“The issue of well-being and mental health has become a growing concern in recent years, affecting both individuals and businesses,” says Dr Svetlana Sharifulina, a neuroscientist and the CEO of AiLobe Health, one of the alumni companies of the first University of Helsinki NEXUS incubator.
For individuals, Sharifulina describes, the strain of modern life, with its constant need to stay connected, perform at high levels in all facets of life, and balance both work and personal commitments, is incredibly taxing. This becomes further exacerbated by the addition of social media and the 24/7 news cycle – not to mention the effects of COVID-19 measures. The result? A global increase in feelings of isolation, alienation, anxiety, and depression, all of which naturally has a significant impact on individual’s overall well-being.
But as mentioned before, individuals aren’t the only ones buckling under the pressure of the growing mental health crisis. Businesses, too, are grappling with the impact of poor mental health and well-being among their employees. High levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover can have significant financial implications, as well as damage a company’s reputation.
“Neurologically speaking,” Sharifulina explains, “a lot of modern workplaces have turned into socially hostile environments due to inadequate leadership, constantly rising expectations, shifting goals and standards, information overload, insufficient communication, high levels of ambiguity, and the anxiety of facing consequences for any mistakes made.”
Yet even as organisations are increasingly starting to recognise the importance of promoting positive mental health in the workplace, with wellness programmes and support services being implemented, many of their well-meaning efforts fail to properly address the issues at play. “There is no easy solution to the problem of well-being and mental health,” says Sharifulina.
A science-based solution built in response to an inadequate market offering
Yet easy solutions are what much of the market is currently seeking to offer. Products and services being offered seek to address individual issues like burnout, and lack of focus or creativity with chat bots, counselling, apps, and other methods in a one size fits all approach. Yet Sharifulina and the rest of the original AiLobe Health team – neuroscientists Dr Shamsi Abdurakhmanova, Dr Cecilia Brunello, and Dr Antonio Carvalho da Silva – who have well over a decade of experience working on academic research on matters related to brain health and disease, say this approach cannot deliver good results.
“It is difficult to label brain states,” Sharifulina says, “as is labelling their origin, consequences, and solutions.” Therefore, to assume that it is possible to easily compartmentalise these brain states in different categories and address one at a time, like much of the current crop of mental health solutions seeks to do, is misguided. As an example, she explains, increasing productivity at work isn’t achieved by simply ensuring that employees aren’t overworked or stressed to the point of burnout, but by also addressing many other factors such as the work environment, which needs to be inclusive and supportive, as well as by helping promote a good work-life balance. “Moreover,” she continues, “as obvious as it sounds, what works for one person may not work for another” meaning that pre-made “solutions” being offered to companies and employees may be ineffective to many.
At the root of the issue, according to the AiLobe Health team, lies the fact that a vast majority of the tools available in the market – which focus only on solving one problem, even when a singular approach is inefficient – are not scientifically accurate. This means that by the team’s estimate, more than 90% of the tools simply do not work. The result is that despite the best intentions of employers seeking to address mental health issues within their organisations, these efforts do little more than waste people’s time, companies’ money, and in some cases, make the mental health issues worse.
It's in response to the global mental health crisis and inadequate market offering that AiLobe Health was founded in 2022, with the goal to offer an AI-based multi-approach solution to improve well-being by making sure that all aspects of brain and mental health are addressed.
The key advantage of their all-in-one AI-driven solution for improving mental health and well-being in the workspace is that it relies exclusively on up-to-date scientific research constantly reviewed by its AI algorithms. By doing this, it can work to provide personalised and dynamic programmes for the users as well as visuals and analytics to monitor their progress. The programmes are tailored to concrete needs: reducing stress caused by remote work conditions, preventing mental health issues, reducing the occurrence of burnout and depression, increasing motivation and productivity, improving focus and creativity, and diminishing the risk of cognitive decline.
From idea to NEXUS and beyond
Starting with just an idea – and an extensive research background – in autumn 2022, the team joined NEXUS and worked quickly during the programme. With support from their mentors Sam Laakkonen, Konsta Rönkkö, and Svetlana Marmutova, they quickly created and tested their first prototype in a matter of months.
