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Venturing forth: Mirthy – a digital platform helping older adults remain active

Mirthy, a social startup supported by the Cambridge Social Ventures programme at Cambridge Judge Business School, aims to bring joy to millions of older people.

A senior couple practise yoga together in the living room at home.

Crises can breed opportunity, and that’s what the coronavirus pandemic brought to Mirthy, a social venture that aims to bring happiness to millions of older people through everyday activities such as cooking, crafts and dancing.

Mirthy, which is supported by the Cambridge Social Ventures programme at Cambridge Judge Business School, planned to launch at the beginning of 2020 by turning underutilised spaces in retirement homes into activity hubs for local communities.

“Of course, when COVID-19 hit these spaces went into lockdown and we had to quickly pivot to an online model,” says Alex Ramamurthy, co-founder of Mirthy along with Dhruv Haria. “This was actually the best thing to happen to Mirthy. We couldn’t have imagined 12 months later we would have 30,000 users, some joining us from all over the world: Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, the US, and many from across Europe.”

Mirthy, whose target market is people over age 60, recently announced that it has raised £800,000 in pre-seed funding. Investors include Ascension, Ada Ventures and Redrice Ventures. “We love the team’s vision to leverage tech that promotes social inclusion and opens up the world for people in their 60s, rather than make it smaller,” says Emma Steele, Investment Director at Ascension.

Retirement offers people an opportunity to take up new interests, learn new skills and become active in new ways.

“However, it is also a time when we lose about half of our social network due to moving away from work,” says Alex. “We saw this in our own parents and wanted to build something that could enhance their third age. We believe that all baby boomers should be able to live comfortably and participate fully in society.”

Mirthy’s digital platform offers a variety of events and learning activities such as musical concerts, cooking demonstrations, lectures, dancing and craft workshops – usually hosted by presenters over age 60 themselves who are passionate about a particular subject. Events in October include sessions on Caribbean cooking focusing on curry chicken, yoga and pilates classes, and, for Black History Month, a lecture on Black Female Resistance in 18th Century Literature.

The audience can either pay a small ticket fee for a particular activity, generally £2.99, or become a monthly member for £4.99 to gain access to all the events for free.

“It really does make you feel like you are in touch with the real world,” said Hilary D’Ettorre of the Royal Marsden NHS Retirement Fellowship Branch. “I have particularly enjoyed the talks that feature places where I have previously been on holiday as it made me feel like I was there again.”

With a background in technology and entrepreneurship, Alex was working in companies focused on improving quality of life among elderly people; he met Uganda-born Dhruv Haria in London, where Dhruv had moved to study, and Mirthy was founded in the UK capital.

There are currently eight people in the team working remotely, and the company says it is hiring across marketing, partnerships, and product. After securing venture funding, Alex says the key challenge now is to prove the venture can scale fast, so Mirthy hopes to acquire large sums of new users through partnerships with organisations and groups that serve the over-60 market.

In April 2020, Mirthy joined the Cambridge Social Ventures programme run by the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at the business school. Alex says the programme really helped to “hone our social impact measurement through Theory of Change workshops,” and Centre advisor Mark Goodson was instrumental during the fundraising process.

Nicole Helwig, Programme Director of Cambridge Social Ventures, commented: “Cambridge Social Ventures was delighted to support Mirthy on our 12-month long incubator programme.

“We saw the potential for Mirthy to positively impact the mental health of our ageing population and were excited by the founders’ commitment to address loneliness and social isolation that affects that group. The need for their platform was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. That along with their recent successful funding round helps spur a vision that changes the narrative of life after 60 and grows the impact Mirthy achieves through their online events”.

With the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully waning, Mirthy hopes to expand beyond online activity to include some in-person activities and social meetups amongst members, as this would offer an accessible alternative to people who are digitally excluded.

“Unlike years gone by, our third age now is a 20-plus-year journey,” says Alex. “While dialogue around an ageing population focuses on the growing burden on health services, from our experience we see a generation of people with more energy, desire for life and time than ever before. We want Mirthy to indulge your curiosity, introduce like-minded people, entertain you, and keep you energised.”