I’ve been following PsycApps, a startup that came up with a gamified mental health game”eQuoo‘, since 2016, and this company – and its founder – is nothing but adamant in ‘turning in the wind’. Last we heard, it had been approved by the UK’s National Heath Service and even distributed by Unilever. And, of course, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the need for mental health startups.
But now it is gaining approval from the investment community in the form of $1.7 seed capital from the US-based Morning Activities.
eQuoo describes itself as an ‘evidence-based gamified mental health game for teens and young adults’ and is now launching its platform in the 50% of teens and teens who indicate themselves struggling with one or more psychological problems.
PsycApp’s platform provides a mental health intervention game aimed at higher education institutions, many of which are now legally required to care for students’ mental health. And because eQuoo has gone through clinical trials, it contracts with schools that need that validation to offer it to students. In theory, this means that any other platform trying to do the same will encounter a barrier to enter this market.
In a statement, Stephen Bruso of Morningside Ventures noted that low engagement with mental health apps is a problem, but he thinks eQuoo has cracked the model: “Digital health interventions will be critical in how our society second, ongoing pandemic of mental health issues. However, it is critical to design these interventions to maximize engagement and long-term outcomes. Silja and her team have shown robust data on engagement and outcomes in large clinical trials.”
Clinical Psychologist and Founder Silja Litvin – together with co-founder Vanessa Hirsch-Angus – points out that 70% of 16 to 28 year olds casual gamershence she has had eQuoo stamina among young adults who are used to the game mechanic.
The appeal of eQuoo to EdTech – it says – is that high schools, colleges and universities are required by law to keep their students healthy, and that increasingly means mental – and physical – health. In the UK, Ofsted, the UK education regulator and evaluator of schools and colleges, has made it a requirement for schools and colleges to include a ‘resilience and personal growth program’ in their curriculum before they can achieve a top score.
eQuoo claims it is the only tool covered by Ofsted that has clinical trials “positively impacting student resilience, anxiety and depression,” it says.
Regional College and Paragon Skills are two of eQuoo’s newest clients, with nearly 20,000 students and apprentices across the UK.
During a phone call with me, Litvin said the startup had gained traction after moving from a short-term game to a long-term game, a move that tipped the balance for Morningside’s investment.
“We’ve completely rebooted the game, added multiple stories, an in-app arcade, and an in-app chatbot that gives you feedback on your well-being. We went from five weeks to 52 weeks. We have an in-app arcade with a lot of games and a lot of exercises that are all related to mental health,” she told me.
“With this financing, we ensure that it never ends. You could potentially use the game for the rest of your life if you wanted to, which isn’t a problem because it’s also in the area of personal growth. So it’s not just about tackling mental health.”
I told her that selling in the education market is notoriously difficult, especially for startups.
She countered, “Ofsted just released an update stating that if a school wants a full assessment, it must have a Resilience and Personal Development product program. We are the only evidence-based, infinitely scalable product created specifically for those youth age group, which has undergone clinical trials to demonstrate its efficiency in resilience and personal development… Schools struggle to find a program and most programs are not evidence-based and are not scalable, as eQuoo is. ”
She added that Moningside has lines to “all the major universities in the US,” which will help it scale up in North America.
Litvin also added that the company had to “run on vape” for a while before securing the Seed round: “We’ve phased out. We haven’t paid ourselves for several months. With this money we can go into growth mode. ”