CNCT was inspired by the feeling of disjointment our team has experienced since the start of the pandemic. As face-to-face interactions are now at an all-time low, many of us have been feeling the effects of this isolation. We are all aware of the importance of mental health and wanted to find a way to help maintain our mental health while working at home. As well, we wanted to offer a platform where anyone can meet like-minded individuals who may share similar experiences with their battle against mental illnesses, allowing them to receive support from someone who truly understands.
In the past, mental health care was often ignored and underfunded. Considered taboo and stigmatized, a common view of mental health struggles was that it was a religious punishment for sins, and thus, the person’s own fault. Currently, cultural and gender-based stereotypes deter people from seeking help but there is more mental health support available. Barriers and lack of funding are still issues in accessing Canadian health care, however, as government funding for mental health care is not sufficient. The number of people with mental health struggles is projected to rise in the coming years. Recently, there was a large increase in worse mental health in 18-34 year olds across Canada from 2018 to 2019. This was concerning, as this age group already had the worst mental health of all age groups. Their mental health needs are not being met by the Canadian health care system. Furthermore, immigrants currently make up around 20% of Canada’s population, a number that is predicted to grow to 25-30% by 2036. Immigration status has been shown to be a stressor, which can contribute to worse mental health. Furthermore, COVID-19 has been repeatedly shown to worsen mental health struggles. This trend was particularly negative among Indigenous people; 60% reported a decrease in mental health. Racialized and/or LGBTQ+ youth are also at risk for worse mental health. It’s important to acknowledge that all these factors can be linked together in intimate ways.
What it does
Working at home has made maintaining our mental health more challenging than ever. CNCT is a technological product and service that helps improve people’s mental health. It makes mental health support readily available and simultaneously educates the public on mental health issues. As well, it is a platform that connects people in need to mental health professionals, or to like-minded individuals for conversation, games and more. Connecting people together has been shown to lead to 1) increased happiness, 2) better health and 3) a longer life.
We built our CNCT application using React Native and Snack-Expo online, using the workshop slides from “Prototyping apps with React Native”. We also created a more in-depth, interactive app mock-up using Mockplus.com. The app was designed with large logos and clearly-labelled buttons to facilitate use. As well, a calming and consistent background reduces potential anxiety related to the app appearance, which is an important consideration as the app is targeted for mental health. For future app construction, it will continue with React Native for the application, use Google Firebase as a database for the user information used for matching and a third party plugin for the video chat function.
Challenges I ran into
Our team is composed of individuals with very little coding experience. Only one team member has previous coding experience, with others having very limited coding knowledge, but no one had previous experiences working with react-native. This made the technological aspect of our project very challenging, as one member would have to do all the coding, increasing the amount of time needed to complete the prototype. As well, almost halfway into the competition, we realized that our mock-up may not be enough for the proof of concept aspect of the competition. We decided to attempt an app prototype using react-native despite the lack of remaining time. This was challenging as react-native was unfamiliar to the one team member with coding knowledge, and time constraints combined with having only one member coding made this especially challenging.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We are all very proud of our final project. Our research into the app’s feasibility was very thorough and we were able to formulate a strong conclusion based on our findings. As well, prototyping using an unfamiliar coding platform and starting it late into the competition, and yet completing the majority of the app is another accomplishment that we are all proud of.
What I learned
Some members who had no previous experience determining feasibility of a product got to experience the business aspect of new ventures. They learnt to evaluate competitors and plan marketing strategies. Other members learnt how to use react-native to create prototypes, and how to create interactive app mock-ups.
While all members took the time to attend workshops and learn new skills, two workshops in particular were used in our presentation. In particular, the presentation “How to prototype apps with react-native” with Ariel Lam turned out to be a game-changer for our team and concept. Our team, which had very little previous technical skill and knowledge before the event, used react-native after the presentation and implemented the tips and tricks presented in the slides. The workshop of “How to Pitch” at 12:00AM was very effective, and was used throughout the presentation. Without this presentation the addition to many of our slides would not be there.
What's next for CNCT - Connecting Neighbors, Creating Trust
Coming up next for CNCT is the completion of app development, integration of a database or machine learning to improve the quality of individual connections and our app launch! We hope to help people everywhere improve their mental health by offering them both peer-to-peer and professional support in one application, starting in Canada and slowly making our way worldwide.
Execution Plan: It was determined that in the first 0-3 month that our product would be in the existence phase. This phase focuses on the creation of the app, has time for trial runs and starts the beginning of seeking sponsorships. The next phase was the survival phase in the 3-8 month timeframe. This is when our app is first released to the public and we would receive feedback in large volumes here. The success phase (8 months-2 years) is where we would be operating in full swing as an established competitor in the market. This is where we would be seeking to grow further incorporating ad revenue to fund app modifications and increased marketing. The last phase is maturity (2 years +) where we would continue to adapt to new challenges that the app is facing and modify our product to fit the market needs accordingly.
Financial: For the timeline of under 1 year, nearly all funding would be done internally through our group. This would range from funding from savings, personal loans etc., to fund our project. During this first year, we would also be applying for government grants and university grants. The primary focus in the first year is to have a working application hit the App/Play store, at any means necessary.
Past the 1 year mark, the financial funding focus would move to external sources. During this time we would have a working app to present to sponsors to seek cross promotional opportunities. Funding would be given from sponsors so that they can have association by name with our product, and with mental health being a major issue many companies are doing this already (various sport leagues with the “End the Stigma campaign” and Bell Let’s Talk).
The product, price, place and promotion related to our product is as follows. The product is an app that pairs like minded individuals who may or may not be struggling with mental health issues, so that discussion or games can be played to help remind everyone that they are not alone. The price is free as this is the best way to obtain users. The place is remote, as it is a mobile app. Promotion will be done through various channels both internal and external. Internal promotion would be initially advertising through our networks and various platforms at our universities and external would be through cross-promotion, seeking sponsorships.
The market segmentation targets ages 14-24, as this age group is the most likely to use a similar product. This age group also has the most mental health-related issues. People within this age are likely still in school and would benefit from the use of a free app, as opposed to paying money seeking mental health counseling.
There are both primary and secondary competitors competing in this market space. The primary competitor is 7 cups, as they have a very similar product that focuses on mental health. This app’s strengths are that it is known in the market as it has many users. The weaknesses are that it is a weak product with many bad reviews.
Secondary competitors are not directly related and are not directly competing for a share of this market. These competitors are Reddit and Discord, who both have channels for mental health discussion, but are not actively promoting it. Strengths of these companies are that they are very well run and very popular. Weaknesses related to competing with our product, is that they are not focused on securing market share in this niche.
Political, Economic, Social and Technological Factors:
Political factors are that the Canadian government are currently providing $6.6 million towards mental health awareness and support groups. Economic factors are that, COVID-19 has completely altered economic markets, which has been a main contributor to mental health issues growing. Social factors are that worldwide governments are labeling mental health as a growing crisis and are taking initiatives to end the stigma. Lastly, technological factors are that the internet is easier to access than ever before, making it extremely easy for people to connect and communicate even while in quarantine.