From journalist to tech inventor

17-09-2019

We enjoyed hearing from two amazing speakers at our September InspiringBusiness19 seminar last week. You can read more about Leon McQuade’s journey to business success in our blog, and here we take a closer look at the story of co-inventor of the pioneering Moodbeam wearable device, Christina Colmer McHugh.

At the event, attendees heard about the highs and lows of Christina’s exciting journey and her hopes for Moodbeam’s future, as well as her collaboration with James Legal as one of the first Moodbeam pioneers!

A personal passion

When it comes to vocations in life, journalism and gadget inventors might seem poles apart at first glance, but dig a little deeper and there is a clear connection in this case – quite simply, communication.

“A BBC-trained journalist whose talent as a writer and editor meant she was in constant demand from a diverse range of organisations. Christina’s focus has always been on communication. With two decades of working in newspapers, magazines, radio, and public relations, her experience spans contributing to some of the UK’s leading broadsheets, ghostwriting for high-profile politicians and celebrities, and writing for bi-lingual publications while living in France.”

Perhaps it was this natural intuition for clear and effective communication that ultimately led to Christina switching career paths three years ago; perhaps it stemmed from her childhood in Northern Ireland dealing with challenging family circumstances; perhaps it was borne of a mother’s desire to feel in tune with her child’s emotional wellbeing. Either way, her new project is fuelled by a very personal passion.

Meeting of minds

Inspired by her young daughter’s experience of a tough situation at school, Christina decided to switch track and put her energies into creating a product to help people of all ages communicate about their wellbeing using simple technology.

“Moodbeam came from a personal need to know how my daughter was feeling when she wasn’t with me,” Christina explained. “She was seven-years-old at the time, and was coming home from school upset, but wouldn’t or couldn’t say why. It turned out she was being bullied and, as working professional mum, I just didn’t see it coming.

“I was gobsmacked that at such a young age, she was trying to cope by herself. I wanted to help her, but didn’t want to badger her by asking all the time if she was ok. I also wanted her to grow up feeling that she was in control, and shouldn’t be ashamed of her emotions.”

Christina’s solution to this began as a bedtime chat about her child’s day and how she was feeling. But what she really wanted to do was give her daughter a means of expression that she could use at will, in the moment, rather than having to recollect and reflect hours later, by literally just pressing a button. Nothing like it existed, so how could a journalist with no tech-based knowledge progress a vision such as this into reality? Step forward well-known Hull-based entrepreneur and tech expert, Jonathan Elvidge.

Christina said: “It was while talking through my idea with Jonathan that I realised I’d met the person who could carry it forward. This was the day Moodbeam was born.”

Cue three years of research and development, trials and testing, until the Moodbeam wearable device became a real, tangible product, ready to go to market. Christina said: “Awareness of mental health and wellbeing is thankfully growing all the time, but for many people – children and adults alike – it still remains difficult to capture and talk about how we feel. The Moodbeam device and app help people to track their mood and create tangible data that can be used to provide an insight into the wearer’s emotional wellbeing.”

The device takes the form of a comfortable wrist-based bangle featuring two buttons, which talks to an easy-to-use app that presents information in a clear and understandable way. Pressing the buttons is all that’s required to log your feelings, and the device also tracks sleep and physical activity.

“It’s so simple, it can be used by anyone of any age,” Christina added. “We’ve had such an incredible response, there’s a huge amount of acceptance of what we are trying to achieve.”

The device is not only of use to individuals and medics, it can also offer employers immense insight into staff wellbeing, and organisations (including James Legal) have queued up to become ‘Moodbeam business pioneers’.

Christina said: “The ability to express how you feel should be a strength not a weakness, and there’s a growing expectation professionally that businesses should be equipped to support staff mentally as well as physically. Productivity and attainment all relates to good mental health and if an employer doesn’t support the person, then they don’t support the position that they are in.

“Business owners must be prepared to support change. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that, by 2020, the biggest disease globally will be mental illness. It’s a worrying statistic but companies must be prepared to pivot and change and not become a dinosaur of industry.”

A natural empath

Christina has a deep-rooted resilience that first appeared in childhood. “I grew up on the idyllic Northern Ireland coastline. Mum and Dad had to nurse my grandparents, then Dad’s health broke and we relocated. My three brothers all worked in the security forces, the family certainly had some difficult moments,” she said.

“I guess I became a coper, and learned the art of compassion and communication at an early age. I think when you’re faced with a difficult transition in life, you have a choice to overcome it or sink under, and I never let anything sink me. I love people, and can usually detect if they are struggling. I’ve learned that you can never presume how someone is feeling.”

In terms of her career, Christina says she has reinvented herself in new roles numerous times, and ‘never takes the easy route’. “Moodbeam is my proudest moment. Everything just dovetailed. It can seem overwhelming when I stop and consider what we have achieved, everyone is so invested in it, I feel huge responsibility to get it right,” she confessed.

“It has been a true cooperative effort with a real sense of the common good. People buy into the ethos, and we have a fantastic network around us.”

And what of Christina’s view on the most important thing she’s learned through her personal journey? “I guess my biggest learning is to just open your mouth and let whatever you want to say come out,” she said. “It took me years to do it, but you shouldn’t be ashamed or nervous of it. If we all practised it, what a better world it would be.”

The InspiringBusiness2019 campaign

First launched in 2017 as James Legal’s way of contributing to the vibrancy of the Yorkshire and Humber corporate community, its InspiringBusiness series has so far brought together hundreds of professional people to hear the personal stories of some of the region’s most inspiring ones, as well as offering one lucky business per year a support package worth over £20,000.

If your business is doing something special and you’d like to enter this year’s competition, request your application form from inspiringbusiness@jameslegal.co.uk


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