Fall 2017 AFRL Commercialization Academy Series: Let’s Chat About It

Garrison Grant is the Captain of the Let’s Chat About It team. Seven students, three coaches, and one data analyst have collaborated to create a wellness support platform and online community committed to assisting those dealing with mental illness or substance abuse. Let’s Chat About It provides on-site resources, such as licensed therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists via video sessions. The company’s added benefits include blogs, 24/7 chat support with professionals, sober event meetups, and progress incentives.

What is your background in the startup world/tech industry?

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My parents own Grant Graphics, a company that sells and supports large-format inkjet printers. In 2014, my brother Hanson started his own company while at Babson College, called Think Board. It is a dry-erase film that sticks to any smooth surface and is fully removable. I credit my father and my brother for instilling an entrepreneurial drive in me and a different way of thinking about career development and success.

Let’s Chat About It was a finalist in the 2017 New York Business Plan Competition Capital Region Semifinal

Why did you create Let’s Chat About It?

The idea for Let’s Chat About It was born from my own personal struggles with mental illness and substance abuse. Back in the summer of 2011, I tried synthetic marijuana, which I purchased legally from a local smoke shop. I mistakenly believed the product was harmless. Boy, was I wrong! I ended up having a severe reaction. I found out later that synthetic marijuana has ten times more THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, potency than regular marijuana. This spun me into a drug induced psychosis.

I was prescribed several medications, and began a journey of depression and anxiety that lasted over five years. This forced me into taking multiple leaves of absence from school. I was in and out of therapy, all the while trying to stabilize the imbalance. I felt isolated, lonely and detached from my peers. The idea of leaving the house even to go to a therapy session seemed daunting at the time. In addition, when I would try to schedule appointments with therapists and psychiatrists, often it would takes weeks, if not months, to see someone. I became increasingly frustrated and continued to feel stuck in my illness.

Years later, when I finally became well, balanced, and clear, I started to think about my experiences and wondered if there was some way that I could have accessed the support I desperately needed in a more timely and effective way. This is the main reason I started Let’s Chat About It. I knew there must be people out there like me feeling a similar struggle, and not knowing what to do or where to go for help. I thought, “What if there was a place, a community online, where people could go and feel safe when they are dealing with similar struggles? What if this community could help people feel less isolated, less lonely, and more supported?”

Let’s Chat About It is an idea that came from my own desire to help others. I want to create a place where people can feel that they’re part of something bigger, and not so alone.

On your company’s website, it says that your goal is to “create a judgment-free space for users to feel comfortable about opening up” ​about​ ​their​ ​experiences with​ ​substance​ ​abuse​ ​and​ ​mental​ ​illness​ ​and​ ​to​ ​get​ ​help​ and ​support.

The overlying theme is to destigmatize mental illness and addiction while creating more dialogue about these issues. Our team feels that one of the most important aspects of improving mental health and substance abuse is connection. In fact, we have recently adopted the motto: “The opposite of addiction is connection”. This was inspired by the Ted Talk “Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” by Johann Hari.

How did you hear about the AFRL Commercialization Academy?

I learned about the academy through IgniteU NY. We were one of the teams in their summer accelerator program this year. All the teams in the program took a field trip with IgniteU NY to the Spring 2017 AFRL Commercialization Academy Demo Day on June 29, 2017.

I was encouraged to join the Fall 2017 cohort by my professors at Siena College, Professor Robert Braathe and Professor Matthew Cusack. My relationship with IgniteU NY’s New Ventures Consultant, Bruce Toyama, and entrepreneur Robert Manasier also influenced my decision. Further, I spoke with one of the cofounders of E-Health Now, who was part of the Spring 2017 Commercialization Academy cohort, and he helped solidify my decision.

Garrison Grant, Captain of the Let’s Chat About It Team, presenting at Startup Tech Valley’s 3rd Annual Startup Saratoga event on October 11, 2017

You mentioned that the positive feedback you received from one of your professors influenced your decision to join the AFRL Commercialization Academy. What college do you attend?

I’m graduating from Siena College this December, with a degree in Marketing. I spend a lot of time working closely with Siena’s Stack Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center’s executive director, Matthew Cusack, is my lead advisor. I’m currently enrolled in an independent study designed to meet the milestones of the AFRL Commercialization Academy. Additionally, Professor Cusack, my lead tech advisor Professor Jami Cotler, and I are currently writing an application for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.

What motivated you to participate in the AFRL Commercialization Academy?

I am fortunate that the AFRL Commercialization Academy is a remote accelerator. It has allowed me to finish my last four classes here at Siena. The milestones have become a great way for us to structure our goals, and have financially allowed us to progress more rapidly than projected. I am also excited and grateful that we will be able to implement our chosen IP as an integral part of our community.

What are you looking forward to the most at the Fall 2017 AFRL Commercialization Academy Demo Day on November 30, 2017?

I really enjoy pitching. Every time I present, even if it is to a small group, I feel I am making an impact on our mission: to reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse. After my presentations, when someone comes up to me to share a loved one’s story about his or her struggle and express their sincere gratitude for what I am doing, it strengthens my drive to see Let’s Chat About It become a success.

Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with or meet at Demo Day, or in the future, that could further your company’s mission to destigmatize mental illness and substance abuse?

Each of the following three individuals have done amazing things for this cause. I would be honored to have the opportunity to meet with any of these individuals who have inspired my journey along the way.

As an athlete, I look up to NFL player Brandon Marshall. He is spreading awareness about Borderline Personality Disorder. Brandon is one of the most prominent professional athletes to publicly advocate for mental health awareness. I feel that this is critical in breaking down the “tough guy/guys can’t share their feelings” narrative, especially for young athletes. I admire him and try to emulate the direct manner in which he speaks about his struggles.

I also really admire singer Demi Lovato, and the way she views mental health and addiction struggles. I am hoping someday soon I will be able to join her campaign to “Be Vocal - Speak Up For Mental Health” and, more specifically, help her fight for mental health reform on Capitol Hill.

Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, who is known by his stage name Logic,​ ​is someone else whose work I respect.​ ​He performed his new song “1–800–273–8255” at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 25th, 2017. This performance resulted in a remarkable increase in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In an article from CNN, John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said, “On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service.”

My wish is that Let’s Chat About It becomes a community where we take the “I” from Illness and replaces it with a “WE” for Wellness.

Now, Let’s Start Chatting About It!

Learn more about how Let’s Chat About It is destigmatizing mental illness and substance abuse, and creating a community of support. Meet the team at the Fall 2017 AFRL Commercialization Academy Demo Day on November 30, 2017. Watch them pitch to compete for the chance to win either the Judges’ Vote of $15,000 or the live Audience Vote of $5,000 at Griffiss Institute, 725 Daedalian Drive, Rome, New York!

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