Brainhouse - Building a web browser for ALS patients

The Brainhouse project's purpose was to put together a diverse squad of interns who would work on a case with social impact. This time, we tackled a case for ALS Liga.

Wietse Vanmeerbeeck - 30/6/2022

My internship at TPO Agency as a Product Owner for Brainhouse

As the final part of my professional Bachelor in Idea & Innovation Management, I had to finish strong with a twelve-week internship at a company. I figured there was no better environment than the IT world to start my career. An overdose of innovative projects and continuous improvement sounded like gold to the ears of an innovation manager.

Eventually, I encountered TPO Agency as I was looking for a project with a positive social impact. The project in question was called Brainhouse - the perfect blend of innovation and social impact. The project aims to prepare students for a full-time job in a challenging and impactful way.

brainhouse team
The Brainhouse Team

The Brainhouse project

Brainhouse Academy is an initiative of Brainjar, Wheelhouse, and TPO Agency, three ventures active in the Raccoons Group ecosystem. The project's purpose was to put together a diverse squad of interns who would work on a case with social impact. Of course, experts would guide the team by sharing their insights, but the main goal was to give the interns autonomy to learn at lightning speed.

ALS patients

For the first run of the Brainhouse project, we defined a case for ALS Liga. The reason? ALS patients experience difficulties while surfing the internet, and we wanted to help them. Our challenge was to create a smart browser with AI features and a minimalist layout to enable ALS patients to surf the web more easily. Our diverse squad contained two AI engineers, three developers, and a product owner (that's where I come in!).

So, in this project, I took on the role of product owner. My job was to manage the project and ensure that we tailored our solution to ALS patients as much as possible. After setting up the product backlog, I had to create a project schedule to keep everything on track.

A challenging project, for sure

Brainhouse backlog

Setting up the Brainhouse project backlog was one of the biggest challenges I encountered. The start of the project was tricky as we still had to align the product with the stakeholders and the target group. As the target group was hard to reach and was relatively small (approximately 1000 patients in Belgium), gathering input was a true challenge.

Due to this limited input from the target group, it was hard to define the exact product our team would build eventually. We did not know what ALS patients needed and expected. Ultimately, we took matters into our own hands, and with the help of additional workshops and several discussions, we shaped the product.

Reaching our target audience

The second challenge we faced relates to the same problem: reaching the target group. Our goal was to adapt the AI model to the target group, but that was tough. Due to the limited contact with our target group, we could not get enough patients to use our Brainhouse Chrome extension. We designed this extension to collect data from the target audience to train our AI model.

After several posts on ALS Liga and's social media platforms and multiple calls through newsletters, we stumbled on just a few users. Fortunately, later on in the project, we received the opportunity to reach out to ALS patients through Studio Brussel (a Belgian radio station). We came into contact with a therapist at UZ Ghent who worked with people suffering from various muscle diseases through this call. After several conversations, they decided to share our project with their patients. Yay!

We concluded that our solution would be helpful for more people than we defined initially, as anyone with impaired hand functioning could benefit from our web browser. Talking about a valuable pivot!

Why I liked the TPO Agency and Raccoons environment so much

Within TPO Agency and Raccoons in general, you notice a continuous, collective drive. Employees start initiatives to share knowledge, such as a weekly PM meeting where everyone works together to find solutions to problems and communicate their general experiences from current projects. Moreover, they organize PM workshops where an experienced project manager discusses a topic in detail so they can learn from each other.

You can go to anyone for feedback and questions, and everyone is willing to take the time to help you with your project. The atmosphere on and around the work floor is pleasant and chill, as there is space for humor and conversation. During the day, there are regular moments to play football, go for a walk, or play Beat Saber with the VR headset. A fun, impactful internship to remember.