"We want to help children see magic in places where it's difficult to do so," says Alberto Piras, CEO and founder of Brave Potions.
Even as an adult, Piras admits feeling nervous about hospitals and syringes in particular, and he didn't want to pass his fears on to his son. He and his team at the small startup have created an app which aims to entertain and reassure children visiting dentists and hospitals, through games and characters including medical magician Dr Potion.
"I got the idea when I saw a picture on Facebook where intravenous drips had been turned into superhero packs," Piras tells The Local. "That was a one-off project in a children's cancer ward in Brazil, and I wondered if anyone had thought of using the same method to help children get over other fears."
In 2015, he took part in the Innovaction Camp, a summer initiative close to Rome which helps would-be innovators develop their ideas into working prototypes. There he met Federico Simionato, an app developer, and within five days they had created both a complete idea for a project and a pitch.
"When we ended up winning the competition - after five days and some sleepless nights - we realized the project could have a future," Piras says. "Initially, we wanted to produce simple covers to decorate medical instruments with superheroes, but the project has evolved and now, using a mix of physical and digital products, we have created a magic adventure for children!"
The most difficult moment for the entrepreneur came when faced with the decision of whether to focus on Brave Potions full time. "It meant having to leave my job, my home and my city for the second time to dedicate myself to a great, but fragile dream," he says - but he took the leap.
The team also faced challenges in the form of Italian bureaucracy; when approaching hospitals with the idea, it took a long time to make contact and even longer to get a decision on whether they'd be able to use the service, due to form-filling and low funds.
Piras decided to start targeting private dentists, who were able to make quick decisions on whether or not to buy the service, and it is now used in numerous dental practices and hospital wards around the country.
Children using the app are introduced to its superhero characters and by watching cartoons and playing games, they learn how medical instruments use magic to transform them into these characters. After each visit, dentists or nurses can give their patients 'Power Cards' which are used to unlock extra experiences in the game.
"One nurse told us about a regular patient, who was three and a half years old and often had to give blood samples," says Piras. "The little girl had always cried, but the day she saw the image of our fairy [on the app] she looked at the nurse and smiled. And when she asked her to give her an arm to take the sample, she gave her both arms."
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