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The pursuit of appiness

14 August 2022
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Hannah Hardy-Jones. Photo: Jade Streat

Courageous Cantabrian Hannah Hardy-Jones is helping beat the global mental health crisis, one app at a time. Words Josie Steenhart

With a passion for mental health advocacy, a penchant for pretty prints and the constant juggle of mum-life, Christchurch mother-of-two Hannah Hardy-Jones might not sit within the stereotypical idea of a successful global tech entrepreneur – but that’s exactly what she is.

“My weeks are a juggle of school drop-offs and pick-ups and then working in town. I try to get up at 6am to have a coffee before the kids get up but often that doesn’t happen! I often have 8pm meetings with UK clients and then try to get an early night,” says Hannah, who launched her app-based start-up The Kite Program in 2018, not with the goal, like many tech entrepreneurs, of making millions, but instead in order to help others.

“After the birth of my first baby in 2013, I had a very scary time with my mental health and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a result of childbirth,” she says.

“It was a long recovery and I didn’t feel like I could ever get my life back or go back to my career. What really struck me was the lack of support for mums with their mental health, especially anything tailored to my situation.”

A diagnosis meant Hannah could start on the road to recovery and learn how to best manage her own mental health. And rather than returning to her former life climbing the corporate ladder in HR, Hannah turned her hand to building Kite, a mental health app platform that publishes tailored apps for groups of people, organisations or causes.

The first app off the Kite ranks was Kite For Mums – the world’s first personal development app for mothers – designed to be a supportive journey for mums of all stages by giving them the tools to cope with all aspects of motherhood, acting as both a professional development tool and a wellbeing resource.

“It might seem counter-intuitive, as technology can have a negative impact on people, but an app is also a very accessible and private way to work on your wellbeing,” she explains.

“Kite has a beautiful design, more like a coffee table book, and each activity takes no more than five minutes, so people don’t need to spend a long time on their phone.”

Hannah says that launching a start-up in the tech space was far from easy – not least because the gender imbalance in the tech industry makes it a struggle to navigate.

“Women in tech are hugely under-represented (and women founders in general) and of the top 150 Silicon Valley companies only four per cent are run by women,” she explains.

“When I first started Kite I lacked confidence in my skills because of the perception that you needed to be a male in his 20s to make it big in the tech world."

“I was also very aware that I was a mum and that I had to juggle my family life whereas so many founders don’t have to consider this. It was almost a feeling of embarrassment and that it would count against me."

“At first it was so isolating – I was just a mum of two young kids sitting at the kitchen table!” says Hannah.

“I still struggle sometimes as I have to run Kite alongside being a busy mum, whereas many tech start-ups have young founders who work long hours and can commit more time."

“I also had a tough start as I partnered with an overseas app development firm, which cost me a lot of money and time, and have since had to bring the technology back to Christchurch (which has been amazing).”

Being accepted into Christchurch-based start-up and innovation community Ministry of Awesome’s Founder Catalyst programme gave Hannah the opportunity to connect with other start-ups and founders, which she says made a huge difference.

A second boost came earlier this year, when Hannah became the deserved first recipient of Jaguar’s She Sets the Pace community grant.

She says the $10,000 grant will go toward looking at solutions to support women on their breast cancer journey, including those with the breast cancer gene.

“There are many niche groups in this space that would benefit from a tailored Kite app.

“We also have plans for an app to support the IVF journey, to support parents in NICU and some more
specific maternal mental health options, and are expanding more into the USA and looking at apps to
support women in leadership programmes with the larger universities.”

An additional perk of the grant sees Hannah given the keys to an all-electric Jaguar I-PACE SUV for three months. “It’s really so beautiful – I absolutely love driving it!” she says. “It’s great as I’ve never driven an electric car before – it’s so quiet and easy to drive. It will be hard to give back at the end of the three months!”

As well as utilising Kite, Hannah’s personal formula for health/wellbeing includes sleep, medication, loud music and reducing sugar, as well as making time to get outdoors.

“I take medication to manage my bipolar and this is a key part of staying well for me – something I will continue to do for the rest of my life. Sleep is key as well and I always write a list for the next day before I go to sleep. I listen to music in the car (very loud), which helps switch my brain off! And I always notice that when I reduce sugar my mood improves too,” she says.

“Weekends are usually spent either exploring in our caravan (Okains Bay is our favourite place to go) or finding new walks to go on. Living in Christchurch, I love the fact you can easily go skiing in the winter and the beaches are wonderful in the summer. Hagley Park is one of my favourite places to go for a walk.”

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