By Jordana Starr | September 25, 2017 (Innovate413)

Amherst Mindfulness owner Michele Miller offers educational courses and workshops relating to mindfulness—a form of meditation that involves awareness of one’s present thoughts, feelings, body, and environment—at the Yoga Center in the heart of downtown Amherst. When she first started teaching, she was frustrated with the lack of a single platform that could allow her to market her business, register students, accept payments, and connect virtually with her students. As Miller recognized a need for an integrated platform for mind-body-spirit solopreneurs like herself, the idea for Apanna was born.

Michelle Miller (middle, in magenta wrap) leads a meditation at the Yoga Center in Amherst. (Photo credit: Amherst Mindfulness)

Michelle Miller (middle, in magenta wrap) leads a meditation at the Yoga Center in Amherst. (Photo credit: Amherst Mindfulness)

Miller had been using a hodgepodge of platforms for different fragments of her business: Wix for web hosting, MailChimp for communications, and Google Drive for registrations and as a virtual classroom. Apanna combines these elements together under one user-friendly platform, with a mission to make holistic modalities such as mindfulness, yoga, and movement classes accessible to as many people as possible.

Apanna gives students better access to teachers by providing three key components:

  1. Marketing - Apanna allows its subscribers to create a custom, professional landing page, list course offerings, upload media, and send marketing emails. It’s designed for folks who may not necessarily be tech savvy, so there is no need to hire a web designer.
  2. Business Operations - Apanna makes accepting payments, registering students, and processing financial aid requests smooth and comfortable.
  3. Virtual Classroom - Teachers can connect with students at home through discussion forums and by uploading homework and media.

For Miller, who has a marketing degree and trained at the Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical School, creating what is ultimately a tech product is a matter of finding the right people for her team. Around the time she was visioning Apanna, she learned through a Facebook post about the Kayon Accelerator, a new Amherst-based startup accelerator that was accepting applications. She recognized that this would be a wonderful opportunity to test her idea and see if it is worthy of investment.

Kayon’s promise of local mentoring drew Miller to the program, and she was also excited by the possibility of working with other startups. After applying, she received an email back, indicating they wanted to interview her and to hear her pitch. “I pictured it being like Amherst Shark Tank,” Miller recalls, laughing. "But it was the nicest bunch of sharks!”

She presented her idea to Steve Garrow, David Vogel, and Tim Mitrovich, the partners who run the Kayon Accelerator, and they invited her to join as the first participant in their new program. “They were just so incredibly down-to-earth, which made the process of applying much more enjoyable and less nerve-wracking." They immediately understood her story and her passion around what she was building.

Since the Kayon Accelerator's inaugural program is still running on a rolling basis, there isn't yet a cohort of startups working together. However, once more groups are on board, there will be an opportunity for the startups to get together and be mentored by each other and with the Kayon team.

Miller values the mentor/mentee relationship with Kayon. They check in via email, phone, and Skype a few times a month, and when the partners are in town they meet in person. The partners have helped her network, connecting her to developers, designers, and even other people within the mindfulness and related fields. They have assisted her in setting up her vendor contracts, offering expert advice when it comes to language and assigning equity. Garrow even attended one of Miller’s classes so he could have a better understanding of mindfulness and steep himself into her world a bit more.

Miller (center) lead a mindfulness training for the Amherst College football team. (Photo credit: Amherst Mindfulness)

Miller (center) lead a mindfulness training for the Amherst College football team. (Photo credit: Amherst Mindfulness)

Currently, they are working on creating a minimum viable product (MVP), which is a lean prototype that can be used to get data back from people who test it to see what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be added. With the assistance of Florence-based developer Jeff Gnatek and Northampton-based designer Jared Snider, Miller hopes to have it completed by mid-October for beta testing.

The next step will be iterating the MVP as needed based on the data and feedback they receive. They will also start signing on subscribers by reaching out to mind-body-spirit solopreneurs. Once they have a critical mass of subscribers, Miller intends for Apanna to evolve into a niche social platform for mind-body-spirit solopreneurs.

After beta testing, she’ll be able to determine what they really need in terms of other team members. Miller also hopes to find a cofounder; she is seeking someone who really understands how to reach the target audience.

The platform will be available as a web app, accessible through browsers on computers and mobile devices. In the long-term, Miller envisions developing it as a stand-alone mobile app. She also recognizes that although Apanna is being developed as a platform for mind-body-spirit solopreneurs, it has potential to be licensed out for use by other fields. With the number of solopreneurs in our country rising, this platform could find many applications.

Miller’s experience working with the Kayon partners has been overwhelming positive. “I feel like their values are very much aligned with mine. They have been very generous with their time and the connections that they’ve helped me to make. They’re very experienced but at the same time humble and kind. That, to me, really resonates.”

If you teach in the mind-body-spirit field and wish to try the platform, you can become a beta user by visiting apanna.com.

Learn more about the Kayon Accelerator Program at kayonaccelerator.com.

Related article:

Amherst Kayon Accelerator is Accepting Applicants