With a background in social work and the NHS, Victoria Betton wanted to make technology more accessible for people accessing health and care services. With this in mind, she created mHabitat to help organisations develop their digital strategy or skills to help connect with the people they need to.
Tell us about your business.
I set up mHabitat as a project over two years ago to test out the role of digital technologies in a number of clinical services. Since then, we’ve grown from just me to a team of seven people and we’re in the process of expanding the team further. We are currently a business unit within an NHS Trust and we’re exploring the potential of becoming a social enterprise, so we’d be owned by and part of the NHS, but with our own identity.
In terms of what we do – if you think about digital innovation within health as being everything from ‘I’ve had a good idea’ to ‘we need a digital strategy for our organisation’, we can support the entire process. So we’ll go in and do early-stage discovery work to help test and validate an idea and then we’ll run a participatory process to develop a digital strategy. We also help build the digital capabilities of health and care practitioners and we act as the product owner in developing digital assets. Co-design and participation run through everything we do.
What makes us unique is that we are support digital innovation from the inside with deep knowledge of the public sector and lots of experience of working with vulnerable groups.
What inspired you to start up mHabitat?
I was responsible for innovation within an NHS trust and I started to become interested in how people were using social networks to talk about health issues. I then began a PhD in mental health and online social networks and it was just a small step then to think about mobile apps and how the Internet generally can help people manage their health, connect together and take more control.
We’re called mHabitat because our aim is to bring diverse groups of people together and create a ‘habitat’ for digital innovation. We run evening show and tell events and we ran a debate as part of the 2016 Leeds Digital Festival. We’ve recently run a refugee and asylum seeker hack with the charity Solace, so we’re always trying to build relationships and do good stuff in our city and beyond.
Why does tech interest you / How did you get into tech in general?
The bit about tech that I like is how we can make it relevant to people and their needs. This starts with looking at their desires, the problems they are trying to solve and what they’re experiencing. I’ve educated myself to know enough about tech to broker relationships between digital agencies and health and care organisations as well as academia and the health tech industry. We have technical people within our team so we’ve got that skillset, but we’re really all about the people and co-design.
What does Leeds have to offer, as a city, to tech businesses?
From a technology and health point of view, Leeds is a really exciting place to be because many of the national NHS bodies such as NHS England and NHS Employers have head offices here as well as London. There’s a good coalescence of health tech companies and innovation in Leeds, which means that there’s a strong community to connect with. Being based in FutureLabs is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate and expand our networks. We do lots of our work through relationships so it’s a really good thing.
What are you excited about for the tech and digital scene in Leeds?
I’m excited about FutureLabs really getting going and the offices filling up with interesting companies as well as the next Dotforge Accelerator programme. As well as having NHS Digital on our doorstep, we’ve also got the Digital Catapult and the Digital Health and Enterprise Zone in Bradford. So there are a lot of people to collaborate with. We work nationally but we are really committed to our city and doing lots of good stuff here.
What advice would you give for people looking to start up a business in this sector?
We never had a grand strategy and where we are now is not particularly where we intended to be. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but we’ve endeavoured to learn from them and not to repeat them.
We put a lot of time into building relationships and trust by following through on what we’ve said we’re going to do. We always throw our enthusiasm and energy into every project.
It’s also important to remember that innovation comes from diversity, so the more diverse a working environment you can have, the better the innovation. So it’s not just about tech people, it’s about connecting them with patients, citizens, artists, creatives, data specialists, academics – the more you can bring people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and opinions together, the better.
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
At the moment, the mHabitat team are really enjoying Headrow House. As we’re based in FutureLabs, we can just nip across the road at the end of the day for cocktails on the rooftop and I just love looking out across the city skyline.
What tech do you use?
My route in to digital technology in health was through PhD research into the use of online social networks in mental health. So I’m more of a fan of online social networks than a tech geek. I use Twitter for networking and connections and Facebook for friends and family. Bibi, my Pets as Therapy dog has her own Instagram account and I blog about codesign in digital health at www.codesigndigitalhealth.co.uk. I have a ridiculous amount of health apps on my phone but they’re for work research purposes rather personal use.
Top 3 films?
I very rarely get to see a film that isn’t dictated by one of my children so I tend to opt for the Everyman and have a large glass of wine and pizza to numb the boredom.
What do you drive?
I have a nifty electric bike that gets me into the city centre much more quickly than my car or the bus. Bibi (my Pets as Therapy dog and team mascot) sits in a basket on the front and holds me in a reproachful glare from the moment we set off to the moment we arrive. Riding a bike reminds me of being a child with that first taste of independence so I love it.
Perfect Sunday Breakfast?
Bagel and a coffee. If it’s hangover related then a meat free cooked breakfast is perfect. Greasy spoons are great – nothing fancy.