From research to startup: Lyla Coach

Fiemke Griffioen, CEO and founder of Lyla Coach, has done scientific research at the Utrecht University into behavioural change in the field of sleep via an app. The results of her research turned out to be of real value to people with sleep problems. Reason enough for Fiemke to do more with this innovative invention. She started a business at UtrechtInc in 2017.

If I had any doubts about starting my own business? Yes, of course, there are always doubts. Especially the doubt whether I could make my research a commercial success. I was educated as a scientist and therefore had no knowledge of the commercial world.

Fiemke Griffioen
CEO and Founder of Lyla Coach

Behavioural change

Before I started with Lyla Coach, I obtained a PhD at the Free University of Amsterdam in the field of artificial intelligence and worked at Utrecht University in the IT department. As a Postdoc I did research here together with Robbert Jan Beun. We have been researching behavioural change for five years through an app on sleep. During the research we actually developed an app and with this app we carried out a clinical trial. Our research turned out to be very successful. People slept better after going through the six-week programme. With these results we were able to show that the idea worked and we wanted to do more with it.

We then decided to start a startup. For me, starting a startup had a personal reason as well; my contract with Utrecht University expired. I liked doing research but didn't see myself having a career in science. These two reasons were enough for me to put my doubts aside and to go for my own business.

Science and entrepreneurship

The doubts even more disappeared during the course of the Science Venture programme of UtrechtInc. I was able to follow this programme while still being partly employed by University. Because as a scientist I didn't know much about entrepreneurship, I could learn a lot about the practicalities of starting a business, but also about myself. I have never been a typical scientist and during this programme I discovered that entrepreneurship suits me well. It is also nice to follow the programme with other (scientific) startups. This allows you to learn from each other.

The first product we actually made was the Lyla sleep coach. This e-coaching app teaches you how to sleep better in six weeks. With Lyla coach, we translate knowledge from science into interactive E-coaching applications. By doing so, we hope that the knowledge from science will improve the life of a lot of people.

However, you will always encounter challenges and problems as entrepreneur. In our case, for example, it took a lot longer than we thought before we were able to conclude a licentiate deal with University. This licence deal was necessary because we brought products from a survey with us and and we were not able to get them for free. It took quite a long time before a good agreement was concluded. I found out then that I am pretty good at negotiating.

Celebrate success

When the license deal was finally through we opened a champagne bottle. You have to celebrate success. We hope to open the next champagne bottle when we have the first major customers. We are just starting to launch the app for consumers, but we also want to offer our app to large companies. In the long term, we also want to break through internationally, because the app is highly scalable. We also want to create apps in other areas such as: stress, burnouts, fears but also, for example, better exercise, smoking cessation or the environment.

We are currently in the Build range of UtrechtInc. This means that we have an office at UtrechtInc. I can also ask for help during the monthly inc.onsult days. I make good use of this every month, because advisors come to UtrechtInc to ask you questions. Especially on legal matters about which I do not know enough about myself, it is nice to be able to present them to a lawyer, for example.

I am very happy that I started with entrepreneurship and Lyla Coach. It's fun to build something that you can actually help people with. In addition, the flexibility as an entrepreneur is very pleasant. You can create your own daily and weekly schedule, as well as schedule time for the family. As a person I am also very flexible and I can easily deal with changes. These are important characteristics as an entrepreneur. I am proud that I dared to take this step, because as a researcher, this is certainly not the usual way.

This blog was originally posted by StartupUtrecht. StartupUtrecht brings together startups, scale-ups, corporates, angel investors, venture capitalists, local government, banks and universities to build and grow the Utrecht startup ecosystem.