I’ve been tracking PsycApps, a startup that came out with a gamified mental health game called eQuoo, since 2016, and this company — and its founder — are nothing if not persistent in “pivoting in the wind.” Last we heard it was approved by the UK’s National Heath Service and distributed by Unilever. And, of course, the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only created a greater need for startups that address mental health.
But now it’s getting a nod from the investment community in the form of a $1.77 seed capital raise from US-based Morningside Ventures.
Describing itself as an “evidence-based gamified mental health game for teens and young adults,” eQuoo is now targeting its platform at the 50% of teens and tweens who struggle with one or more mental health issues.
PsycApp’s platform offers a mental health intervention game aimed at higher education institutions, many of which are now legally obligated to take care of students’ mental health. And as eQuoo goes through clinical trials, it’s getting contracts with schools that need that validation to provide it to students. In theory, this means that any other platform trying to do the same thing will face a barrier to entry into this market.
In a statement, Stephen Brousseau of Morningside Ventures commented that low engagement with mental health apps is a problem, but he thinks eQuoo has cracked the model: “Digital health interventions are critical as our society addresses a second, ongoing pandemic. Mental health problems. However, designing these interventions to maximize long-term engagement and outcomes is key to diversity. Silja and her team have shown strong engagement and outcome data in large clinical studies.
Clinical psychologist and entrepreneur Silja Litwin – along with co-founder Vanessa Hirsch-Angus – points out that 70% of 16- to 28-year-olds are casual gamers, which is why she says eQuoo has power among young adults who are addicted. Gaming mechanic.
EQuoo’s edtech appeal – it says – is that secondary schools, colleges and universities are legally required to keep their students healthy, and that means mental – as well as physical – health. In the UK, Ofsted, the UK’s education regulator and assessor of schools and colleges, has a requirement that schools and colleges include a “sustainability and personal growth program” in their curriculum before achieving a top rating.
EQuoo claims it is the only tool covered by Ofsted that has “clinical trials proving a positive impact on pupils’ resilience, anxiety and depression”.
Regional College and Paragon Skills are two of eQuoo’s newest clients, covering around 20,000 students and apprentices across the UK.
Speaking to me on a call, Litvin said the startup gained traction after shifting from a short-term play to a long-term play, which provided the balance for Morningside’s investment.
“We’ve done a complete reboot of the game, adding multiple stories, an in-app arcade and an in-app chat bot that gives you feedback on your well-being. We went from five weeks to 52 weeks. We have an arcade in the app with lots of games and lots of exercises related to mental health,” she told me.
“With these funds, we will make sure it never ends. You can use the game for the rest of your life if you want, which is not a problem because it is also in the domain of personal growth. So it’s not just about addressing mental health.
I told her that selling into the education market is tough, especially for startups.
She responded: “Ofsted has just published an update saying that for a school to be fully rated, it must have a resilience and personal development product programme. We’re the only evidence-based, indefinitely scalable product made specifically for that young age bracket that has clinical trials to prove its effectiveness in resilience and personal development… Schools are trying to find a program and most programs are not evidence-based. And not as scalable as eQuoo.”
Morningside has lines to “all the major universities in the US,” which will help it scale in North America, she said.
The company had to “run on fumes” for a while before securing a seed round, Litvin added: “We downsized. We haven’t been paid for months. With this money we can go into growth mode.