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Speaking with the co-founder of PuffiN: Frances Weston

PuffiN is a new women’s mental health platform start-up founded by King's students Frances Weston and Valerie Cai, who recently reached the 2023 Mayor's Entrepreneur Competition final as one of the five finalists for their category. We were able to catch up with Frances to learn a bit more about PuffiN and its founders.

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Content warning: the below content discuss themes of abortion, sexual harassment and domestic violence. If you would like to access support without reading this content, please visit: King's Counselling and Mental Health Support and KCLSU Wellbeing.

PuffiN is a new women’s mental health platform that's aiming to provide personalised mental health care at every stage of a woman’s life. The first challenge they are taking on is the perinatal mental health crisis. We spoke to one of its founders, King's medical student Frances Weston, to learn more about PuffiN and the people behind it, including their experience at the 2023 Mayor's Entrepreneur Competition.

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How did you both meet before beginning PuffiN?

Valerie and I met at a King’s College London Psychiatry event, where we realised our shared passion for improving access and care within perinatal mental health. Valerie is the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) perinatal student lead, and has spent several months on perinatal wards gaining first-hand experience of the needs of women struggling during this time.

What was the inspiration behind PuffiN?

PuffiN starts from a very personal place for my co-founder Valerie. When working in maternal mental health units, she spoke to hundreds of mothers whose mental health had deteriorated because stigma and lack of accessibility had prevented them from getting timely care. Their experience really resonated with her as she had an unexpected pregnancy and subsequent abortion at the age of 21, and vividly remembers the all-consuming anxiety of not feeling able to be a “good” mother. The realisation that there is no emotional manual to motherhood inspired her to create PuffiN to tackle the Perinatal Mental Health crisis.

Beyond perinatal mental health, movements in recent years such as #MeToo has shown us that women experience unique biological and social experiences that often have mental health consequences. We want to build PuffiN for women of all ages in order to provide a safe space to discuss these topics that are constants in the life of every woman, but rarely come up in day to day conversation. Integrating peer support workers, therapists, coaches, and other mental health professionals into the conversation ensures that with this reflection comes personal and collective growth.

When did you start PuffiN? Why did you want to start PuffiN?

We know that perinatal mental illness affects one in four mums, and postpartum blues affects up to 80% of new mothers. That equates to around 90,000 mothers each year in London alone. In addition, demand for perinatal mental health services is 70% higher than pre-pandemic levels – yet 43% of patients aren’t seen in an acceptable time frame. With this crisis in perinatal mental health, we feel passionately about increasing accessibility to preventative and early intervention mental health support using a range of professionals, including peer support workers, coaches, counsellors, and therapists. We started PuffiN in November 2022, and spend any time we have outside of our medical degrees working on it!

What is unique about the support PuffiN offers for perinatal mental health compared to other sources of help?

We are the first platform in the UK to have a core focus on providing group therapy and peer support for mothers struggling with their mental health. Our platform algorithm matches each woman to her most optimal support group, taking into account psychological and personal preferences, such as a background and experience. This is particularly important when servicing the diverse women of London.

Unlike NHS services, the emphasis at PuffiN is to provide preventative or early-intervention mental health support. Therefore, you do not need a mental health diagnosis to use our services, and there is no “minimum threshold” of how unwell you need to be. In fact, we would highly encourage women who are well and wanting to learn more about how to protect their mental health and foster wellbeing to check us out, as research has shown preventative support is far more effective than waiting till someone is in crisis.

Could you explain the products and services PuffiN currently provides, and if there’s anything else you’d like to introduce soon?

We provide each member of the platform with a personalised peer support group, targeted educational webinars, and the opportunity to attend group therapy led by a licensed therapist. Currently, we are hoping to pilot our services by September, so if you are family planning, pregnant, or have a child under the age of four, please stay tuned to our website and social media platforms so that you can be the first to hear about new developments! We are also planning a range of free webinars and other content on topics such as pelvic health, menopause, and more.

Even though you didn't win, it was a fantastic achievement to get to the final. What did you learn from the experience and what advice would you give other students who might be thinking of entering in the future?

Being a part of the Mayor’s competition has been a really valuable experience. During each stage, we attended workshops where we received group and one-to-one advice on how to refine and develop our business proposition. This experience taught us the skills needed to pitch our venture to investors, and gave us the opportunity to meet a really exciting group of entrepreneurs. We would encourage anyone with a passion for entrepreneurship to apply! The competition accepts ideas at any stage, so don’t worry if you are still in the early stages; the team will help you develop this throughout each stage of the competition!

What are the next steps for PuffiN?

Our immediate next steps are to pilot our platform and continue to improve our services so that they are engaging and helpful to our users. Once we have established ourselves within the perinatal mental health space, the ultimate aim of PuffiN is to provide personalised mental health care at every stage of a woman’s life. Across a woman’s lifetime, she will have many unique mental health challenges. Whether these experiences are unique to the social context of being a woman, such as the increased risk of sexual harassment and domestic violence, or experiences linked to the biological context, such as perinatal mental illness. Creating a safe space to discuss and reflect on these experiences to foster personal growth is key in empowering women to feel in control of their mental health and wellbeing.

Where would you like to be in three years’ time?

In the next three years, we hope to be operating across the UK and looking to expand to physical locations in partnerships with business and charities. Ultimately, we hope to be reinventing mental health care for mothers and all women, giving them access to the support they need and deserve.


Learn more about PuffiN from their website, and you can follow them on Instagram and TikTok to keep up-to-date with their developments. Their website has guidelines for a range of perinatal mental health conditions, and Frances and Valerie are always sharing helpful information about perinatal and women's mental health on social media.

If you would like to learn more about the Mayor's Entrepreneur Competition, you can check out their website.

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