“I wanted to give meaning, not money”

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A candle comes alive in the dark.

It’s a powerful image, adopted by a Manchester startup trying to help people struggling with their mental health.

Tobias Nolan just gave a stunning presentation to 200 people at the pro-manchester Trailblazing Tech conference at the city’s prestigious Lowry Hotel, with as many potentially watching virtually.

“It’s the problems you don’t see that cause people to stumble over and over again,” he tells TechBlast once the applause has subsided. “Human beings are social animals: isolation makes us all sorts of oddities.

“In the past, we had our tribes: our families, our geographic identity. But now you are in your apartment alone; go to work alone, for the most part. You are trapped.

“So when they come for you, you’re all alone. And it is more difficult. You have a lot of freedoms, but you don’t have that naturally accessible support network like you once did. “

Nolan and Tom Summerscales co-founded Candle, an on-demand mental wellbeing support platform, in 2020 to help solve this problem.

“We both had a desire to build a company around a real human problem. I didn’t want to make money, I wanted to make sense and do something to help people, ”she says.

When asked about the origin of that title quote, he replies: “I read it long ago: if you are alone out to make money, you will probably do it for a while, but then you will be exposed; while if you try to make sense, you will probably do both.

Candle helps people gain effective peer support from colleagues, family, friends, and professionals. Using Candle Core, someone in trouble can light a virtual candle – a request for assistance – that can be answered.

“In the beginning, we realized we needed to build an ecosystem where people are supported by people they know because it provides the foundation for that conversation effectively,” Nolan explains.

“By using Candle, you are honoring the complexity of a mental health conversation and recognizing that it is difficult to have. People don’t want to mix it with jovial everyday stuff – it’s not a trivial chat.

“Because people get that notice and are able to respond, it gives them critical time to prepare for that conversation. You could call a friend on the phone and say “I need help”; but what if they are cooking dinner? Or put the children to bed? It is not practical.

“There are services out there that connect strangers to strangers, but we don’t think this is a recipe for success. Anonymous services waste critical minutes as context needs to be established. “

People can also use the app to access professional MHFA support, while Candle Lighthouse is a feature that makes clinical listening skills available to anyone via e-learning. “You may not feel adequately prepared to have the conversation,” Nolan says. “Part of our responsibility at Candle is to give you the skills to do it.”

Nolan graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2018, while his wife gave birth to their first child two days before our interview.

“Before joining this, I had worked at a couple of startups [as part of my degree], but I focused only on the product, ”he admits. “Since then I have spent many evenings figuring out how to do sales, presentations, marketing.”

He recommends Startup School, an eight-week Y Combinator online course in Silicon Valley, as a valuable resource. “It was a great gift for us, because the content there really breaks down what you need to do to build something people really want, rather than just tinkering and trying to tell people what they want,” she says.

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Candle offers plans for businesses of all sizes – it’s free for up to 15 people – and the goal is to reach as many people as possible through business signups.

“We’ve opened our first fundraiser now for pre-seed money,” Nolan says. “Over the next 12 months, we want to achieve recurring turnover of £ 500,000, grow the team and build relationships with our partners.

“There is a huge wave of awareness about mental health, almost an emotional rebirth. People are more external, while those who have not been exposed to the depth of some of these problems are now more aware and compassionate.

“We’re not looking for people to use our platform instead of something else – we’re there when you need us.”

I met my co-founder of “tech for good” on Instagram!

“I wanted to give meaning, not money”

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