06 June 2023

MEEVA – a VR serious game to strengthen the social skills of autistic teens


Innovation often arises thanks to the coexistence of multiple factors: a challenging context, the right set of skills, and of course a strong purpose to make an impact. This is demonstrated by the story of our alumnus Elio Salvadori, who during the Covid-19 pandemic leveraged on the skills learned during the Executive MBA to develop an innovative business with a positive impact on the life of autistic children.  

Dear Elio, after a long career dedicated to Research and Innovation, you have recently founded Meeva, a benefit corporation that helps autistic children. What is the purpose that guided your entrepreneurial spirit?

The idea behind MEEVA arose during the first wave of the COVID-19 lockdown. It was a very tough time for all parents of autistic children because it wasn’t clear when the psychoeducational therapies our loved ones were attending would be starting up again. I was at the beginning of my International Flex EMBA path at POLIMI GSOM, during which I had the chance to learn a lot about innovation management and entrepreneurship. 

I started wondering about the development of a digital tool which rehabilitation centres could use to facilitate access to psychoeducational therapies for autistic children and teens, and I was fascinated by two emerging trends: the opportunity virtual reality was giving to people to interact in a realistic but controllable immersive environment as well as the explosion of multiplayer-based role-play games, where video gamers could meet virtually and cooperate to overcome challenges and obstacles through team-based collaboration, regardless of their physical location.  

After discussing this idea with a few therapists as well as autism experts from ODF Lab -Università di Trento, I started developing the idea of a VR-based multiplayer serious game which therapists could use to strengthen the social and emotional skills of autistic children and teens in a playful and engaging setting.  

What are the elements that allowed your idea to become a real business?

The chance to transform this idea into something real became tangible thanks to an innovation project (XR4A) supported by EIT Digital for which I received funding through my institution (Fondazione Bruno Kessler) in collaboration with XeniaReply and iED. This project gave us the opportunity to develop the serious game, but also to test and validate it in two pilots which involved 40+ teens and 12 therapists, both in Italy and Greece. Even more importantly, it gave me the chance to meet two wonderful teammates (Marco Dianti and Melanie Cristofolini) with whom we recently registered a new benefit corporation (MEEVA) with the aim of commercialising this solution at the crossroads between edutech and medtech. All our games are built in collaboration with therapists while leveraging the essential feedback and input from autistic teens. 

As part of the Trentino Startup Valley journey, MEEVA won the Demo Day last May and the “Investor Readiness” award this February; our company was also selected from among the 6 startup finalists of the Demo Day organised by the B4I pre-acceleration program.  

None of what has happened in the last year and a half would ever have been possible without the initial seeds having been sown during my EMBA journey at POLIMI GSoM! “ 

Thank you for sharing your story and the purpose that guided your entrepreneurial adventure!

06 June 2023

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