MHS grad turns class project into mobile app

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “We all have our own personal connections to the mental health of college athletes.”

     Monticello High School graduate and University of Iowa sophomore Kyle Folken knows first-hand about the stress and anxiety tied to wanting to do your best in sports, both at the high school and collegiate level. “The stress and pressure to perform on and off the field that student athletes deal with on a daily basis makes them much more vulnerable to panic attacks, eating disorders, depression, and many other symptoms,” said Folken.

     With that in mind, Folken said he fellow peers put together a business plan and are in the middle of conducting research on a mobile app called “HeadsIn.”

     The goal of the business and app “is to improve the well-being of student athletes by eliminating the stigma and opening the door for them to comfortably discuss their mental health…”

     Folken, who serves as the CTO (chief technology officer) on the project, is majoring in mechanical engineering. He is one of four classmates in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation class who worked on the project.

     While the class project was just to put together a business plan in the spring of 2017, Folken said they truly want to see how viable this project could be to the masses. Last May, the team of four decided to expand. “We performed market research and started basic customer discovery to learn if the business idea is feasible,” he said. That research will help in deciding what the app would look like and what features would be included.

     Outside of the University of Iowa, Folken said their network includes approximately 30 schools from Division 1 to Division 3. They’ve been working with athletes, coaches, athletic directors, and sports psychologists.

     “As of now we are only marketing HeadsIn toward NCAA-affiliated institutions,” shared Folken. “We hope to branch out to high schools and professional athletic programs eventually.”

     HeadsIn provides student athletes with a secure system through the app in which to share their mental health concerns. HeadsIn provides these students with a digital survey that screens for symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. Folken said the frequency at which the students complete the survey depends on the college’s policies.

     “The mental health of student athletes is tracked through a ‘flagging system’ that follows the trends in responses,” explained Folken.

     He cautioned that the app does not diagnose athletes, but is able to recognize the negative trends in student athletes’ moods, behavior, and “activities that may be symptomatic of a mental health issue.”

     From there, the students’ results are sent to a mental health/first aid-certified athletic trainer or team psychologist.

     “The trainers and psychologists are only notified if a negative trend arises,” said Folken. “We connect student athletes with people in their support network who can see to it that the athlete is directed toward whatever resources they need.”

     Folken said his team is targeting college athletes right now “due to the higher risk of mental health issues.

     “Despite the number of resources available (to college athletes), 90 percent of collegiate student athletes suffering from a mental health issue do not seek out the help them need,” Folken explained. “We hope to decimate this percentage.”

     He said their initial research has shown that 94 percent of student athletes feel that a mobile app like HeadsIn “will make it easier for them to talk about their problems.”

     Folken said they hope to launch their app in the spring of 2019.

     For more on HeadsIn, visit their website



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