairstyle and the outfit she is wearing – so it’s more relatable to today’s girls,” said Edwards.
Naomi Parker Fraley, the real-life inspiration behind the Rosie poster, died in January 2018.
“Her son John over in America had seen the posters and got in contact,” revealed Edwards. “We made two extra posters for him for a memorial service for his mum, which were rolled out for the international Rosie museum. They’re all around the US and will be used annually on international Rosie day.”
The firm also develops AR solutions for corporate business and industry.
“We can work in any vertical – we’ve worked with local councils to digitalise the high street producing AR maps and signage,” said Edwards. “We work in construction to reduce human error by about 30 per cent.
“We worked with a global metal manufacturer with lots of products which look very similar. Some of them offer soundproofing, some of them offer extra strength, some of them are super thin. But a door frame and a fireproof door frame actually look quite similar.
“By triggering the codes, it would tell you exactly what the specifications of the product you were holding in your hands were, what associated products you needed; and when you scanned each one, it would trigger a video for you that told you how to build a fireproof door.
“The ‘pocket guide’ they used previously was huge – it was double the thickness of the Yellow Pages!
“There are a lot of people in the building trade who have English as a second language. So by taking away the language barriers, through augmented reality, that really helps.”
The company employs six people, three of them full-time, alongside two separate teams of trusted outsourcers.
Edwards said being chosen as the most innovative tech company in the Midlands was “a surprise”.
“I was desperate to make the top half of the ranking but didn’t even consider being top! We were really shocked – and we’re absolutely thrilled,” she said.
Judge Iain Mansell, networks and partnerships manager at the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, said he was “an avid supporter of the great work they do utilising emerging technology to help tackle the growing issues around mental health”.
He told BusinessCloud: “It was of no surprise when they were a top 10 Twitter influencer on World Mental Health Day alongside Theresa May and Lady Gaga due to their release of the world’s first free AR-enabled mental health support posters.
“I’m sure they will continue to gain accolade after accolade.”
Edwards concluded: “We’re in the process of getting investment ready because we’ve been bootstrapped to date. We want to grow – we don’t want to stand still.
“Within three years I would like us to be a few good million turnover.”
The key criteria for the ranking was using tech to make an impact in a disruptive way. Other potential indicators included high/fast-growing turnover, workforce growth and investment/high-profile backers.
The long-list of 119 companies was voted on by hundreds of members of the public while a panel of judges also made their choices. The final 50 ranking was determined by a combination of the two.
The judging panel was comprised of Iain Mansell (mentioned above); Naomi Watts, entrepreneur engagement manager (Midlands), Tech Nation; Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham; Molly Thompson, community engagement officer, Silicon Canal; Linda Smith, CEO/founder, BetaDen; Ken Nettleship, Business Expansion Specialist, Invest in Nottingham; David Baker, investment associate, Mercia Asset Management; and Jonathan Symcox, editor, BusinessCloud.