Wow! I mean, seriously, what a ride it’s been. From West Point to the Army, then to Vanderbilt for my MBA and Wall Street for almost seven years. Twenty-five venture investments over three years…followed by addiction treatment (rehab) in mid-2018. I’m happy to finally get back on the venture investing horse.
What If Ventures is a syndicate of investors that was created out of a sense of purpose. Our mission is to improve the human condition by funding startups that tackle the most important problem set in the largest market on the planet. Our goal is to facilitate the flow of capital into mental health- and addiction- focused startups at the early stage.
Are you still not sold on this idea of mental health stigma and its recent reduction? No worries. Here is some light reading to help you understand the market impact and dynamics of stigma: Teen Vogue, Brad Pitt, Elton John, reducing stigma, APA Study.
Mental Health Market Size
The mental health market opportunity is enormous. It may be the largest market on the planet. Mental wellness and emotional wellness impact every single human. We can see the signs of our neglect in the data:
● 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
Why is Foresight Our First Investment in This Market?
First, let me frame the question. Since March of 2019, when I realized I wanted to make funding startups in this space part of my 12th step, I started mapping the mental health startup landscape. During that time, I identified over 700 startups in the space. I boiled that list down to my top 12, filtering for those who are raising money, and ones where I could connect with the founders personally. Then I filtered for “platform” plays, versus features or single-use products, and I was left staring at two names, Douglas Hapeman and Matthew Milford, founders of Foresight.
That’s not to say there aren’t other great deals out there (there are, and we intend to invest in many of them, very soon), but this deal was special because it was our first.
What Is Foresight?
Foresight is a technology-enabled mental healthcare business that, in just 1.5 years has launched a business with 10 mental health treatment clinics that accept insurance reimbursement, have treated thousands of patients and are growing rapidly. The Company employs an experienced and comprehensive team of service providers across its locations after raising just over $1.5mm of seed capital in mid-2019.
Foresight empowers its providers with best-in-class tools for diagnosing, selecting treatment options, and monitoring patient improvement to augment traditional in-person mental health treatment resulting in a vastly elevated level of care. You can think of Foresight as a cutting-edge mental healthcare ecosystem where, for the first time ever, numerous data-driven and science-backed treatment methods are being used on a patient population where data can be aggregated on the clinical effectiveness of each solution. Foresight uses this information to develop, acquire, and partner with the best technological solutions to equip its rapidly growing physical care presence clinics to drive improved outcomes for its members/patients.
As most people who read this blog will already know, mental health care in the United States is broken. Many people need help, but access is limited (all 50 states have shortages of psychiatrists), the quality of care is low, and even when it is available, the care is very expensive.
Traditional health care has seen an evolution with technology and data while mental health care has lagged behind, still driven by a Q&A process (“How are you feeling?”) with treatment decisions relying on providers’ limited previous experience. In the future, thanks to Foresight, mental health care will be data- and science-driven, leveraging world-class technology to provide the best care possible to transform millions of lives.
The founders are Douglas Hapeman and Matthew Milford. Doug and Matt met in college at Berkeley during a series of computer science classes. Originally, they tried to build a personalized medicine platform that enabled psychiatrists to access research and data on patient outcomes. There was an immense market entry barrier: Most psychiatrist offices they approached had providers who weren’t even utilizing computers. The only way to gather enough structured, standardized data to reinvent mental health care is to build a fully integrated network of clinics nationwide and use them as incubators to develop, test, and rapidly deploy technology-based solutions and swiftly capture data on the effectiveness of these solutions.
Our Thought Process: Why We Invested In Foresight
- There are many startups tackling challenges in mental health care, but very few platform plays. A lot of people are building “find a provider” or “Employee Assistance Programs” and those are great opportunity sets, in which we will likely invest at least once. But there are very few true “platform” opportunities where clinical treatment, data on what works, and technology can be applied, and work in tandem to provide a delivery model that has never been done before in a large market.
- Initially, Foresight tried to build a software and data platform that could answer an age-old question about mental health technology: “What actually works, clinically speaking?” Most therapists and psychiatrists are small businesses, often sole proprietors or part of small practice groups with a handful of providers. Each of these providers tracks their patient outcomes, but that data, in the form of notes scribbled on paper, sits in a silo, unable to be leveraged with outcomes of their peers. The players in this large, highly fragmented market are unable to gather and analyze large sets of outcome data to figure out which combinations of platforms, apps, medications, and practices work best alongside Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
- How do you get around this? I’m glad you asked! You need a colossal data set to be able to do this math effectively, and where can we get a data set of this size? The best way right now, is to build a network of clinics; treat patients within those clinics, meeting the incredible demand in the market; and while doing so, figure out what tech works (and by “works,” I mean has clinically validated outcomes to show across the large data set).
- Foresight opened their first location just outside of the UC Berkeley campus and started seeing overflow from the student mental health clinic (and getting paid by student insurance). They were quickly overrun by demand, and were thus very quickly cash flow positive in this first location. They began to open other locations, both near universities, and branching out into the communities around the campuses (hub and spoke model) and met similar success.
Why so much demand so quickly? I asked this too. Then I read this: How to Address the Mental Health Crisis in Generation Z. The problem is enormous; the opportunity for an early platform in this space is immense. Stigma is decreasing, people are opening up about their struggles and seeking help like never before. Foresight stands in the gap to be there when people get to that point.
- At this point, I realized they had a chance to build one of the first platform plays in the space. They are building a network of mental health clinics that will form the basis of a data set of clinical outcomes. This data set allows Foresight to intelligently evaluate, build, acquire, and license technology to supplement clinical treatment and figure out what works, driven by their successful brick and mortar model.
- As I started to dig in further I also found:
● a business selling into grossly untapped market demand hitting capacity constraints quickly at new locations
● a product offering and road-map that looked like something I would have drawn up after digging through 700+ mental health startups and picking the best ideas
● a strong founding team, self aware of their weaknesses, with plans to mitigate risks, AND the best monthly updates I’ve ever read at seed stage
● an expansion strategy and long-term vision that are ambitious yet already well underway
● obvious product market fit
● a financially viable plan based on measurable traction
I am grateful that What If Ventures is able to partner with an amazing founding team, building a platform that will have a significant impact on the wellness of millions of people. We look forward to supporting Matt, Doug, their employees, and our co-investors, and investing further in future rounds.
We expect that this team, and this business will continue to provide a much-needed supply of mental health treatment options, access, and resources to a starving market that is growing daily as stigma decreases and people become increasingly aware that many of the things they struggle with stem from mental health issues and wellness deficits. We truly believe this company will transform millions of lives by setting a standard for how mental health care is provided, delivered, and measured in the years to come.
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About What If Ventures — What If Ventures is a mental health-focused early stage investment syndicate run by Stephen Hays. Stephen founded What If Ventures after a long bout with mental illness and addiction led him to see solutions in this space. He shares his personal story in detail on his blog here and on the first episode of the Stigma Podcast, here.