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“We want to do for mental health what Apple has done for phones”

Covid-19 does not only affect our physical health, our mental health also suffers from the pandemic. Moonbird developed a technological device to improve people’s breathing and reduce stress and anxiety. Stefanie Broes, who founded the startup together with her brother, wants to build a modern brand to get rid of the ‘floaty’ image of breathing exercises. “We want to do for mental health what Apple has done for phones.” 
Stefanie Broes has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. “I am a scientist, but I have always been interested in the non-medicinal approach of mental health issues. More and more people around me started suffering from stress, panic and anxiety attacks, sleeping disorders, etc. In Asia people have been practicing them for thousands of years, but over here breathing exercises used to have a spiritual or floaty vibe around them. I wanted to get rid of that image. No better way to make breathing exercises mainstream than to build a cool brand. What Apple did for phones, we want to do for mental health.” 


“When people start doing breathing exercises, they often don’t know where to start. There are a lot of audio guides and smartphone apps available. But for me, those apps have always felt a little contradictory. Our smartphones keep us awake at night. They are the source of heaps of stress, they can’t be the solution. I was thinking of something physical, a device that automatically indicates the right rhythm and the right pace. (laughs) Like a cute, small animal that you keep in the palm of your hand.” 
That’s exactly what moonbird developed, Stefanie explains. “You hold our device in the palm of your hand. The device then starts to expand and contract, your breathing follows that pace. It’s that simple. We work together with doctors to help patients with sleeping disorders. One of those patients told us that she quit all of her sleep medication thanks to moonbird. That was the best compliment up until now.”  

Brother, sister and the imec.istart community

Stefanie founded moonbird together with her brother Michael. “Around the same moment I came up with the idea for moonbird he was looking for a new challenge. Michael and I are very complimentary. I have my scientific background and I also went to law school. He has a degree in Finance but he also has experience in writing software algorithms. As brother and sister, we can be brutally honest with each other. When we have an argument, we know it won’t last longer than a day. There is a lot of trust between us. That’s probably the strongest foundation for a startup.” 

moonbird founder team

But even for complimentary co-founders, a startup is a bumpy road. “A lot of people warned us to stay away from hardware. Most technological startups develop software, they can launch their solution much faster. But we are still on schedule – touch wood – and the reward can be massive. Pre-orders for moonbird were going faster than expected. Our first batch is completely sold out.” 
From the design and the electronics in the device to the production and the assembly: moonbird is 100% made in Belgium. “Imec.istart was very important in building that network”, Stefanie explains. “We reach out to the community of founders a lot. Every startup goes through the same stages. When we have a problem, we can ask other founders how they solved that same problem. Ilse, our Venture Acceleration Manager at imec.istart, also deserves a special mention. We can call her anytime we need advice or a sounding board. Knowing that someone always has your back is really reassuring.” 

The unpredictable impact of Covid-19  

Moonbird’s full launch is scheduled for February 2021. “Year one was all about developing our product and using the feedback of our first users to refine and make it even better. Year two will be more focused to the commercial side: sales and marketing.” 
“Covid-19 is definitely challenging for startups. It’s hard to predict the impact of this crisis. On the one hand stress and anxiety are going through the roof. A lot of mental health problems stay under the radar but there are a lot of hidden tragedies going on. More people than ever before need solutions to reduce their stress level, to help them relax and fall asleep at night. But Covid-19 is not just a health crisis, it’s also a financial crisis. I don’t know what it will do to purchasing power. People might spend less money, even on things they really crave for.” 

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