Mental health has been stigmatized, considered taboo, and has been swept under the rug for years.
But now there has been a change in how society perceives mental health and people are finally opening up about their experiences of mental illness. This is much-needed progress in its mission to improve mental health and help people find the treatment they need.
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Much of this is thanks to startups who are playing a vital role in driving this change.
There are many reasons for startups to focus more on mental health.
For one, the founders of these companies are often passionate about the issue because they or someone they know is battling a mental illness.
Second, they also see a huge opportunity to meet the mental health needs of millions of people.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) European Region, 150 million people live with a mental health condition, and only 1 in 3 people receive the care they need. Lack of treatment can lead to serious consequences such as suicide.
As a result, startups around the world are developing new ways to provide mental health services, making them more accessible and affordable.
One such startup is Amsterdam-based platform OpenUp.
Founded in 2019 by engineer and psychologist Gijs Koppens, the Amsterdam-based startup aims to make mental health accessible by reducing barriers to health coaching and therapy.
Silicon Canals had the opportunity to talk with Gijs Coppens about his company, funding strategy, the challenges he faces, the importance of mental health in the workplace, and more.
Koppens was candid about the challenges of being a startup CEO, his relationships with investors, and navigating through the funding process amid the impending recession. He also discussed the psychologist’s onboarding process and advised to take care of mental health.
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Talking about the origins of OpenUp, Giggs Koppens says, “We first started with iPractice, which is established in the more formal mental health care sector.”
Data shared by Koppens shows that 20 percent of adults in Western Europe suffer from mental health symptoms, and 50 percent of the population develops a depressive disorder or anxiety disorder at least once in their lives.
“Looking at mental health from this broad perspective, we realized the importance of being proactive in the preventive field. If we want to provide a solution to a real societal challenge, we need to do something different and have a strong commitment to mental health. Need to build a guide: OpenUp started with this idea,” he adds.
Coppens adds, “We aimed to be the trusted guide to mental health and provide advice on a range of issues from sleep to work performance, from self-confidence to social interactions.”
Gijs Koppens co-founded OpenUp with Floris Roast van Toningen, founder of Hives – a Dutch online social media platform with 10M members before Facebook entered the market.
“Our goal at OpenUp is to provide an opportunity for everyone to face any mental challenge, no matter how minor or complex. We believe in offering easy and direct access to psychologists to help people address issues at an early stage. Allows to stop and deal with them,” he shares.
OpenUp was founded primarily as a donation model, however, it didn’t start out as expected, Koppens said.
“We used the so-called business-to-consumer offer, in which we asked for donations after using our services. However, on average, we received €2 per consultation, which was too little to build a company. With the pandemic approaching, we contacted several companies that were concerned about the mental well-being of their employees. We then began collaborating with organizations, many of which are international, with ex-pats, tech companies, and scale-ups. At that stage, we decided to switch OpenUp to a subscription model with a much cheaper cost,” he revealed.
Amidst all the challenges, the Amsterdam startup has grown at an average annual rate of 300 per cent and is aiming to achieve 500 per cent growth in the next 18 months.
“Another ongoing challenge is getting people aligned with our ambitious mission and take on a performance challenge. Therefore, we need exceptional professionals to get into this high rhythm,” he says.
Investor sentiment towards mental health startups
A report by CBInsights shows that global mental health tech investment activity grew 139 percent annually from 2020 to reach a record $5.5B.
Koppens explains investor sentiment toward mental health startups, “We saw from well before the pandemic there were significant investments underway, for example, in US-based startups like Ginger, Talkspace, or Spring Health. But, of course, the pandemic has made it even clearer and clearer that mental health is a relevant topic.”
“It is clear that even people who have never experienced mental health challenges before are now affected in some way, either within the workplace or in familiar environments as managers or employees. This was a huge driving force for innovative solutions in mental health and coaching.”
Furthermore, he revealed that VCs tend to lean more towards “preventive care” when investing. Again, preventive care in health care is defined as measures taken to prevent diseases rather than to cure or manage their symptoms.
