Making people healthier through serious gaming. That is the passion of Chantal Linders. And although in the beginning not everyone wanted to listen to her idea’s, her successful startup Greenhabit is now rolling out in the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. A go-getter, with a passion for the human brain, green food and nature. Chantal talks about her journey, her life as an entrepreneur and her drive to make people more fit and happy.
“I believe everyone can do it. To live healthier. And to protect your heart against people or situations that put you out of balance.” Chantal also had to learn this herself. “I asked myself: who is causing me stress and worry? It’s my own head. Overthinking can make you sick. Diabetes or cardiovascular diseases are often lifestyle diseases.”
And to tackle those lifestyle diseases, Chantal Linders fights with her start-up Greenhabit for healthier and vital lives. “Greenhabit is a 12-week program that will change your behavior in a sustainable way by changing your mindset. We want to teach people to live more from their personal drive. It's about taking back control of your life. Whether you are 13 or 81 years old.”
You play Greenhabit via an app on your smartphone. More than 1500 people already played the game. “We challenge people to take small steps and do a little bit of everything: exercise, eat healthy, relax, think positively and pay attention to your social environment. When people feel good about themselves, they start making good choices."
Take control But how do you turn your life around? How do you take control, and make sure others don’t define you? “In the game I give the example of my daughter's birthday. My sister had forgotten her birthday, and I was so disappointed. Especially for my child. It bothered me for days. Until I realized: why did she forget the birthday? She is in the middle of a renovation, she is really busy. So I decided to stop thinking ugly things and look at it differently. A few days later my sister called me: ‘Oh, so terrible! I forgot the birthday. You must be mad at me.’ But I wasn't. Because I had already taken control of myself, given it a place and moved on with positivity. We ask our players to describe these kinds of situations. And to reflect on their own behaviour.”
Being healthy is more than just being fit What made a big impression on Chantal is the meeting with her oldest player, an 81 year old lady who had recently become a widow. "She asked me: can I participate? I said: if you can handle a smartphone, yes! And so she started her adventure. She already cycled 10 km a day, ate healthy and did a lot of community work. So why did she participate? Because she wanted to stop feeling lonely.”
“After six weeks, something terrible happened. She got a tia. And she communicated that in the app. Other app users started sending her digital flowers, and that did something to her. ‘It's like I have so many new friends’, she said. It gave me goosebumps. The doctors were amazed how much energy the app gave her. Once she got back home, I visited her for a cup of coffee. My biggest learning from this, was that you cannot assume if someone fits the program. Yes, she was fit and healthy. But she was also very lonely. Greenhabit gave her a positivity.”
The startup life When Chantal started working on her idea for Greenhabit, she heard a lot of negativity around her. "People didn't understand me. ‘You have a very good job, why would you throw that away for an insecure start-up?’, ‘A focus on lifestyle? Aren’t there enough apps about that?!’ But I wanted to tackle the inside of lifestyle. Yes, it is about getting enough exercise and eating healthy, but what’s even more important is the mental aspect."
Investors thought it was too early. "I bumped into an awful lot of walls. ‘What you want costs millions’, I was told. But I kept trying. During a pitch for an investment club, a tech woman approaches me: ‘You have a good idea. Continue pitching. I've pitched my story a thousand times, and you should keep doing that too. Hold on.' That gave me courage. Ultimately, I invested money in the start-up together with my partner Mark. It’s exciting and uncertain, because we are both changing our lives for it. But this is what drives us, and we want to help people.”
This is also being noticed in Europe. With the help of EIT Digital, Chantal recently raised a subsidy for a project of one million euros to help patients with type 2 diabetes. Together with the University in Barcelona, she uses artificial intelligence to make predictions based on the behavior of people. Also in Belgium Greenhabit has won a project, to help people with COPD and sarcopenia. And in the Netherlands, Chantal works together with cardiologist Janneke Wittekoek to make women with heart problems more vital.
Possibilities during COVID-19 “In the beginning of the corona crisis, I thought: this is going to make it even more difficult. But my opinion changed. The benefits of working online quickly became apparent to me: you can plant thousands of seeds. Schedule a lot of calls. Speak to people all over the world. I only know our partners in Europe digitally, isn’t that funny?”
What would you like to pass on to other entrepreneurial tech women? “Be inspired by experts you hear on the radio, see on television and read about online. Call them, send them an email. Everyone I have ever approached has helped me. Dare to ask for help. And also know: you don't have to know everything. Just try it. Keep pitching, even if you have to do this a thousand times.
Don't be afraid, think big. Just start and what you don't know yet, you will learn along the way. It starts with your own imagination."