“Their aim is to get you started on your journey,” says Sally Leech, founder of The Menopause Club, as she describes the support her Preston-based business has received through Lancaster University’s Health Innovation initiative (fully funded through the European Regional Development Fund.)
Having worked in operational management and HR for many years, Sally retrained as a women’s health coach in 2012. “Initially I focused on pre- and post-natal health, but as my clients and I got older, I realised the massive impact menopause has on women, and how ill-informed and unprepared they feel.”
After a lot of research and study, she launched The Menopause Club in March 2018 with the intention of tackling the sense of isolation felt by many women – as well as arming them with the right information. “One of the biggest challenges is that menopause affects women in many different ways,” Sally says. “It really helps to present your symptoms to health professionals in an informative manner and enable a constructive conversation.”
Sally knew she needed to firm up ideas to grow and innovate her new business. “I’d heard how the Health Innovation Campus helped small organisations. I went on one of their two-day workshops and it was very relevant, not only about how to work with the NHS, but also about the design process, going from a concept to actually taking that to market – what you need to think about to ensure you’re creating a viable product.”
“That was a great first experience. I found it really useful and it opened up so many conversations.” She adds that one of these was with Stewart Kember, who manages the School of Computing and Communications’ R&D support for businesses. “When I got in touch there was so much enthusiasm and I felt very welcome. They said they were really looking for organisations like mine to be part of the journey they’re going on, so it felt like a very good fit.”
“We started talking about my problem – tracking symptoms in a user-friendly way – and ideas on how to solve it.” Sally had been using a paper-based system but envisaged doing the job digitally. “I’d never done anything with apps, but Stewart and his team helped me understand where one might sit with my current processes and what might be its future iterations. They really helped me focus and drill down into the problem, so instead of trying to do too much, we made it simple enough to ensure people will use it.”
Having shaped the idea, Sally received help from two Analyst Developers, who worked with her on the design and functionality to create the wireframe, helped select the best platform and built the prototype. “They got me started on my journey, so now I can work with an app developer to take it live, test it with users and GPs, and take it to market.” She is particularly impressed that the team has been so proactive in providing supporting documentation and offering to talk to future developers to help it all go smoothly.
The app will initially be a lead generation tool. As her business evolves beyond one-to-one coaching, she is developing a range of online products, from a ‘Menopause MOT’, to a cognitive behavioural therapy course that dovetails with NHS and British Menopause Society reccomendations. By providing an easy way to track and share symptoms, patterns and possible triggers, the app will be able to direct users to the most appropriate tools as they become available. Future versions may also offer online memberships to facilitate storage and analysis of data, thereby enabling more bespoke coaching and informing much-needed research.
Sally is receiving further support from the University, both via a mentoring programme - delivered in partnership with the Innovation Agency as part of their Healthcare Business Connect Lancashire offer - and through a steady flow of updates, recommendations and invitations. “I’m really pleased I made contact with Lancaster University. They’re very proactive in supporting small organisations and seem very invested in helping make sure you can succeed. It’s been an incredibly supportive place to be involved with.”
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