3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Launching a Mental Health Startup
Takeaways from HackMentalHealth’s latest event: Expert Office Hours for Your Mental Health Startup
No one ever said starting a company was easy, but founders and aspiring entrepreneurs in mental health tech face unique headwinds — navigating a rapidly growing space, evaluating the impact of their innovation, deciding on a business model, and finding and recruiting talent.
Despite these barriers to entry, we believe mental health startups are uniquely positioned to bring innovations to market that increase access to services and improve mental wellbeing.
This is why 30 founders joined HackMentalHealth’s latest event in collaboration with HopeLab, Vinaj Ventures, and SecondMuse for an evening of Expert Office Hours.
What are Expert Office Hours?
Think speed-dating but for your startup. Over the course of two hours, founders met with experts for 15-minute rapid-fire sessions to get feedback on various aspects of their business, including scalability, raising capital, storytelling, engineering, and legal implications.
Mentors worked closely with founders on fundraising strategies, improving pitches, legal requirements and everything in between. As the night wrapped up and founders shared what had been most beneficial for them, some common threads emerged.
Top questions we heard from founders:
- “Is our pitch clear? Do our motivations come through?”
- “We’re not sure if there is a strong market for our app.”
- “We want young people to use this product and feel like it meets their needs.”
How to set up your startup for success:
Ambiguity is inherent in startups. Founders and co-founders are often embarking on a journey with just an idea and some hope. With so much uncertainty, it helps to have some foundational building blocks in place as you iterate and progress.
The following three questions are a great place to start to help identify those critical building blocks from the get-go:
- What is my story? What inspired me to start my company?
As you start laying down the foundation of your business take a moment to critically think about your ‘why’. Reflecting on your reasons for starting a business will lay out a roadmap for you to follow — it is your guide for a lot of the early decisions you will make. Additionally, it will give you the narrative you need to eventually raise funding, scale, attract and keep talent.
Recommended Reading: How to Tell Your Company’s Story
- Who are my company’s competitors, and how am I different?
It may seem counterintuitive but you want the space you are in to be highly competitive. A busy market is a great sign that there is plenty of demand and offers validation for your product. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with other players in the game. Deeply understanding their product, mission, and value can help you clarify your own.
Recommended Reading: Mapping out the Mental Health startup ecosystem
- Who are the customers, decision-makers, and end-users?
Identifying a target market is easier said than done. It will likely be an iterative process where you will start wide and hone in on your audience. But making assumptions alone is not enough — you need to speak to your customers and pressure test your hypotheses. If your product caters to teens specifically, take the time to conduct focus groups, discussions and co-creation sessions with them to ensure their voice is a part of the final design.
Recommended Reading: Takeaways From Youth Listening Sessions
Post-Office Hours Founder Reflections
For many of the founders, the night was a whirlwind, jumping from legal to storytelling to fundraising. It was a reflection of life as an entrepreneur — having to wear many hats. They came away feeling excited about the next steps in their entrepreneurial journey.
“The caliber of the mentors available for us to connect with tonight was beyond what I could have imagined.”
“I wasn’t too sure what to expect in short-15 minute slots, but I was surprised by how effective and efficient the entire evening was.”
For the mentors whose programs are actively investing in, accelerating, building, and hacking mental wellbeing solutions, there was a lot to learn from the founders in the room.
“I’m thrilled that Hopelab was able to join forces with Headstream, Hack Mental Health and Vinaj to support emerging entrepreneurs as they take on some big challenges in mental health and well-being. It was fantastic to have such a passionate group in for the ‘office hours’ event. I was excited to be able to provide mentorship and guidance on everything from understanding user needs to creating a unique value proposition to considering different business models. The diversity of backgrounds of the founders was impressive and I was inspired by the creativity of their concepts and approaches!”—Margaret Laws, President and CEO, Hopelab
“Your story for why you’re building your company is an incredibly powerful tool. It was so exciting to hear beginning pitches by the founders and to work with them to strengthen their narrative. We all connect by sharing experiences, and stories help us build familiarity and trust in a way that really sticks.” —Sharmeen Ul-Mulk, Communications Manager, SecondMuse
“I really appreciated the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with founders and share learnings on how to grow and fund a mental health tech company. We had such engaging discussions and demos. I was amazed by how much we were able to cover in a short amount of time!”— Faye Sahai, Managing Director, Telosity, Vinaj Ventures
HackMentalHealth: HackMentalHealth is the world’s largest mental health tech community and host of the world’s largest mental health hackathons. We partner with industry leaders across digital mental health to create hands-on resources and learning + networking opportunities for aspiring mental health entrepreneurs.
HopeLab: Hopelab is a social innovation lab focused on designing science-based technologies to improve the health and well-being of teens and young adults.
SecondMuse: SecondMuse collaborates with visionary governments, corporations, foundations and startups to build 21st-century economies. Are you working on social technologies designed to be a positive force in a young person’s life? Bring it to market with the Headstream Accelerator.
Vinaj Ventures: Vinaj Ventures is an innovation and investment services firm based in Silicon Valley. Are you an early stage startup focused on digital wellness for young people looking for funding? See our new fund www.telosity.co, powered by Vinaj Ventures.