Being a physiotherapist with over 25 years of experience co-founder Lorna Paul was aware that a significant number of people with MS were unable to access NHS or community services because of work and family commitments, issues with language and culture, distance/ geography, lack of transport or their disability. Even when people had access because services were so stretched, there were often long waiting lists and people were offered short treatment programmes/reviews.
The platform (www.giraffehealth.com) consists of personalised exercise pages (each with a video, audio and text description), an exercise diary and an advice page.
We use people with clinical conditions as the ‘actors’ in the videos so it’s really people with real symptoms! The patient fills out an online exercise diary which the physiotherapist can see and then remotely alter the programme without having to bring the patient to the clinic.
Initially developed with, and for people with MS, Giraffe Healthcare soon realised that the platform could be useful for people with other clinical conditions. This lead to a number of projects and research studies with people with spinal cord injury, stroke, lung conditions, diabetes, and arthritis.
Its really an online, interactive version of the printed sheet of exercises we give patients – which we know few people do and ends up in a drawer after a week or two! It’s not intended to replace face to face physiotherapy or exercise groups but a solution for people who can’t or don’t want to attend
Although they had a working online platform, they knew that for longer-term sustainability they would need to form some sort of company but at that time had no idea how or what. Then in June 2017 Giraffe Healthcare won the social enterprise category of Converge Challenge and secured the Firstport Build it Award.
This was when thing started to happen! The money allowed us to form the Community Interest Company in April 2018 and to start to develop the site and content from a functioning prototype to a commercial grade platform. Lorna was then fortunate to be awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship in July 2018 which comprised a year of business development and support.
The Firstport Build it award was definitely the catalyst for the creation of our business. We got really good advice and support. Firstport also connected us with other businesses like Bruclay Media who do our video content- and that has been fantastic!
Feedback from physiotherapists and patients has been really positive and the social enterprise offers trials so people can ‘try before they buy’. Starting trading in April 2019. They now have customers in the UK and Canada.
There have been challenges of course –stepping out of the clinical world into the business world has been a steep learning curve but I have been amazed at how supportive people can be with their time and advice.
So what’s next? We are connecting with a number of market segments third sector, hospice sector, private practice, industry and the NHS to grow our customer base. With that we also need to grow the team especially around business development. We are also working with Challenges Worldwide to explore markets in Ghana - which is really exciting. Ultimately we aim to provide physiotherapy to support people with clinical conditions to be active and healthy regardless of their personal circumstances or geography and we have made a good start on that journey!
This year our Social Innovation programme will be focussing on new and emerging social innovators who are developing social enterprises that work with, or deliver to, people who are affected by disability. If you have an idea you’re looking to get started find out more on our Programmes page.