Startup in the spotlight: Sidekick Mattie

Smartphones are demanding more and more of our attention. This can be extremely distracting when you're studying and may result in stress and even poor academic results. Sidekick Mattie aims to do something about this. Gül Akcaova, founder of the company, says: ‘Sidekick Mattie is a company that focuses on encouraging self-regulation. Our goal is to achieve balanced media usage, specifically with regard to social media on mobile telephones.’

Full concentration with breaks at scheduled intervals

Akcaova explains exactly how it works: ‘The user enters a command and the app supports them by temporarily blocking notifications on the smartphone. Until it's time for a break. Your concentration is limited, of course, and it's good to take short breaks at scheduled intervals. So whenever a concentration session ends, the user will receive an alert saying it's time to take a five-minute break. During the break, notifications and messages will be displayed on the smartphone again and it will be possible to access the internet. This way, the user won't miss any important alerts or fun messages. When the break is over, notifications will be blocked once more and it's time to buckle down and concentrate again. What we're trying to do is help people make the best possible use of their potential.’

Based on a personal sense of frustration

Akcaova has first-hand experience with how a smartphone can impact one's attempts to study: ‘It arose from a personal sense of frustration. One day in 2015, I realised that my smartphone was too great a temptation, even though I had gone to the library for the express purpose of studying. I resolved to be more aware of this in future. Today, we hear a lot about smartphone addiction in the media and the distracting nature of mobile devices. As well as the fact that effective multitasking is an illusion and it's important to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Back in 2015 and 2016, however, very little was known about this. Many people were unaware of the problem. At the time, I was studying at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and I decided to make this the topic of my graduation project. After that, we developed an app and I set out a business plan.’

An app on the book list

‘The app was launched on Christmas Eve 2016. We now have a version for Android and one for iOS. Besides the Dutch version, there's an English-language version as well. We didn't advertise or anything like that, and still use of the app has grown organically to around 7,000 downloads and at least 200-300 active users at this point. The plan now is to conduct an initial pilot at an institution for senior secondary vocational education. We hope this will show us how the app promotes the process of studying and what students think about using it. The next step will be to explore ways to further develop and expand the app. That might involve alerts during exam periods, for instance, to warn the student when they have a lot of work left. By doing so, we can then make the learning results and learning process visible – which is the first step if you're looking to improve the learning process. Actually, I'd prefer to see the app on the schools' book lists. That way, all pupils and students could learn to learn and learn to plan. This is vital, especially in light of students' increasing workload. In that case, the app would become a kind of digital mentor.’

Expansion in education and in Utrecht

Akcaova is enthusiastic when talking about the future of Sidekick Mattie: ‘Up until now, we've consciously avoided taking on any investors. We're not one of those start-ups that's just after profit. We have a socially beneficial goal in mind: optimising the learning process and results. We want to expand in the educational sector, particularly in senior secondary vocational (mbo) and pre-university education (vwo). Right now, like many start-ups, we find ourselves in an exciting phase, wondering what's going to happen and what will kick off our growth. That's why I'm so pleased with the pilot at the institution for senior secondary vocational education. Unfortunately, we haven't had much of a response from Utrecht itself so far. Still, we're quite keen to get started at schools in Utrecht as well. So I'd like to say the following to those schools: rather than banning smartphones in the classroom outright (which often has the opposite of the desired result on concentration), have the students use our app to learn for themselves how to use smartphones responsibly during the learning process. And: the municipal authorities have funding available for this very purpose. We would be happy to show them how it works, including a presentation on the pilot results we're expecting soon.’