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The Rise of Mental Health Start-Ups

By February 17, 2022May 30th, 2022No Comments

The Covid-19 pandemic brought mental health to the forefront and VC funding into the area grew by 4.5 times across 2020 (Sifted). In the Netherlands alone, 4 in 10 people will deal with psychological problems at some point in their lives. The data shows that the psychological health of people has been decreasing, especially after the start of the Corona crisis. When people were asked about their psychological health before and after the start of the pandemic, almost 1 in 4 people indicated that it declined, while before the pandemic started this was 1 in 6 people (Trimbos). At the same time the waiting lists for psychological help are higher than ever as some even speak of a mental health crisis. In this article I will discuss three mental health start-ups that address this issue.

Ariela Safira founded Real because she realized that radical change was needed in the mental health crisis we are facing. Real is a team of innovators, clinicians, and technologists on a mission to make caring for our mental health a priority. They are redesigning mental health care through an innovative digital platform combined with in-person experiences, offered at a reasonably priced monthly payment plan. Their platform offers a variety of services, including a personalized Pathway, which is on-demand, interactive mental health care focused on a specific topic, member events, with topics such as ‘Gaslighting 101’, and ‘That Moment You Realize You’re Codependent’ and lastly, Real Talks, which are podcast-style talks on topics such as ‘How do anxiety meds affect the body?’. Real states they are not simply normalizing mental health care; they are celebrating it. The company raised a $10M Series A round, led by Lightspeed Ventures. Other investors include Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Rapinoe, and Eric Kendricks, as well as the VC firms Forerunner Ventures, Female Founders Fund, BBG Ventures, G9 Ventures, and SoGal (Inc.).

Daniel Koppelkamm from Convergence Partners – a mental health and women’s health focused investment fund- describes the nature of mental health as very complex and multi-faceted. “Effective treatment therefore requires a combination of different treatment modalities, such as psychotherapy, neuromodulation and digital therapeutics. A stand-alone app, for example, will not sustainably cure a depressed patient.” His team invested in NeuroCare; a company that tackles ADHD, depression, chronic pain and rehabilitation of strokes. ADHD and depression are often treated with medication, but studies have shown that more than 60% of people do not respond to antidepressants and that ADHD medication is not a long term solution. NeuroCare uses neuroscience to address these problems as they combine classic psychotherapy with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), restoring network-connectivity in the brain. A pulsating magnetic field is generated in the area of the patient’s forehead with the help of a magnetic coil. These pulses stimulate underlying brain regions. This normalizes communication between specific brain regions involved in depression. NeuroCare´s purpose is to personalize mental healthcare and performance. Clinicians are empowered to provide personalized and medication-free therapy that addresses the underlying root causes of mental illness by improving patients´ ability to self-regulate. Convergence Partners has joined the latest €15m funding round of the German healtech company.

Kaia health is another example of a start-up that uses mental health as one of their focus areas. Their mission is to give chronic disease patients access to best-in-class therapies through an app-based, multi-modular therapy: a combination of physical therapy, psychological therapy and medical education. They want to become the biggest platform for chronic disease management to empower and motivate patients to control their condition with the best care there is. Kaia Health has raised a $75 million Series C round. The round was led by an unnamed leading growth equity fund with support from existing investors, including Optum Ventures, Eurazeo, 3VC, Balderton Capital, Heartcore Capital, Symphony Ventures (golfer Rory McIlroy’s investment vehicle), and A Round Capital (TechCrunch).

Overall, it is encouraging to see that Venture Capital fills the clear mental healthcare gap that has been caused, partly by the Covid pandemic. Whether it is in the space of depression and ADHD treatment, dealing with chronic diseases, or issues with anxiety – the rise of start-ups addressing these problems seems promising. It would be valuable to learn whether health insurance (in the Netherlands) will be able to cover some of these solutions that will be able to potentially help individuals quicker and more effectively than the current system.