Approaching 1,000 Mental Health Startups in 2020

Stephen Hays
What If Ventures
Published in
17 min readJan 10, 2020

I nearly died during the summer of 2018 by self-harm, addiction and unmanageable manic episodes. I had reached the end of my rope with addiction, and bipolar disorder. My family found me in a hotel room in Las Vegas on a random Monday afternoon that summer, and somehow, they got me to an addiction treatment center which ended up saving my life.

As any entrepreneur would do, I quickly wondered, “Who else has this problem, and how big is it?” As it turns out, the problem is catastrophic:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6 to 17 experiences a mental health disorder each year
  • 300 million people globally suffer from depression and anxiety annually according to the World Health Organization
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34

No Dedicated Capital for Mental Health Startups

There is very little dedicated capital for early-stage mental health- and addiction-related startups. There is no shortage of angel investors, but there are only a few digital health funds that invest in mental health startups, but certainly not their main focus. However, many of those heath-focused funds have grown in scale in recent years and can’t focus on seed stage investments. So, I started What If Ventures to fill the funding gap for early-stage mental health startups.

The natural question to ask when wondering why this void exists is, “Can the market support a dedicated fund for mental health startups?” In the following paragraphs, and with the data shown below, I believe I’ve found the answer to be “yes.”

To arrive at this conclusion, I decided to map the startup investment landscape. I needed to know how many mental health startups are there out there, how many have been funded over time and where the concentrations of ideas, problem sets, capital and startups are today. Before I took the leap, I needed to know if I was diving into a shallow pond or a deep ocean of opportunity.

Mapping the Mental Health Startup Landscape

Stephen Hays
What If Ventures

Stephen Hays, Founder of What If Ventures a mental health focused venture capital fund and host of the Stigma Podcast.