Stix Mindfulness: the journey for mental wellbeing

In today’s world, where mental health and wellbeing are vital to ensuring long term happiness and better career outcomes, learning to identify and deal with key stressors is an essential tool to have in any person’s toolbelt. But, what about the mental wellbeing of children?

This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

Children are growing up with ever-increasing digital distractions and stressors, so finding innovative ways to promote their mental health and wellbeing is crucial.

Enter Liam Murphy, a product designer who had a vision of what children’s mental wellbeing could look like, seeded from personal experience of watching his brother grow up with ADHD and the dual effect medication had on both his ADHD and his mental health.

Liam Stix headshot mar 24

“My brother not wanting to take medication …. connected with some of my interests around wellbeing, physical activity and fitness, and meditation. I thought ‘what alternatives to families have to medication? How do they get additional support? That was the very start of the journey.”

His brainchild, Stix Mindfulness, a screen-free mindfulness tool designed to support children's mental health through a combination of interactive activities and sensory feedback.

A concept for a product

Liam's Stix journey began during his time at Brighton University, where he studied product design.

Given the freedom to choose his final year project, Liam drew inspiration from his brother, whose journey sparked Liam's curiosity about creating an alternative approach to help children with ADHD manage their condition.

However, as he researched deeper into the project, Liam realised that the need for such a solution extended beyond ADHD, and after speaking with potential users, the concept evolved to become what is now Stix Mindfulness.

Coming full circle

Following university, Liam initially pursued a career in product design.

“I went to work in product design, but there was always this itch that I wanted to scratch around the project, and I’d been constantly making notes on how I could take the idea further.”

Then a serendipitous opportunity came knocking when the Central Research Laboratory reached out and suggested that Liam apply for their accelerator programme.

“They got in contact and said: ‘We think you should apply for the programme’ but the application stated you need a team to apply, so I proposed the idea to my dad, and said ‘do you want to join me in pitching it together?’ We pitched the idea and where we want to take it in the future, and we got into the programme.”

The accelerator programme proved pivotal, and it emphasised the importance of user feedback, which significantly shaped the product's features. It was during this period that the concept shifted away from being solely for ADHD to becoming a versatile tool for supporting children's wellbeing, anxiety, mental fitness, and neurodiversity. It was here that Stix Mindfulness, as a business, truly began to take shape.

The technical heart of Stix

Stix Mindfulness is a distinctive product designed to guide children through mindfulness activities without the distractions of screens. The remotes guide children through audio-based activities that involve movement and interaction, paired with sensory feedback.

The voice guide built into the Stix remotes assist children through various activities. Vibrations, lights, and sound effects enhance the experience, making it engaging for children, with activities using mindfulness techniques including deep breathing and visualisations.

“We teamed up with psychologists to use their mental health expertise and our product capabilities, creating a programme of activities for children. For example, visualising you’re a balloon – you breathe in and breathe out, lifting the Stix up and down in time, as if you're an inflating and deflating balloon. We also have bubble popping, which is probably the crowd favourite, where the children imagine their thoughts are bubbles floating through the air, and then use the Stix to pop their thoughts when they come into their head.”

Stix Mindfulness also offers an app for parents and children to track progress, gamify the experience, and customise a monster avatar – rewarding children for their practice to help build a routine.

A tool for all ages

While Stix Mindfulness is primarily marketed for children aged five to 12, the product has found a surprising resonance with adults and younger children.

“Going by the response we get; it is something that could quickly turn into content for teenagers and adults as well. On top of that, we’ve heard from customers and even our team members that their children, as young as three- and four-years-old, are using it, without encouragement from the parents!”

Designing Stix

The design for Stix underwent a thorough process, beginning with Liam's inspiration to provide children with a tactile anchor for mindfulness.

“I spoke to a mindfulness instructor who used light pebbles, that don't weigh children down … but having something physical, to act as an anchor to focus on, got the children to stay still and not fidget. Straightaway I wanted something physical and tactile that children could use to anchor themselves to.”

Initially, Stix was envisioned as a single device that would break into three components, one for each hand and one for the forehead. Over time, it evolved into two handheld remotes, providing balance and interactive potential.

The design process involved a series of prototypes, iterations, and testing. The team considered shapes, colours, and textures, paying attention to what resonated with children. The choice of having two remotes was made after receiving positive feedback from users.

Navigating challenges

Firmware development was a significant hurdle due to the need for the two remotes to communicate with each other and a smartphone, all via Bluetooth. This complex technology development demanded time and resources.

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic posed further challenges. Supply chain disruptions and increased lead times for components created delays in manufacturing.

“One thing we had to do during our first manufacturing run was pay a hefty premium on the devices semi-conductors as they were so hard to source, meaning that we could deliver the product that we’d already pre-sold on Kickstarter. This was an expensive step we had to take in order to get our product out on time.

Celebrating highlights

Feedback from parents and teachers highlights the ability Stix has to teach breathing techniques, reduce anxiety, and help children regain focus during stressful situations. One SENCO teacher shared how a child overcame anxiety during an exam with the help of the Stix, transforming a challenging situation into a successful one.

Another very recent highlight for Stix Mindfulness was winning the 2023 Junior Design Awards, earning the gold award for the Best Health and Wellbeing Brand category. This recognition underscores the value and impact of Stix Mindfulness in promoting children's mental health.

Funding the future

The core team consists of four individuals, Co-Founders Liam and his father, John; a CTO; and an app developer. However, Stix is actively seeking funding to bolster its sales, marketing, and expansion efforts to further its reach and impact.

As Stix Mindfulness continues to evolve, adapt, and positively impact the lives of young minds, it stands as an inspiring example of the positive change that can be brought about by a passionate and creative entrepreneur. With a bright future ahead, Stix Mindfulness is poised to make a lasting impact on children's mental health and wellbeing.