Student Invent finalist HeadCASE aims to protect young sportspeople and fill ‘a significant gap in the school sports safety market’

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  • After her brother suffered a concussion on the rugby pitch, Lucy Milhench along with three friends from Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast set out to find a quick, effective way to identify risks and protect young players.

    The result is HeadCASE - an app designed to help diagnose and manage suspected concussion. The team are in discussions with Deloitte Digital and Allstate to develop a prototype which they hope to launch later this year.

    In the second of our interviews with finalists from the Invent Student Awards, run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, Louisa and Olivia Millar, Lucy Milhench and Alicia Gallagher talked to us about a product which they believe addresses “a significant gap in the school sports safety market”.

    Olivia says HeadCASE takes users through “a quick test based on the most common symptoms for concussion and it'll come back with answers and what you should do”.

    If HeadCASE determines the player has a suspected head injury, the player is logged ‘unfit to play’ and the app alerts teachers they cannot be involved in physical activity. The team believes this will reduce the risk of Second Impact Syndrome (SIS).

    For Lucy, the HeadCASE app is very close to home.

    “The idea comes from watching my brothers play rugby, and constantly getting knocks.  Recently one of my brothers had a concussion and no one knew what to do - everyone was unaware. I knew we had to do something about it, so that's where we created the idea for the app,” she says.

    Olivia says the app is practical and operates like a survey, so a teacher can “take the pupil through the app asking a set number of questions - including even more obscure questions around neck pain, which not many people would associate with concussion”.

    “We’re getting the proper medical advice we need to make sure it’s all correct because this all too big of a risk to get wrong,” Olivia adds.

    In creating a practical solution, the team took advice from current and ex-international rugby players who responded positively to the concept.

    “I've been talking to family friends - a lot of whom have played for Ulster rugby, Ireland and the Lions - and they have said that only now is concussion really coming to everyone's attention,” says Lucy.

    “For example, some people have lost their hearing and that may be due to concussions. Just getting the awareness at an early stage will be a big benefit.”

    Being shortlisted as a Student Invent finalist isn’t the team’s first taste of success.

    Last year, HeadCASE won Digital DNA’s ‘Digital Futures’ competition. The prize? A week-long visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley where the pupils took advice from some of the brightest minds in tech. Their whistle-stop tour included visits to companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Square. (Check out blogs on their visit here and here.)

    And now Catalyst Inc has “opened us up to a lot more opportunities, looking at different teams and creating new ideas about how it could work,” according to Lucy. The plan is now to get a minimum viable product out on the app store “sometime this year, then get feedback, see how people use it, and create our fully functional app”.

    Louisa says she would recommend the Invent experience to anyone.

    “Listening to all the other pitches and having the opportunity to pitch gives you experience and helps you grow in confidence,” she says. “If you have an idea, you should go with it!"

    The overall winner of the Invent Student Awards will be revealed at INVENT 2017 Awards ceremony which takes place at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Thursday 5th October 2017. Tickets are available at www.invent2017.co

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