“While clinical solutions have already been here for 50 years or more, I think VCs are primarily interested in the preventive field because of its innovation and possibilities that define, attract, and thrive in this thriving setting. and offer to design.
With regard to startups focused on mental health, some investors may feel stigmatized. However, Coppens clarified that this is not always the case.
He clarifies, “No, I don’t think there is any stigma among investors. We get inbound from investors every week, and they all recognize mental health as a major challenge that needs to be addressed. But, in addition to this, investors also want social impact apart from the financial aspects.”
Funding: Investor Selection
The Dutch medtech platform raised €15M in a Series A round of funding from Dutch investors Rubio Impact Ventures and Acemia Innovation Fund.
Talking about the selection of investors, Koppens says, “I think as an entrepreneur and management team it is essential that you have a good click with investors not only professionally but also on a personal level. “
He adds, “As a founder, you interact with a lot of investors, but at a certain level, you are more attracted by a few investors, and you pick the ones who are the most suitable. So It’s always a process, like building a relationship. Are you interested in seeing them again? And do they feel the same way? That’s how we move forward.”
According to Koppens, management selected Rubio Impact Ventures, Acemia Innovation Fund and Lexar Partners for the Series A round.
In addition, the company included some informal investors such as
Floris (Founder of Hives) David Wisemans (Former Chief Product Officer of Bookings) Adrien Knuhn (Former President of Just Eat Takeaway) Noor van Bowen (Former Chief People Officer of N26) Funding: Why VC Funding?
“We are very ambitious, and we have a big mission, so VC funding is best suited to achieve this,” he noted.
Koppens initially advised startups to raise funding from family, friends or informal investors.
“It allows you to have more clarity in your role and get some product market as well as some revenue before you start talking to VCs,” he says.
Dealing with raising funds for a startup is probably one of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur has to face.
Talking about this, Copence comments, “There is often a dilemma between the business side of the process, such as the negotiation, and the need to develop a relationship. There is always a give and take to create a business-type friendly relationship. It requires some balance between. I’d call it a dance rather than a challenge — it’s always important to be adjustable to get results.”
He adds, “Timing is also very relevant in this process. You want to avoid getting into the funding phase for a long time as it slows you down in growth. So, in this dance, you must make sure that Both sides should be flexible and move fast.
Copence claims that OpenUp has enough runway to last for 24 months.
“We are always open to this if we see a great opportunity to accelerate growth in a sustainable way,” he says.
How does OpenUp work?
OpenUp provides low-end access to psychological support through video sessions or chats. Through its online platform and technology, users can schedule a consultation and are connected to a qualified psychological professional.
Currently, the platform has a team of 75 certified psychologists.
Describing the psychologists’ onboarding process, Koppens says, “We go through thorough screening during selection, and we use role play and interview sessions to ensure that we recruit only the most qualified professionals.” Do it.”
He continued, “For core team members, we have an onboarding program for a full week, during which we explain our working approach and openup framework. In addition, all of our psychologists have a degree in psychology. At least have a master’s degree.”
The platform also provides continuous training and support from experienced experts to keep the psychologists’ expertise up to date. In addition, over 550 companies in the European region offer their employees free access to OpenUp’s platform.
Additionally, the platform includes courses, health checkups, interventions, motivational interviews and talking to psychologists 1-on-1 via video, phone or chat.
Currently, psychologists offer sessions in 17 languages: English, Dutch, German, French, Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese (Mandarin), Italian, Croatian, Ukrainian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish and Flemish.
“We add new languages every quarter,” Koppens says.
OpenUp aims to be the number one mental health partner in Europe.
“We are the Dutch market leader and close to being the German market leader. As a first step, we launched in France, Spain and the UK. But we have many more on our list: within 18 months, we serve 1 million employees hope to do.
How to improve their mental health and well-being?
“First of all, my advice would be to actively switch off from time to time and give your mind some rest. It’s also important to be aware of your strengths and how to use them – but always surround yourself with supportive people. What can help you and do some of the things that drain your energy levels. Lastly, remember to share your dilemma with your management team so that you can solve it together – it’s the key to entrepreneurship. Prevents loneliness,” concludes Copence.
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