Amie Leighton, founder of Allia

Photo of Amie Leighton

Amie Leighton, a 21-year-old founder of Allia an AI-driven mental health startup, nurturing the next generation of digital mental health care. Her startup is using AI to curate matched mental health support. This means offering support that is personalised, personable, and conveniently integrated into your life via a digital app. Their unique approach bridges the gap between AI and science, allowing for a matching algorithm that is tailored to your needs as a whole person. But the emphasis is not just on personalised support, it’s also on making that support personable. They aim to match individuals with qualified professional support and group support with others that they can intuitively connect with. To match people effectively, they’ve been privileged to work with top researchers in the diagnostic mental health space. Their algorithm goes beyond merely diagnosing people with depression, anxiety, or ADHD, for example. Instead, it recognises wider socioeconomic challenges, preferences, personality traits, strengths, and interests. It takes a dimensional approach towards psychopathology, allowing the identification of root causes as well as the severity of mental health challenges. This whole person approach allows for significantly improved outcomes, that foster confidence, motivation and belonging. By integrating AI and human understanding, Amie Leighton’s startup is paving a new path in mental health services—one that is as comprehensive as it compassionate.

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What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?  Struggling with your mental health is really as challenging as everyone says it is. During my time at Oxford, I received support from my friend, Jade. She had been in a similar situation and intuitively understood what I was going through. Jade was able to point me in the right direction and share advice that she wished she could have given her younger self. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I wanted others to be able to find their Jade!

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Interesting ? I think there’s a distinction between ‘entrepreneurship’ as the act of starting a business, and the essence of what entrepreneurialism is. For me, entrepreneurship is the ability and desire to do something differently. It’s about challenging norms, pioneering change and creating solutions that have not been tried before.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
We’re quite early stage still. But, at the moment, we have a bespoke machine learning-driven form that provides unique insights into your mental health. It identifies your strengths, pinpoints where your biggest challenges might be, and offers insights about these factors. Also, it provides practical tips that leverage your strengths and more. At first, I was nervous that it wasn’t going to be good enough. So, I decided to test it on myself. It was pin point accurate and was honestly the most insightful advice and tips I’ve pretty much ever seen. I decided to take it to my mum next, who tends to be rather pessimistic by nature. She looked at the responses and exclaimed, “OMG how did it know that!” I think it was about then that I knew we were on the right path with our AI-driven approach to mental health.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Don’t think I can say I know the answer, probably not at that stage yet. But from what I have seen so far 😀

1. The ability to challenge the status quo and think intuitively. You can’t be content with what is, but think what could be.
2. Understanding how to execute and why you should do it like that. Sadly, it’s not enough to have a great idea; you must understand how to translate that idea into action and why that course of action makes sense.
3. Execution and motivation – Once the plan is in place, it’s about the drive to carry it out and that probably comes from having a clear sense of purpose that matters to you!

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Often you are new to something and have to learn it from scratch, that’s exciting because the learning curve for new skills is quite quick.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Square. Quickly after launching Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively and undercut them on prices. However, within just a year, Square had Amazon and others on the retreat. How did they manage that? Through a series of small, yet impactful, innovations. I think that’s truly impressive.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
Three questions relevant given his experience, but for my business :D:

1. “You successfully integrated technology into an industry that hadn’t changed in decades. What advice do you have for someone looking to do the same in the mental health field?”
2. ” Mental health, like financial services, is a heavily regulated field. How did Square navigate the regulatory challenges while still pushing for innovation?”
3. ” How did you ensure the trust of your users in sensitive areas such as financial transactions? Similarly, in mental health, trust is crucial. How would you transfer this approach to a mental health context?”

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Having a lead director of consortium of Psychiatrists, tell me that: ‘She wants to help me (pro bono) because she thinks that that the is really clever.”

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
1. Stuff takes time.
2. You need to have a tech team.
3. Learn how to use canva, adobe & word press i.e. basic design, if you can’t code.

How have you funded your ideas?
1. We have just built it all ourselves.
3. Two of my co-cofounders can code.
3 . And, other professionals (qualified mentors /life coaches) are working pro bono for us so we can build MVP.
4. We Brought a seed legal subscription (cheaper way of paying for legal fees).

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
No – we should have applied to them!

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I think its quite hard to work out about what is going on – what’s important etc. It’s good because a lot of clever people.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Y combinator.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Yes, for sure. I didn’t think that it would be nearly as bad as it is to be honest. It is a stereotypes so my apologies. But, mansplaining is something that I have seen a lot of.
Even when you say you can do something (and have proved that you can !) then you will get the most patronising explanations as to why you won’t be able to, because it is too ‘hard’.

What resources would you recommend for other women?
The events at All Bright London (some are like 15 pounds are really good).
Also, if you look on Event Brite there are loads of events for female founders, women in tech etc. They tend to be really great too and have a good atmosphere.

How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
One of the biggest barriers is:

1. Less opportunities.
2. Less confidence when women do get opportunities.

I think it would be super helpful if women could have more opportunities within the Oxford ecosystem e.g. more support contacting and meeting with professors/ alumni/investors etc. But, there needs to be like one extra step to go with this. i.e. support with these conversations to ensure that they can have the best combo possible.

Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
It pains me to say it, but where a really nice suit. If you were to map the number of people who want to speak to you with smartness of your outfit. It is pretty clear that this stuff still really matters, whether it should do or not.

Any last words of advice?
Good luck, you are amazing!