Using Tech to Introduce Mindfulness with vrtumind

Nolan Clarke — Co-founder, COO, and Head, Unity Development

Picture above: Nolan Clarke (Co-founder, COO, and Head, Unity Development of VRTUMIND)

Introduce yourselves: Name, age, where are you from?

My name is Nolan Clarke and I’m the Co-founder and COO of vrtumind. I’m 19 and from Evanston, Illinois. I have 3 other Co-founders/teammates, Benjamin Ray (CEO), Brendan Rattin (CFO), and Siddartha Adatrao (CTO).

What is vrtumind? How has your experience being students inspire the creation of vrtumind?

Vrtumind is a mindfulness app designed primarily for students and busy professionals. As students, we’ve experienced the student mental health crisis first hand, however, we also noticed that the majority of students don’t use the big name meditation apps like Calm and Headspace. We realized that students need simple, quick, and personalized sessions, and that inspired us to build the app.

What are the different features?

When you open the app all you have to do to access a meditation session is make 3 selections: “how long do you have?”, “what do you want to focus on?”, and “what background noise do you prefer?”. Additionally, there is a profile page where you can select preferences that influence your content and toggle your desired push notifications. In the next update, we plan to add a meditation streak feature to the home page and continue making our sessions more personalized.

What differentiates vrtumind from other meditation and mindfulness apps?

Vrtumind is different from other meditation apps because rather than scrolling through options and navigating curriculums, the app uses an algorithm that takes preferences into account and stitches together meditations to deliver the most effective session, on-demand. Additionally, we deliver identity related content and have used some psychological principles to make the experience as habit-forming as possible. We also have plans to make the app accessible to the hard of hearing and deaf community, which no other app has done yet.

How did you complete the background research to create an app in the meditation and mental health space? Did you have any mentors to help you in the process of establishing vrtumind?

Background research was very important to the development of our application. Developers tend to want to develop quickly, but we realized that something as sensitive as mental health can’t be rushed. Since September 2019, we have been researching what it is about mindfulness and meditation that makes them so successful. With younger generations, we found attention wanders more often, so with the help of our mentor, Dr. Brenda Nelson, we have been able to identify and offer quick, and effective meditations.

What is the process of developing an app and getting it out on the app store? What tools did you use to code and design it?

We started our journey with relatively little knowledge of iOS or android app development but researched and discovered the simplicity and power of iOS development. We also found that the student population, especially those that we knew, were using iOS devices more. To code our app, we utilized Apple’s Swift language in Xcode. To push an app onto the app store you first need to develop the app with certain design, security, and storage standards set by Apple. To ensure that your application is crash proof, Apple provides a testing platform called Testflight which allows developers to give certain approved and managed testers access to the app for bug testing. Once we were confident that we had met these standards and had a relatively stable release, we submitted our app for review and made an app store page as well. Our review process took about 36 hours before users were ready to access our app. Having developed through the school year and with a varied number of developers, this app took us about 6 months to complete. 

How did you learn how to code the app? What did you do when you got stuck? How much programming experience do people need to develop an app?

Coming into this project, our developers had experience with various programming languages but not with Swift specifically. Much of our initial learning is done by learning through google and youtube as we are building the app and require certain functionalities. As every developer knows, the best developer is not actually that good at coding, just really good at googling. I would say however, that through the process of building this app, we have all gained a tremendous amount of experience in SWIFT.

Did you have to look into any sources of funding for the product? If so, what advice do you have to other aspiring entrepreneurs who don't know where to start with the financials?

We have received funding for our project from various startup competitions and the University of Illinois’ iVenture Startup Accelerator. We have been propositioned by external companies and organizations for funding in exchange for equity as well, but we have avoided this. For aspiring entrepreneurs, we suggest to always look for funding that doesn’t take equity first, funding sources such as grants and competitions. Once you begin to get paying customers and you need to scale, then looking for funding would be appropriate. I just caution to look out for agencies that will take advantage of you and do your due diligence and research before receiving this kind of funding.