From startup founder to founder blues: The growing mental health issues in the tech sector

Growth

Mental wellness is a $50-billion-dollar-a-year problem in Canada.

Almost half of Canadians -49 per cent to be exact- have experienced mental health issues at one point in their life, according to a new national survey by Sun Life Financial Canada.

From work-related stress to living with depression, mental illness has affected a whopping 63 per cent of millennials, 50 per cent of Gen Xers and 41 per cent of “late bloomers” Sun Life says in a news release.

It should come as no surprise that mental health issues affect a broad swath of society. However, the increase of mental illnesses has costed the Canadian economy more than $50 billion every year. For businesses that means a total of $6 billion in lost productivity, which works out to almost $1,500 per employee each year.

Unfortunately, one-quarter of Canadians have never discussed their mental health problems to a professional. And a new generation of startups are stepping up to solve that. These entrepreneurs see the issue as a chance to make a difference and lucrative opportunity to truly innovate an underserved (and oft forgotten) market.

Canadian startups — like Inkblot, WellCalm and Newtopia — are building new solutions that can prevent, diagnose and even treat mental health issues across Canada. Of course, working in the space is no easy feat. For a long time mental health was rarely discussed, often underfunded and a burden placed on our overstretched health system. Today’s health gamechangers are working to solve that.

Making a difference and making money

 
There’s no cut-and-dry solution to fixing the country’s mental health woes, but technology can help, explains Jeff Ruby, founder of Newtopia — a health and wellness company that raised $10 million in Series A funding to expand its health management and coaching offerings.

It can play a role in connecting people with the tools they need to take charge of their overall health, although it isn’t the ultimate solution most people want it to be, he emphasizes.

“Innovators who are hoping to play a bigger role in the space need to think about solutions pragmatically,” Ruby advises. “I think there’s an important role for technologies to play, but there’s also a caution. Technology alone is not the sole answer. It’s a combination of technology-enabled services that have a human component. Solutions (like wearable devices or apps) aren’t the answer alone.”

WellCalm founder Samira Ramzy couldn’t agree more. Since co-launching her wellness business that offers massages and mental health workshops in 2015 the company has seen a bevy of startups enter the health and wellness space all looking to hit it big.
“It’s not an easy money-making industry to get into,” she says. “We have to work twice as hard to educate consumers and help them understand that mental health support isn’t a weakness and then provide the services that they need. You can’t just start a business and then expect people to line up around the block to access it”

Of course, despite the hurdles Ramzy and other entrepreneurs like her experience, for those that make it there are several opportunities to grow . According to CB Insight [link], health and wellness tech startups saw a record number of investment in 2017.

Some of the biggest deals include a $40 million Series B investment for Quartet Health [link], one of the largest mental health tech deals since 2012 that featured heavyweights like Google Ventures , OAK HC/FT Partners, Polaris Partners, and F-Prime Capital. Not too far behind was a $37 million Series B deal with Headspace [link] and a whopping $35 million deal for Lyra Health.

The entrepreneur effect

 
72 per cent of entrepreneurs are dealing with mental health concerns, compared to a mere seven per cent of the general public, according to a study from the University of California. This has lead to the term “Founder Blues”.

Between 2011 and 2015 “Founder Blues” have led to several high-profile suicides in the startup world, including the death of Austen Heinz, a biotech entrepreneur and the founder of Cambrian Genomics; Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit; and Jody Sherman, the founder of Ecomom.

“Being an entrepreneur is an emotional enterprise. There’s a lot of unknowns… their companies become their identities,” say Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot, an online therapy platform. “Their level of anxiety when it comes to running out of money, meeting investor expectations, the reality of marketplace… they all are very difficult.”

So how would an entrepreneur know when it’s time to seek help with their mental health? Are these online mental wellness platforms the answer to the stigma found in the startup ecosystem? And how does Dr. Arash balance the stress of being an entrepreneur while helping treat mental health issues in his patients? Take a listen to Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot.

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