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Venturing forth: Lumino – digital therapeutics

A women’s mental health startup founded by Executive MBA alumna Becky Cotton (EMBA 2015) receives a £100,000 UK government grant.

Woman looking thoughtful as she listens to an app on her phone.

Becky Cotton (EMBA 2015) is channeling years of experience developing mental health policy into a digital therapeutics (DTx) venture that has attracted a £100,000 grant from the UK government.

Becky Cotton.
Becky Cotton (EMBA 2015)

Lumino, launched in April 2020, is Becky’s vehicle for developing and delivering quality mental health support for women. As former Director of Mental Health Policy for the NHS Confederation, Becky has been exposed to many challenges faced by people from different walks of life, but she has been particularly struck by the some of the specific challenges facing women and the lack of appropriate services available to support them.

“The future of mental health is digital,” says Becky, who grew up in Wales and now lives and works in London. “So many people around the world experience poor mental health, or might be struggling in some way, and can’t access the help they need. It’s only by using technology we are going to be able to bring better support to people that need it”

In November 2020, Lumino’s mission to develop digital tools to support women’s mental health around the world secured it a £100,000 grant from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund. Innovate UK, part of the UK Research and Innovation funding agency, funds and supports science and technology ideas and entrepreneurship.

This funding will allow Lumino to focus on the research and development phases of its DTx interventions, and take it into a rigorous evaluation phase that will see cohorts of women test the products to measure outcomes. Through Lumino, Becky will enlist clinicians and psychologists to develop scientifically proven programmes that will open up access to anybody with a computer. Becky wants to improve access to healthcare for those who may otherwise be locked out due to prohibitive costs or lack of locally available options.

The company will initially focus on interventions to support women going through the physical and mental transition of the menopause – an area that, through research and consultation, Becky has identified as lacking quality, accessible support.

“We estimate that over two million women in the UK are currently experiencing problematic symptoms related to perimenopause. Some women are impacted minimally, but others suffer debilitating symptoms,” says Becky. “Treatments like hormone replacement therapy aren’t an option for some women, and the mental stress of the transition for all women can limit quality of life.”

One solution Lumino is exploring is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which Becky says has been shown to help women manage common symptoms associated with the menopause, like hot flushes and night sweats.

DTx is a popular method of delivering healthcare interventions, with a recent report showing that investment in DTx companies in the US grew by an average of 40 per cent a year in recent years to reach more than $1 billion in 2018. Administering CBT through app-based interventions isn’t a new concept, with companies like Sleepio utilising smartphone capabilities to deliver courses based on CBT techniques.

Becky joined the Cambridge Executive MBA (EMBA) programme whilst working for the NHS Confederation, where she spent many years working with government and the NHS on national mental health policy. Setting up her own company this year, she says the EMBA provided the tools, approaches and contacts for entrepreneurship.

“What motivates me is working on big social challenges. Having spent most of my career in a fairly narrow field, it was the Executive MBA that helped me realise there are different ways to achieve my ambitions to see change happen, and that embracing that challenge is healthy,” says Becky, a member of Pembroke College.

“The EMBA gave me a toolbox to complement the expertise I joined with. My public policy background is now supported by an understanding of finance, strategy, economics and corporate governance, which has positioned me well to guide Lumino through its crucial formative stage and develop it as a business that serves the public.”