P&G’s 1st Virtual Innovation Challenge Winner Easing Today’s ‘Stress Olympics’

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
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Sarah Hill was this year's winner of the P&G Ventures Innovation Challenge. Photo credit: KITE SRM

It’s quite fitting that the winner of this year’s P&G Ventures Innovation Challenge is dedicated toward alleviating stress.

Transformed into a virtual event for the first time, the annual entrepreneurial pitch event from Procter & Gamble’s startup studio went live using the KITE SRM platform on June 24. While the pandemic drove the event into a virtual format, the response and engagement proved it to be no less of a success than previous years, even providing some new opportunities, Lauren Thaman, communications director at P&G Ventures, tells CGT.

Sarah Hill, CEO and chief storyteller of HEALium, took home top honors for her digital therapeutic solution — also known as a digiceutical — that marries consumer wearables and augmented, mixed and virtual reality to quickly relieve stress and anxiety.

Hill’s idea stemmed from panic attacks she had while working as a TV news reporter and anchor. And while HEALium was developed before the pandemic, it couldn’t be timelier, even currently in use with COVID-19 nurses for compassion fatigue.

“This is the stress Olympics, and not everyone has trained for it,” Hill notes. “We're working to overcome those challenges by allowing people to use something they already have in their homes — a smart watch or other wearable — to harness their own biometric data from their wearables to transform virtual worlds.”

As winner, Hill receives $10,000 and a chance to partner with P&G Ventures. She’s also invited to join the Brandery’s accelerator program, which comes with $100,000, a year of free office space and a host of other benefits.

This year’s event far exceeded P&G Ventures’ expectations, with both the number of applicants and the number of quality submissions exceeding previous Innovation Challenges, says Thaman. The number of attendees was also higher than initially anticipated, and they saw a larger turnout and greater engagement than what’s typically possible with the live challenges held during January’s CES in Las Vegas.

“These entrepreneurs are looking to solve pain points they are experiencing and are creating solutions that might not exist today. It’s truly eye-opening to be able to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ peek into what the startup ecosystem is doing,” Thaman says.  

The virtual platform enabled P&G Ventures to reach a variety of networks, including entrepreneurs, startups and the VC community. Feedback from both participants and attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and Thaman says the company would love to host another one.

“It started as a way to reach entrepreneurs where they’re at right now amidst the pandemic — their homes,” she says. “This first iteration has been so successful, and we’re keen on continuing to offer virtual opportunities to complement our live events as a way to reach to the entrepreneur and startup community.”

For future potential Virtual Challenges, P&G Ventures intends to provide the audience with direct insights into how to embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys, as this year’s talk session with entrepreneur and P&G partner Tristan Walker served as one of the most meaningful components.

“He was able to engage with the entrepreneurs in our audience by sharing his own entrepreneurial journey, lessons learned and advice. There’s a lot of value for budding entrepreneurs in being able to hear first-hand from someone who has gone through the process themselves,” notes Thaman.

For her part, Hill says she was drawn to the Virtual Challenge because of P&G’s global leadership in hygiene products, noting the connection between stress and illness. “We wanted to explore the idea of a digiceuticals aisle where you can purchase drug-less solutions for your mental wellbeing. ... So pairing HEALium with existing products for stress-related ailments makes sense,” she says.

“A partner with Procter & Gamble's global reach would allow us to more quickly get our digiceuticals in the hands of 157 million stressed consumers who are looking for drug-less solutions to quickly downshift their nervous systems and escape their current realities.”