Top of the pops: Resparke founder proud to be a hit with residents

Last updated on 10 May 2024

Alison Harrington (centre right) enjoys some music alongside three aged care residents. [Supplied]

Resparke Founder and CEO Alison Harrington might have seen her product stumble at one of its biggest hurdles if she couldn’t secure music licensing rights to popular songs for the long term.

Hard work and dedication saw her overcome that challenge, and now, she’s received the prestigious Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellowship and hopes to take her therapeutic dementia care technology to the next level.

“It’s really an honour. It’s very meaningful, particularly as the nature of the award is about social impact. I came from a background in technology and was involved in another business but I wanted to do something impactful so I went back to study Social Impact,” Ms Harrington told hello leaders.

“With Resparke I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect combination of my skill set and my passion to create impact creatively. This award, over all the other start-up business awards, is very meaningful to me.”

Resparke is a relatively simple technology at face value; it offers specially curated music playlists, videos and podcasts to aged care residents. Care recipients, their families and aged care staff can all manage and edit these playlists.

But like most things, there are layers of hard work and near heartbreak. The initial version of Resparke, Moove & Groove, was still in its early stages when COVID-19 struck. 

As demand rapidly increased for the technology, which helped carers support resident well-being in a scaleable and safe way, they had to move quickly to meet demand and optimise the technology. 

There was fast and furious learning, particularly about how to best support carers to have a therapeutic impact on people living with dementia. Music had to be personalised and easy to access for each resident.

“What we are doing is a world first. It was hard. Nobody has been able to crack the nut of music as therapy in a healthcare setting and at scale. Many components have to come together to do that,” she said.

“When I realised what you had to do to build a viable, sustainable platform with full music licencing rights, all the pieces started to come together in this grand puzzle. We rebuilt the platform to accomplish the highest level of personalised and meaningful content possible in any product offered on the market.”

“It was a big mountain to climb, and there were many times when I wondered if it was possible. But I had a very big vision.”

That vision includes elevating Resparke to become a normal part of the resident onboarding processes. This is already possible for the aged care homes using the technology but Ms Harrington said there’s plenty of scope for growth.

For example, she said staff can collect personal information – not clinical data – related to the resident’s life story, hobbies, musical interests, etc. This information can be uploaded in bulk, shared with families and easily accessed by aged care workers. 

“If a care worker walks into a room they can access the profile of someone very easily. They can see that the resident is from Italy and loves classical music and sailing. For us it’s about having a conversation and starting a connection and then being able to offer something meaningful on the platform,” Ms Harrington said. 

There has been natural growth for Resparke with roughly 25,000 people living with dementia using the technology. But the Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellowship offers something more, and not just the potential for invaluable funds. 

Ms Harrington has the opportunity to connect and network with 32 other women from across the globe and all industries and fields. They have already started meeting online and will soon spend time together at an Awards Ceremony in China on May 22.

“When I made my application one of the things I was excited about was how I could support other female impact entrepreneurs. I’ve always been actively involved in the start-up community and would love to have more time to mentor and coach female founders,” she said.

“As a solo entrepreneur, it’s sometimes a very lonely road. So it’s nice to know I have a cohort for support.”

Visibility, exposure and the chance to glean information and advice from global experts are other key outcomes she’s most excited about. 

It’s clear, though, that the overall recognition of what has been achieved that means the most. Resparke was inspired by Ms Harrington’s own personal experience with dementia through her father-in-law, Arthur. She saw how music helped him over eight years ago, and now it’s helping more people in aged care.

“I had the vision of what I was trying to do when I left my father-in-law after visiting him in aged care. Why could someone not play him Fly Me to the Moon and show him Dutch videos to armchair travel around Amsterdam? It was something that seemed conceptually very easy but operationally and practically was challenging,” she said.

“Now, if my father-in-law was in care and that care home had Resparke, I would feel that the care staff could come in there, look at his name, access the information and give him those positive experiences far more easily.”

dementia care
aged care
aged care technology
Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellowship
Alison Harrington
evidence based dementia care technology
music therapy