This article discusses disordered eating.
A Brisbane-based app designed to support mental wellbeing in young athletes has secured $2.5 million in seed funding, and it already has a hefty Series A in its sights.
But while 26-year-old founder Annie Flamsteed is fielding interest from US investors and plotting international expansion, she has a deep personal desire to succeed.
Inspiretek’s seed round, led by Investible, values the startup at $8.5 million.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
It includes backing from angel investors including Go1 co-founder Vu Tran, Our Innovation Fund founding partner David Shein and Black Nova VC managing director Matthew Browne.
The Series A is set to open in February, driven by interest from US investors, and is expected to boost Inspiretek’s valuation to about $50 million.
Within the next six months, Flamsteed expects Inspiretek to hit an annualised revenue rate of $2 million. Already, 25% to 30% of that revenue will come from the US market, ahead of an expansion push there from July 2022.
For Flamsteed, once an elite-level youth gymnast, these numbers represent validation of her solution to a huge problem — a problem she is intimately familiar with.
Flamsteed started gymnastics training at six years old, and by the time she was 10 she was training for up to 25 hours per week.
However, from an early age she also struggled with anxiety. She had a stable and supportive family, talent and a private school education, and couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong.
She ultimately developed a chronic eating disorder, forming unhealthy eating and exercise habits.
“I knew I was really struggling, but I loved gymnastics,” she tells SmartCompany.
“It was almost like an addiction — I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
Tech to disrupt sportstech
Having retired from gymnastics at the ripe old age of 18, Flamsteed wanted to help young athletes in the same position she had been in. She started studying sports and exercise science with a view to get into medicine.
A chance meeting with one of QUT’s entrepreneurs in residence, however, set her on a path to startups and sportstech.
The sportstech scene was booming, but products were typically targeted towards elite athletes, not grassroots clubs. They were also expensive and inaccessible.
Flamsteed found a lot of the tech on the market was focused on performance, including the solutions that promoted wellbeing.
That was part of the problem, she says.
“All of these poor habits that I formed around under-eating and over-exercising, were not because I wanted to be skinny.
“Somewhere along my development as a young gymnast, I was taught — consciously or subconsciously — that if you eat less and you train more, you’ll perform better.”
How does Inspiretek work?
The tech hinges on the concept of preventative prediction, using data analytics to highlight troubling behaviours in young people, and intervene before those behaviours get out of hand.
Students and young athletes can use the app to monitor their own wellbeing. Currently, that’s through self-reporting things like mood, stress levels, sleep quality and training, but the team is working on incorporating data from things like smartwatches and fitbits, too.
That data is sent to a platform that coaches, teachers or medical professionals can use to monitor trends in their users.
There is also a content element to the Inspiretek app, serving users with evidence-based information about nutrition and sports psychology, created by consulting clinical practitioners.
And a ‘red flag’ component can highlight a ‘significantly negative’ entry from a user — a string of skipped meals, for example — allowing their coach or teacher to intervene.
Beyond ‘hustle culture’
For Flamsteed, the seed funding plus the upcoming Series A will pave the way for a major US expansion, while also building out the business’ research partnerships arm.
But while the dollar-figures flying around are staggering, investor interest means more to the founder than money. It’s a validation of the problem she’s been personally grappling with for years.
The funding also shows that a fledgling startup from Brisbane can attract attention from Silicon Valley without the founder having to travel halfway around the world.
However, Flamsteed admits the capital raise took a toll on her own mental health.
“It’s really easy to glamourise this whole hustle culture,” she says.
“You can build a really solid foundational business from Australia, in a way that is conducive to founder wellbeing, and still attract this investment.”
Her fundraising experience also shines a light on why Flamsteed is just so passionate about this issue.
The stress of raising caused her to slip back into some of her old ways, over-exercising and under-eating in a bid to improve her performance. The habits she formed as a child have stuck with her, even today.
“I know better, but that’s not how mental illness or addiction works. You create these habits and they’re really bloody hard to shake,” she says.
“I’m increasingly motivated to find a solution that not only prevents this stuff but also supports people later in their life.”
If you or someone you know needs support for disordered eating, contact The Butterfly Foundation: 1800 33 4673.