SANTIAGO — How do you feel today? What's your stress level? These are among questions users hear when putting on their HappyBreak goggles. The startup proposes a virtual reality experience to relieve stress and exhaustion in demanding workplaces. With the headset on a worker 'clocks out,' meditating or doing mindfulness exercises for several minutes a day.

De-stressing is considered beneficial to both your co-workers and for the firm, but also allows human resources departments to gauge stress levels in the workplace and act to reduce any pervasive tensions. After winning the Startup Weekend Chile — a "54-hour bootcamp style event" — in October 2018, HappyBreak began its prototype and validation stage last January. The product evolved from April to June, being tested in three corporate offices of Bupa, a healthcare services company.

Rafael Ávila, a co-founder of HappyBreak, says the firm conducted tests on 120 people, with four sessions of 10 to 12 minutes of meditation for each. "That's a total of 400 sessions and 4,000 minutes of meditation." Bupa now has a fixed 'happy space', where colleagues can go and mediate when they want for 10 to 15 minutes daily.

HappyBreak meditating headset Photo: HappyBreak Facebook

This year the World Health Organization (WHO) identified burnout or work exhaustion as an illness. Ávila says his team had noted the trend, which helped lead to the company's concept. "It all began with a social issue. We realized Chile had increased its stress levels in recent years, and work leave permits increased by 50%, and 41% of these sick leaves were to do with mental illnesses. We thought this was really something, and felt we should somehow tackle it."

That prompted them to think of a meditation mechanism: "We were the first to do this in Chile. It's been a success and we created the minimum viable product allowing us to enter other organizations like DUOC, VíasChile, Bupa and Saesa."

Now it's time to scale, seeing a solution in an application to provide the service through virtual reality goggles. Now with computer manufacturers Lenovo, they are working on an app clients could use with the headset, to observe the state of their meditations and program mindfulness sessions, just like a meeting. The firm is also showing its product to firms like Unilever and WeWork.

You always have to look around.

After validation and implementation in Chilean firms, HappyBreak has since decided to try their luck in a bigger market, Brazil. This was no haphazard choice, says Ávila, given Brazil's market size and its potential numbers of stressed-out employees. "You always have to look around, and we as a team took as reference Cornershop, which took off simultaneously in Mexico and Chile. While Chile is very interesting, you have to open a market elsewhere immediately."

In August 2019 the firm entered the Founder Institute incubator alongside 40 other founders, and took part in a demoday in Belo Horizonte. It also began discussing an investment round with local funds, and was testing its product with Solides and WeWork.

There are differences to be considered between end users and their contexts in Brazil and Chile. Magdalena Ortega, a HappyBreak co-founder, says that while Chile makes firms abide by "care policies for the mental health of workers," in Brazil there are no such regulations and psycho-social risks are not directly measured.

The firm is now also eyeing expansion into Europe, where mindfulness at work would be a novelty. So far HappyBreak expects its concept to serve anyone who believes in taking a meaningful break at work, and to prevent any damage to a person's mental wellbeing.

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