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Margryt Fennema and Louis Zantema of Reducept

Without people, the TopDutch region wouldn’t thrive. Who are our young entrepreneurial and scientific talents? To give you a taste, let us introduce to you: Margryt Fennema and Louis Zantema, founders of virtual reality start-up Reducept.

Digitally shooting at small enemies to take them down. Sounds like a fun game! But there’s more to it. By playing the virtual reality (VR) game Reducept, patients with chronic pain learn how pain works in their nervous system. As well, patients learn how to regulate their pain; a proven strategy in improving pain symptoms, according to its founders. Because of the visual representation in the VR game, patients remember the information much better.


Virtual reality

How does Reducept work?

A Reducept session takes about 25 minutes. A patient picks the area where he or she feels pain, and travels virtually to that section of the body. Then, patients travel along the nervous pathways in that area. There, patients learn to control their pain. They move to the spinal cord, where they learn about relaxation. And lastly, to the brain, where they are challenged cognitively. 


Healthcare technology

Solutions based on users’ needs

Reducept founders Margryt Fennema and Louis Zantema’s story almost seems like it was meant to be. The two met in Leeuwarden’s medical center (MCL) in the TopDutch region, where he was working as a psychologist and she was doing her graduation project.

Margryt studied Public Health at the University of Otago in New Zealand. How did she end up there, on the other side of the globe? ‘I wanted to help people with health-related issues on an individual level. But I also wanted to learn how to scale solutions to have impact on a large group of people.’ The best place to do that: Otago, New Zealand. So, she decided to go.

She specialized in the implementation of electronic health records. ‘Mostly, I learned about what went wrong and that implementation was almost impossible. New technologies and health care = error. But I was super interested to figure out something that has an uptake.’

Margryt Fennema, co-founder of Reducept

She decided to do another study, back in Leeuwarden: Healthcare Technology. ‘It meant designing products based on the needs of the user. In my case: patients.’ For her graduation project she ended up at Louis’ department, because they were both interested in developing e-health solutions.

A new solution for chronic pain

As a psychologist at MCL, Louis worked with people that were experiencing chronic pain for several years. ‘It’s a difficult target group. What struck me was that before people came to see us, they’ve experienced chronic pain for 8 to 9 years. And with us, for the first time in their lives, they learned how pain works. That same issue occurs in almost all Western countries. Nine years of struggling before you can get a little grip in your chronic pain…’

Louis Zantema, co-founder of Reducept

The usual remedy for chronic pain is opiates. But what Louis experienced with his patients was their decreased want to use heavy medication after his consults. ‘Once they knew of the successful other techniques to cope with pain, they weren’t sure whether to continue using medication.’ As well, the use of opiates for pain treatment is being questioned more and more everywhere around the world, says Louis. For example, in the United States, an increasing number of states are stopping providing opioids. ‘We need to stop. If you use them long enough, you become dependent on them.’ 

By observing Louis and his patients, and interviewing them both for her graduation project, Margryt came to the same conclusion. But she took it a step further: we can build a solution, based on patients’ needs. In January 2018, Reducept was born.


Self-training

Scalable psychology in your pocket

From all the interviews and observing, Margryt came to a very specific help request. ‘When patients go home, Louis isn’t there in their pockets. They have to do it themselves. Patients understand that their emotional brain has influence on how they feel and how they feel their pain. But how can they apply their knowledge at home, too? With a simple, practical tool: A non-invasive treatment for patients at home.’ We know that self-training through games is in line with what the market wants, she explains. It’s psychology in your pocket.

We know that self-training through games is in line with what the market wants. It’s psychology in your pocket.”

Margryt Fennema, co-founder of Reducept

‘If you give people control over their problem, the body heals itself’, explains Louis. ‘We know that, because it has been proven in research. For example, meditation creates antipain from the brain, decreasing the pain a patient feels.’ Along the way, the Reducept team discovered something else: It is also a very scalable product. Scalability was never intended, neither was it the starting point of Reducept. ‘The most important thing for us was sticking to the needs of the patient. To make a perfect fit for them. But after half a year, we realized that checked all the scalability boxes’, explains Margryt. Then things were starting to snowball.


Starting the project

Launching Reducept

In September 2019, within two years of starting the project, Margryt and Louis plan to launch Reducept for medical institutes. However, they’re already ahead of schedule. How did that happen? Louis explains: ‘We’ve always tested with users, from the beginning. A group of therapists already use it with their patients. So, we’re always on track of what’s necessary.’ Besides, therapists validating their products generates authority.

Margryt and Louis with their product

Furthermore, the Radboud University in Nijmegen is doing research on the outcomes of using Reducept after Margryt and Louis brought it to their attention. ‘Pharmacists have to pay for that kind of research. We don’t. That’s how enthusiastic they are about its potential’, says Louis. 

Being ahead of schedule was also possible due to their investors. Reducept received a €500,000 investment in December 2018, not even a year after they founded their business. The money is being used for the launch at medical institutes, game development and the testing of the new phase: the home-setting, of which the international worldwide release will be in 2020. For the latter, the following investment round is already being prepared for.

And what are their ambitions for the future? ‘Well’, says Louis, ‘In 5 years’ time, we want to be the world’s most known app for people with chronic pain and the best alternative use for opiates.’ By that time, they will have also expanded vertically, using the game for other types of pain, adds Margryt.


TopDutch region

Working from the TopDutch region

‘For the development of our product and our focus, working from the TopDutch region is really great’, says Margryt. ‘The strength of the Northern Netherlands is the power to actually do, and take quick action when you have an idea. If you want to try something here, you’re encouraged to try it. Pioneering is top of mind. And we have a lot of field labs to test things.’ And it can happen pretty fast, as we’ve seen with Reducept.

If you want to try something here, you’re encouraged to try it. Pioneering is top of mind.

Margryt Fennema, co-founder of Reducept

Moreover, the TopDutch region is known for its good entrepreneurial support network. For example, Reducept got help from Flinc by NOM, the Northern Netherlands investment agency. Flinc helps innovative entrepreneurs, companies and start-ups to get funding. ‘They helped us a lot with getting ready for investment, for example. We can rely on them all the time. They’re a great support for us’, says Louis. 

The Northern Netherlands will remain Reducept’s base. ‘For now, because we’re flexible and will do what is important for our company’, explains Margryt. ‘But even if we grow, it would be great for both us and the region to remain here’, concludes Louis.


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