SpellBound: Augmented Reality for Children’s Happiness

By Rishi Prasad of Breathe Blue

We can all remember when Pokémon Go first came out. People wandering around in crowds with their heads in their phones — more than usual, at least — and yelling in excitement when finding a new creature. Pokémon in real life for the first time? It was like all of our longheld dreams had come true.

The genius behind Pokémon Go lies in its technology, known as augmented reality. A.R. blends digital technology with the physical world in real-time. And while Pokémon Go may be the one game that truly brought augmented reality to a mass audience, large corporations and startups alike have increasingly been working to apply augmented reality to other spaces.

Christina York, CEO and founder of Ann Arbor startup SpellBound books, is using that same technology to help make every child’s hospital experience a bit less scary and a lot more enjoyable. “We use augmented reality to distract them during painful or scary procedures, to keep them mentally and emotionally engaged in their environment, and to motivate them to participate and comply with their treatments.” By making treatment full of play, SpellBound is creating tools for therapists to treat their patients more effectively and with greater efficiency.

Ultimately, SpellBound Books is changing the stories kids and families tell about their hospital experiences and their perception of such experiences. “We don’t want children to have negative associations with their health. We recognize treatment will not always be pleasant, but we can change the way they remember that treatment.”

The company had humble beginnings. The idea for SpellBound started about two years ago at a Detroit startup weekend in the November of 2014. York came up with the idea for SpellBound just two days before the competition while reading a book. “I was frustrated that I had to keep moving back and forth from the book to my iPad to look up images of different ships I was reading about. What I really wanted was a 3D model that I could rotate and compare to other 3D models.”

After winning the startup weekend in Detroit with what they called “MagicBook” at the time, York and her team went on to take one of five prizes in the 2014 Global Startup Battle. The competition involved 23,000 competitors across 83 countries. In January of 2015, the idea attracted attention from major companies, parents, and publishers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. After being featured on CNET soon after, York and her team knew they had something special. “We quit our jobs right away. There was no big plan. We just took the leap.” In February of 2015 the company was officially formed. Originally pitched as a tool for students, SpellBound would find its first real pilot program in CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI.

The new company meant big change for York, who had been 15 years into her career and was at the top of her game. “I had to be willing to unlearn everything I’ve learned,” she said. “Walking into a new situation, every day was a new learning experience. It required a lot of big mental shifts.”

For York, every day is another problem to be solved, whether for herself as an entrepreneur or for her customers. “And that is what gets me out of bed every morning: solving problems, learning new skills and making new connections with amazing people.” To her, being an entrepreneur means constant personal growth, and for others interested in entrepreneurship, she stresses the importance of engaging in local communities, especially during college, to help nurture this growth. “Talk to other entrepreneurs and explore your options; this is the time in your life to experiment. I’m very excited campuses are providing more structures for students to engage with entrepreneurship.”

As for her company, York sees SpellBound expanding into other groups in the future: teenagers, adults and even veterans. “There are so many applications within the medical field that we can approach within the next 5 years.” This much is clear: SpellBound promises an exciting and promising future with the advancement and proliferation of augmented reality into adjacent markets.

Keep up to date with York and SpellBound here.