Mindfulness startup HERE sees success after pivoting to address COVID-19 stresses

Though the U.S. national employment rate of 8.4% is about half of what it was at its lowest point in April, a patchwork of back-to-school plans and continued COVID-19 restrictions have left many people stuck in their homes—for better or worse.  If Omaha startup HERE co-founder Dana Dyksterhuis has a say, it’ll be the former. …

Photo courtesy of Here For You For Them
Photo courtesy of Here For You For Them

Though the U.S. national employment rate of 8.4% is about half of what it was at its lowest point in April, a patchwork of back-to-school plans and continued COVID-19 restrictions have left many people stuck in their homes—for better or worse. 

If Omaha startup HERE co-founder Dana Dyksterhuis has a say, it’ll be the former. 

The mental health and mindfulness platform has consistently seen weekly site visits spike between 100% to 300% year-over-year, most likely as a result of a renewed need to stay grounded and calm during the pandemic. Social distancing be damned, Dyksterhuis is feeling encouraged by surging demand for virtual offerings six months after COVID-19 threw water on HERE’s popular yoga and mindfulness pop-ups.

After our (virtual) mindfulness sessions with my co-founder Jen, we regularly hear gratitude from teachers and families about how much they really need this, and it means so much to us because we know we’re making a difference,” Dyksterhuis said. “With the new activity packs we’ve been creating, the feedback includes how beautiful they are, how unique the content is, and how needed it is. It tells us we need to keep going in this direction because the need is so great.”

While pinpointing exactly how great that need has become can be tricky, there are stark and startling indicators: CNN reported a crisis hotline operated as part of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration saw a spike of over 300% from February to March as COVID-19 began its ongoing burn through the U.S. Compared to the same period in 2019,, March calls to the helpline were up nearly 900%.

Compounding complications for founders like Dyksterhuis is the fact that getting a business off the ground is already a tough gambit. Nearly 8 in 10 founders say running a business has affected their mental health, according to survey work collected and published by startup advisory firm 3Sixty. Seven in 10 say their physical health has suffered as a result.

That stress needs an outlet—even if it’s a voice telling you that it’s OK to feel anxious about the present or future—which made a March 31 open letter from leaders of The Startup Collaborative, of which HERE is a member, a most welcome message. 

Among the advice proffered by Erica Wassinger, senior director of entrepreneurship & innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber, was to consider pricing sensitivity for services and “redesign your COVID-era customer.”

“Their pains and gains are different,” Wassinger reminded TSC mentees, Dyksterhuis among them. “Take a second to think them through.”

At HERE, that has meant going “all in” on the platform’s digital offering, which has been warmly received. The platform recently published its first mindfulness product comprising a 26-page digital workbook that interlaces activities, discussion topics, mantras, and yoga poses with an educational appeal.

That isn’t to say that HERE personnel have been ignoring the pandemic, or that it’s been easy-going. In addition to tips on tweaking pricing and revising financial forecasts, Dyksterhuis said the support from TSC mentors has included simple reminders to “give ourselves a break.” While worries persist about when the pandemic will abate, whether family members will get sick, where the next paycheck will come from, how to balance work and homeschooling, and how civil unrest will play out, mindfulness can be a critical tool to help achieve balance and stay grounded.

Small businesses are also feeling the strain of COVID-19 policies, even as some state governments have eased restrictions.

Ilona Holland, owner of Council Bluffs-based Life Dimensions, leaned heavily on her own personal mindfulness practice to endure two solid months’ worth of a state-mandated shutdown of her massage business. Today, she’s seeing massage clients three days a week, balancing the needs of her school-age children, and at the same time satisfying heightened demand for web-based services from her holistic wellness business. The pandemic tapped out Holland’s rainy-day fund, but she’s been unable to avoid the need for her clients to find grounding in turbulent times.

“We shifted to what the need was and it was just about being there,” Holland said.

Dyksterhuis has a similar sentiment: “Particularly in these times and the added pressures with homeschooling and adapting to this new normal, we often have to remind ourselves we are doing the absolute best we can and have to be gentle on ourselves.”

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