Dubai-based Hoopla focuses on mental wellness tools for children and parents

Generation Start-up: Founder is seeking to raise $500,000 to develop its technology and expand its offering

Jacqueline Perrottet, founder of mental wellness start-up Hoopla. Antonie Robertson / The National
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UAE start-up Hoopla aims to create a space for children and their parents to find moments of calm by focusing on the regulation of emotions, mental well-being and bonding through fun activities.

The mental wellness app's tagline is “navigate big emotions with positive screen time” through exercises focused on mindfulness, meditation, movement and breathing for children and their parents.

Founder Jacqueline Perrottet, a mother of two daughters aged five and seven, says the app seeks to blend playfulness and mental wellness by harnessing the technology of smartphones. This means they benefit from a positive digital experience without the guilt of screen time, she says.

If their child is having a tantrum, instead of just handing their phone and going to YouTube, what if we could create something that builds interaction between the parent and the child?
Jacqueline Perrottet, Hoopla

Ms Perrottet understood early on in her motherhood journey the importance of tools that help young children and parents regulate their emotions, especially during stressful moments.

The entrepreneur found a shortage of mental wellness tools that are affordable, accessible and easy to carry outside the house.

Market research and discussions in online parenting groups led her to establish Hoopla in March 2023 to plug the gap.

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

“The idea is that we provide tools to help keep children calm and provide fun, age-appropriate activities that help connect parents and children together,” Ms Perrottet says.

“It's a mental wellness app, so everything relates back to emotional regulation learning and social development – these are really important skills to teach our kids at a young age.”

The app – currently available only on Apple iOS – helps to create two daily habits. First, by providing tools that promote calm to help break negative emotional cycles in the moment and, second, by making available resources to help children identify and understand their emotions.

“We're trying to create a daily healthy habit, like brushing your teeth for a few minutes. We want to have five minutes a day where you're focused on mental wellness because it is as important as our physical health, and we already have these tools within us, like breathing and meditation,” she says.

The app offers parents and their children a timely reminder to pause and reset, particularly in May when the world observes Mental Health Awareness Month.

There has been a major increase in mental health issues associated with digital environments over the past decade.

The Arab Youth Survey 2023 found that most young people in the region believe social media has a negative effect on their mental health.

Managing emotions and building resilience

Hoopla worked with healthcare providers and educators to ensure its content is age-appropriate and effective, Ms Perrottet says.

The app creates an immersive experience using phone vibrations to bring 2D characters to life, engaging children through sound and tactile sensations.

The five different characters are associated with different emotions to create a boost of energy, or induce calmness or create sleep routines.

The app also features activities that parents and children can do together – such as singing songs, playing games or doing stretches – ultimately with the aim of developing emotionally healthy and resilient youngsters.

Hoopla's content is mainly aimed at children aged three to eight years old and their parents, Ms Perrottet says.

The majority of the app's users are in the US while others are in the UK, Australia, Canada and the UAE.

“This is not necessarily for people who have a mental health condition. We want this to be more of a preventive tool if possible,” Ms Perrottet says, adding that it must be fun, engaging and have something that children “want to use on a daily basis for a few minutes” while allowing them to learn at the same time.

The app seeks to take a more light-hearted approach to mental wellness.

“We want to create a brand that is joyful, playful and fun. If you look at a lot of existing mental health apps, targeting different age groups, they're more reactive about different health conditions and how to help … we want to talk in a more light-hearted way and talk about as many of the good emotions as we talk about the more negative ones.”

Hoopla works on a subscription basis and charges $12.99 for a monthly subscription or $45 for an annual one, says Ms Perrottet.

The app – which has been installed by 2,000 users and has 700 active users – is focused on ensuring that more people who install it eventually turn into registered users.

Technology as a solution

One of the main challenges facing parents today is managing their children's screen time and dealing with mental health in today's digital world.

Ms Perrottet says the “biggest hesitation” from users and potential users is that the app is phone-based – a concern for many parents who face stressful moments trying to pry smartphones away from their children.

There is obviously a relationship between the use of smartphones and the mental health of children, but smartphones aren't going away and we need to find a way to make them part of the solution and not just be the problem,” she says.

