Tell us about Hatsumi.
Hatsumi is a web based virtual reality tool that merges embodied psychology with playful technology to help develop insight into our own emotional, physical and sensory experience. Using participatory art and technology, we are giving voice to those that struggle to find the words, and reveal our inner emotional and sensory landscape.
Users are able to illustrate the experience of pain and emotion onto a 3D avatar, to improve patient/doctor communication in clinical settings, and develop powerful artworks to start new conversations with the public about human health. By integrating machine learning tools, Hatsumi is being used as a research tool to understand sensory experience, and create new diagnostic tools. There is a vital societal need for new conversations about human health. By embedding participatory arts with embodied gameplay Hatsumi opens compelling new channels for change.
When did you start your business?
I started the company in 2018. I had just moved home after working abroad in Australia and America, as a researcher at Stanford University. Initially, Hatsumi was going to be my PhD, I'd proposed developing it as a practice-based research project to explore how 3d drawing in VR could help understand mental health conditions and the connection between the brain and body.
After winning the award for Most Financially Viable Product at a VR Health and Wellness Hackathon at Google, I decided that I wanted to develop something that could give me greater freedom outside of the confines of academia. I wanted to create something sustainable and most importantly launch it as an experience that could make a genuine impact, rather than keeping it hidden in a university lab.
What's been your biggest highlight
Being able to test our product for the first time in a hospital and seeing that we helped a patient get a better diagnosis, and access to additional support. It's so easy to get bogged down in pitch decks, budgets and emails - these moments remind us exactly why we're doing this work.
What's been your biggest challenge?
Being an multidisciplinary start-up that merges academic research with emerging technologies, art and health, it can be a challenge in terms of finding a home. Grants and investors have different ideas of what success or impact can look like, and aren't used to supporting the development of something that can exist within medical, art and research environments. The adoption of XR in healthcare in the UK has been slow and fragmented, as there is no current XR strategy across the UK. I'm so glad to say this is now changing significantly, and through working with partners at the NHS, Immerse UK and Barclays Eagle Lab - accessing VR in a hospital or even having one prescribe to you at home is now becoming a reality.
Advice for entrepreneurs starting out
Find a community of supporters and collaborators that have the same excitement and values as you has honestly kept me going through the highs and lows of running a company. I have learnt so much more about my industry, and come across opportunities that I may never have considered pursuing. I hate this old rhetoric that other people in your industry are you competitors, there is strength in numbers and it's we can achieve more together. Commit to developing your leadership skills, and make sure to care for your team' and your own mental wellbeing.