Zinc: Innovation for Unmet Mental Health Needs

by Alastair Moore

A new innovation system that looks to tackle chronic social problems in the developed world has been launched by Paul Kirby, Saul Klein and Ella Goldner. Their new venture, Zinc, builds tech businesses through the process of a six month programme, focused around a single mission. Their first mission is focused on mental health.

At Volteface we’ve been examining how hospital admissions for drug related mental health incidents are on the rise and looking for ways we can tackle this ever more pertinent issue. The relationship between cannabis and mental health is one such area that could benefit from innovative problem solving. We asked Ian Hamilton, lecturer in mental health at the University of York, how projects like Zinc can make a difference. When we spoke to him, he was excited about how this new venture could help the field:

The first Transformer programme that Zinc propose rightly identifies the need for joined up thinking to tackle mental health problems, in particular recognising the need to find innovative solutions to tackle the connection between social and health issues. Traditionally, services have been commissioned and delivered with a focus on either of these aspects, rather than looking for effective ways of resolving both. Problematic drug use is a prime example of a need for a holistic approach to make meaningful change to people’s lives.

On Zinc’s website they explain how the programme, that launches in October, is going to work:

In October 2017, 40 social innovators will come together in London with a mission to solve one of the developed world’s biggest social problems. By the end of this 6-month full-time programme, the 40 innovators will have created and launched their brand-new tech businesses. And added together, these new businesses, built from scratch during the programme, will go on to have a big impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Zinc believe that the best way to solve the challenges we face is through mission-led programmes.

By having a single mission, we can bring together the world’s best expertise to help you understand the needs of consumers and together we can explore the full range of market and product opportunities. Each of our missions is big enough to inspire many new businesses, but focused enough to bind the programme (and its supporters) in a common and powerful purpose.

To achieve these missions, the team have set three criteria a mission must fit. These criteria revolve around having maximum impact on needs yet to be met.

We have 3 criteria for choosing a Zinc mission: it must tackle one of the great unmet needs in the developed world; the target addressable market must exceed 100m people in the developed world alone; there must be lots of unexploited opportunities to disrupt, extend and improve existing services through new technologies and insights from research.

With so many causes and needs left unmet how do they narrow down the most pressing of these unmet needs?

Given that everybody has mental and emotional health, just like everyone has physical health, this means that all 1.3 billion people in the developed world need to actively maintain, improve, protect or recover their mental and emotional health throughout their life. At any one time, people are on a spectrum, from the mentally super-fit, through those who have good health, a larger number who are unhealthy, a worrying proportion who are ill and a small percentage who are severely ill. To stay healthy, or to recover their health when they are unhealthy or ill, people often need support in all areas of their lives, including in their education, work, family life, relationships, physical health, finances, recreation, self-regulation and personal effectiveness.

Zinc are looking to examine the causes behind the mental health crisis and find solutions, which they feel are lacking.

The current high-profile crisis in mental and emotional health is because there are not enough good solutions to help people improve their own health or to enable professionals to support individuals needing specialist support.

At Volteface we welcome new ways of approaching complex issues. Its early days but we’re excited to see the work to come.

Check out Zinc’s website here.

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