The idea behind Hoopla is for parents to make screen time with their children a mindful activity that creates a bond between them, rather than one that acts as a distraction.

“This is a parent-led app, something that the parent controls,” Ms Perrottet says.

“We wanted to create something where if they are out with their child and if their child is having a tantrum, instead of just handing their phone and going to YouTube, what if we could create something that builds interaction between the parent and the child?”

The app encourages “healthy habits where you teach grounding activities and breathing techniques that can get them out of that tantrum”, she says.

Hoopla set out to make an app with a simple design that did not require much stimulation – one whose features included limited time spent scrolling or staring at the screen or creating characters.

“It's really about this point of connection between parents and children … What if we can create something where we can blur the lines between the screen and the playground? We make sure that with all of the exercises, you take in the physical environment that you're in and also the people around you, so it's not necessarily about this singular device any more,” Ms Perrottet says.

The mother of two uses the app with her own daughters and has noticed an “amazing transformation” in their behaviour.

Seeking investment

With a bootstrapped operation now under way, Ms Perrottet is now seeking to raise $500,000 to grow the business.

While venture capitalists have shown interest, they have said it is too early to invest in the business as it still needs to record strong revenue or hit certain milestones, she says.

The start-up aims to turn a profit from October, after hitting a milestone of $20,000 in monthly revenue by July, she says.

Q&A with Jacqueline Perrottet, founder of Hoopla

Why is establishing a business with a social impact important to you?

I have personally faced the challenges of anxiety and depression, and now, raising two young children in a world where mental health issues are rising rapidly, I understand the critical need for accessible mental wellness tools.

This drives me to create tools that empower, connect and instil healthy habits. There are no borders or boundaries for mental health and I believe it's essential for everyone to have access to easy, affordable and effective mental wellness tools.

What new skills have you learnt in the process of establishing and operating your start-up?

I've become very good at recognising the skills that I lack and then finding great people who have those skills. I have also developed resilience and continuously find creative solutions. When someone says no, that's just a signal for me to approach it differently.

How does your business differ from other competitors in this market?

Our competitors segment their content for parents and children separately. This leads to a disconnect where children want videos and games, and parents want to limit screen time.

Unlike traditional apps, Hoopla is a collaborative tool, making the smartphone a point of connection rather than a barrier.

Using haptic feedback, we also integrate unique multisensory experiences that reduce dependency on screens while creating immersive, tactile sensations to mimic physical sensory toys and promote emotional well-being.

If you had the chance to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have started with a co-founder. Entrepreneurship can be lonely and self-doubt can creep in if you're not careful. Having someone by my side going through every step would have made this journey easier.

Bringing in a co-founder could still be Hoopla's future, but bringing someone in with complementary skills, shared visions, and equal passion and dedication at this stage is very different from starting and building from the ground-up together.

Did you set up the business at the right time for the market?

Yes, children's mental health is an increasingly important topic. Covid-19 has started many discussions surrounding mental health, improved digital access and increased the availability of resources while also destigmatising the topic in the market.

While some areas of digital health are slowing down, in terms of mental health, there's a clear and immediate problem relating to children and parents and the use of smartphones within families.

Now is the right time to turn around this growing problem and use smartphones as part of the solution.

Where do you see your business in five years?

The leading family mental wellness company globally. We will achieve this by expanding into new markets, localising content and offering products in different languages.

What are the challenges facing female entrepreneurs in growing their businesses and getting access to adequate funds?

Unfortunately, the statistics for female founders in Mena are bleak. Wamda's 2023 Year in Review reported that funding for female founders went down 63 per cent, with only 0.47 per cent of the total money invested into Mena start-ups going to female-founded companies.

I have personally felt challenges. There are still instances where people look at me as a mum with a side project rather than a serious and capable tech start-up founder. I've been lucky to participate in female initiatives and have incredible mentors.

Despite these challenges, I believe in the direction the UAE is taking and the opportunity the country has to become a leader in the region and make a real difference for female entrepreneurs.

Updated: May 20, 2024, 4:00 AM
Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000