Dr. Emilia Molimpakis (CEO and Co-founder, thymia)

Dr. Emilia Molimpakis is a neuroscientist and co-founder and CEO of thymia, a mental health tech building AI-powered video games to more objectively diagnose and monitor mental health and wellbeing.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Emilia Molimpakis
Photo courtesy of Dr. Emilia Molimpakis

Can you explain your job to a five-year-old?

First and foremost, I’m a neuroscientist, with a particular interest in linguistics, which means I study the human brain and look at how speech and language works. This passion and knowledge also feeds into my role as CEO at thymia, where we’re building video games which can be used to spot the signs of mental health conditions like depression. 

What excites you most about your job?

Without a doubt, it’s the power thymia has to help make radical improvements to the way we diagnose and care for mental health and wellbeing. While at university, one of my close friends suffered from depression. Her condition got worse, but the severity was missed by her healthcare professionals, and she sadly tried to take her own life. I was the one who found her, and I couldn’t understand how she’d been let down and left to fall through the cracks by the care services who were meant to be supporting her. This ignited my mission at thymia, to help shape a future where mental health diagnosis and monitoring is more objective, accurate and personalised. Thymia is helping to make mental health visible. I’m determined to help change the way we treat mental health and wellbeing, and to ensure that no-one else faces the same experience as my friend. 

Which trend will change the future of medicine?

I believe that AI holds incredible potential for transforming how we deliver healthcare and medicine, but unless developed and implemented carefully with the direct input of clinicians, and trying to avoid naturally occurring biases, it can present a whole host of risks. Over the next few years, ethical AI will have a pivotal role to play in advancing healthcare solutions safely. Without clear, widespread regulation, which is built to keep pace with the rate of AI development but is currently unfortunately lagging behind, right now it is up to solution creators to innovate responsibly and shoulder the responsibility for ensuring their AI tools are safe and unbiased. Ethical AI development is an absolutely non-negotiable foundation for providing AI tools that are capable of delivering genuine, long-term improvement, without posing any risk to patients. 

Looking back, which trends have you missed or underestimated?

Although mental health is a continuum, just like physical health, when people think of it, they often tend to only think about it when it has got to the clinical stage or when we are talking about mental illness; mental wellbeing instead is typically seen as the softer, less important sibling of mental illness. Quite a while back, early on in my academic career, I also had a similar opinion. But more and more we are seeing that mental wellbeing has a pivotal role to play in helping us to prevent mental illness, in identifying early warning signals and stepping in sooner. With demand for clinical mental health support at an all-time high, particularly post-Covid, services are struggling to see patients soon enough, and many are finding their condition deteriorating while stuck on lengthy wait lists for treatment. Taking preventative action against mental illness through actively monitoring your mental wellbeing could help cut down on these numbers. By empowering individuals to more intuitively understand and track their own wellbeing—through measures such as sleep issues, anxiety, burnout, self-esteem and concentration—we can help to flag and manage mental health concerns earlier, before they snowball into more serious conditions which are harder to treat. 

Which medtech initiative or startup deserves more attention?

I think that femtech has only recently started taking off and considering it serves slightly more than half the world's population, it's about time too. Talking about female health has been taboo for so long, but more and more startups and other initiatives are really starting to address that and bring the subject front and centre. One of the most interesting startup ideas I saw recently was a smart menstrual cup by the company Emm. It connects to an app to provide you with data on menstrual flow, consistency and other really useful data that could apparently help women identify signs of polycyclic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. As someone who suffers from PCOS, I found the idea amazing, and although the product appears still in its infancy, I am very excited to see more of such medtech advances. 

Where would you put a million dollars?

There is absolutely no doubt that we are facing a mental health epidemic. Since Covid-19, rates of mental illness have skyrocketed, and wait lists for treatment and support have grown to record levels. Services simply cannot cope with the rise in demand, and people are struggling with increasingly complex conditions, without access to the care they need. So a great deal of investment is desperately needed to adapt how we provide mental health support and to help services reach those most in need, sooner. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?

When I first transitioned from academia to being a founder and CEO, I was still stuck in the mentality of having to get everything 99.9% perfect and that if I just stayed up a little later or worked the weekend, I would actually achieve everything I wanted to do with a degree of perfection I found acceptable. Those concepts very quickly not only flew out the window, they were then run over and completely flattened by startup reality. I struggled for weeks to balance my work life and personal life and even when I worked all day every day, I never got anywhere near where I wanted to be. Then someone told me that in startup life "Done is better than perfect" and that 70% is good enough, and I decided to embrace that and shift mentality. It took a while and I still have to remind myself this sometimes daily, but it has meant I can actually get so much more done, I can hit targets without sacrificing my mental wellbeing. 

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