“At each step of product development, our NEXUS mentors provided supportive guidance and introduced our team to their networks for collaboration,” Sharifulina said, before adding that the team is immensely grateful for the help they received from their mentors and expert Marko Berg in navigating all the issues related to building a business from scratch, including refining their business strategy, improve their financial modelling, and identify new opportunities for growth. She also added that the access that mentors provided them helped with the market validation of their platform in an ever-evolving global wellness market which is expected to reach 6.5 trillion dollars in value by 2025.
As corporate well-being programmes are a significant segment of the market, the NEXUS alumni team is now hoping to capture a significant share of this market by providing businesses with a comprehensive, scientifically significant all-in-one set of tools and resources to improve employee productivity and overall job satisfaction. “Using our solution will help reduce healthcare costs, decrease absenteeism, and improve overall business performance,” Sharifulina assures.
“AiLobe Health’s technology is on the forefront of the AI-driven revolution in healthcare, and it has the potential to generate significant impact at a fraction of the cost,” explains Laakkonen, one of the team’s mentors. “My prediction is that 10 years from now, AI will play a key role in employee wellbeing and productivity related solutions. I’m extremely excited to see how the AiLobe product and company will develop and scale in the coming months.”
Another mentor, Marmutova, agrees that the team is well-placed to bring about the kind of change the market needs: “AiLobe tackles a difficult issue that’s become very important in our post-industrial societies, and their product brings unique value with the team’s deep scientific knowledge and their holistic approach to employee wellbeing and performance.”
Having now graduated from NEXUS, the team are hard at work continuing work on their product and exploring opportunities. They’ve also added Marmutova to their team as COO to help the company grow and deliver on its promises of helping improve the mental health and wellbeing of workers everywhere. If you’re interested in finding out more about the AiLobe Health platform, you can get in touch with the team by reaching out to them on LinkedIn.
Svetlana Sharifulina, CEO
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a neuroscientist with PhD in biophysics. She founded AiLobe Health in 2022 after spending more than 20 years in brain research with main focus on epigenetic mechanisms of brain regeneration and neuroplasticity. She is Editor at Journal for Reproducibility in Neuroscience. Svetlana has experience in building an EdTech company with novel solutions for children with autism. She is also DEIB and well-being advisor and has been consulting all sizes of businesses since 2019. As a board member of the Women in Life Science in Helsinki Network Svetlana participated in organizing events that aimed to help female scientists reach equality by creating opportunities for networking, mentoring and career development.
Cecilia Anna Brunello, CSO
Chief Scientific Officer (CSO), researcher and neuroscientist with a PhD in neurophysiology. She is part of the AiLobe Health team since the beginning in 2022 where she brings her scientific expertise matured in over a decade of academic work on brain degeneration and plasticity mechanisms. She also has education and training in pedagogy, leadership and project management. She is part and a node´s representative of the Finnish Reproducibility Network (FIRN), with the effort to make scientific practices transparent and reliable, and a member of the board of the Neuroscience Center Postdoc Association, to promote wellbeing of academic postdoc workers as well as social outreach of scientific research.
Shamsiiat Abdurakhmanova, ML/AI Consultant
Shamsiiat has been part of the AiLobe Health team since the beginning in 2022 as a ML/ AI consultant. She has a background in Neuroscience. Shamsiiat got her PhD from University of Helsinki (Finland) She is currently teaching a Machine Learning course at Aalto University, she brought her expertise in building AI and NLP models.
Antonio Carvalho da Silva, Scientific Advisor
Antonio has been part of the AiLobe Health team since the beginning in 2022 as a scientific consultant. Antonio has a PhD in Neuroscience. Antonio works as a researcher at the University of Michigan ( USA) on investigating a complex set of neural circuits they have demonstrated to regulate a variety of physiological processes important for human health and disease. He has expertise in neurodegenerative disorders and its correlation with circadian rhythms.