Take Ten

Published Thursday, 17 May 2012
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It is well known that elite sportsmen and women use advanced breathing and focalising techniques to get themselves "into the zone" where exceptional performance becomes the norm.

TakeTen is a local company who have invented an innovative product to bring the benefits of these techniques into our classrooms and workplaces in a fun and affordable way. I took a quick test drive with TakeTen founder Fintan Connolly over a cappuccino in Holywood.

Fintan you are a qualified pharmacist but five years ago you left a secure job to see if you could successfully bring to market this innovative technology for stress. What made you do it?

Schools and workplaces are bursting with stress, anxiety, anger and behavioural challenges. This is not new but what is very different today is the levels of medication being used to combat it. It would now be quite common for some schools to oversee the administration of pupil medications. Stress is at all-time high levels in schools with parental pressure for children to do well in exams especially in the current economy. Stress starts at home for many kids, who arrive into school in an anxious and often stressed state. Also there is lots of peer pressure from school friends. Once I discovered this amazing technology, I decided that I wanted to do something with it in schools. You might say my rallying call was "Don't medicate - meditate!

So what exactly is TakeTen?

TakeTen consists of simple techniques for managing your body's response to stress. These techniques are supported by software which runs on any PC. The TakeTen software uses a dongle-sized heart monitor which connects into your USB port and clips on your ear to let the computer track the changes in your heart rhythms and let you know if you are in the zone. It provides a monitoring dashboard and a number of games to help you learn the breathing techniques. The term TakeTen is about the cognitive and behavioural benefits which flow if you can regularly "take ten" minutes to get yourself into this positive physiological and mental state.

Is there real science behind TakeTen?

Absolutely. The core idea is that when we become stressed, anxious or angry this sends a message to the part of the brain (the cortex) which controls our thinking to tell it to shut down. In evolutionary terms we are preparing for fight or flight and thoughtfulness would just get in the way. We are designed to react to stress emotionally before we act logically. According to the research people can spend up to 90% of their day in these stressed states (known as incoherence) which is pretty worrying. The World Health organisation has highlighted that up to 95% of all illnesses are stress related so it is vital that we have something straightforward to help us deal with stress.
TakeTen exploits two medical discoveries, firstly that it is possible to detect that we have become stressed through changes in our HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and secondly that we can learn to move out of this stressed state into a coherent state easily and effectively by controlling our breathing.

The original research was developed by The Institute of HeartMath in California and TakeTen have negotiated a worldwide license on the technology. In addition, we have developed our own software and games to help people learn how to move out of the stressed state and to make it fun and suitable for young people."

What are TakeTen's core markets?

Our core market is Education but we are also seeing great interest from the Corporate Market and TakeTen for home use in families. Also we are pursuing some very interesting opportunities in Healthcare to help patients manage their stress. This is particularly interesting as it is now accepted that patient recovery from serious illnesses is impacted in a major way by stress levels - for example, cancer patient recovery post chemotherapy and post radiotherapy. We are quite excited about all these markets as the TakeTen product set can handle them all with just some minor adaptations to the software/games in each case.

So how is the business going?

We are bang on plan - we have just finished year one and have solid core revenues. We have established franchises and partners locally and in the UK and are in advanced conversations with potential major international distributors in Scandinavia and the Baltics. We see partners as absolutely crucial to TakeTen's future and would be very interested in talking to anyone who is already delivering services into our target markets.

Have you any TakeTen success stories?

We have excellent empirical evidence of the value of TakeTen in schools from our own project work and also from global research from the Institute of HeartMath. For example, we conducted a project with 7 local schools and over a 3-month period were able to demonstrate 40-50% increases in key pupil areas such as conduct problems & hyperactivity.

The basic approach is that the teacher leads a session with the class via the TakeTen software to try to get the whole class into the same positive physiological & emotional state at the start of each day and very importantly before any major tests or exams.

Have you been able to prove the benefits of TakeTen in exam performance?

Not yet but we are very confident it is there and we are supporting a research proposal just about to start in Queens University to measure the impact of TakeTen. There is also a proposal for a research project on the effectiveness of TakeTen on children on the Autistic Spectrum.

Have you seen any other interesting uses of TakeTen?

I think you Ken, given your interest in teams and collaboration, would be interested in TakeTen for Teams. This is based on evidence that when a person in a classroom or a team is in an incoherent (or coherent) state that this leaks into and affects the other people too. So a future area we hope to explore is the use of TakeTen to support Classroom Dynamics and Team Dynamics interventions. Again we will be looking for the right kind of partners.

Also TakeTen for Software Engineers. One my partners in TakeTen, Ian Pennick, is a software engineer and he tells me that after he gets in the zone with TakeTen he is seeing a 2-3 times improvement in both his productivity and the quality of software developed.

Wow - that last point is pretty intriguing - do you think I could try TakeTen out myself - I could use a bit of productivity lift some days?

Absolutely Ken - as long as you agree to publish the results!

Hmm - OK. Final question Fintan: why are you based here in NI?

Well myself and my board/investors are all local people. There are lots of other reasons too including great support from Invest NI, the relationships and the great education base who have been very supportive in piloting TakeTen with us."
Additional material on TakeTen including key facts, contact points, screenshots, videos and web links is available at www.bioteams.com.

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Ken  Thompson
Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson (aka The Bumble Bee) writes about collaboration and new technologies.

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