Mental Health Startups


According to Bloomberg, Alma an American based mental health start up which makes it possible for the therapists to manage their practices and contracts with insurers raised $130 million from some venture capitalists and financial backers including Thomas Bravo and Cigna Corps Venture Capital Arm.

This latest fund raising round puts the valuation of the company at about $800 million and is good news for the mental health sector which struggles globally to raise funding as a result of the plethora of misunderstanding and ignorance about mental illness in general.

Coming down to Africa, the flow of funds to the technology sector tends to go towards the Fintech space which has raised well over $6 billion cumulatively with Nigeria accounting for the highest chunk of it. Flutterwave, Africa’s most valuable startup which was co-founded by two Nigerians – the current CEO, Olugbenga Agboola and the pioneer CEO as well as serial entrepreneur who was also an ex CEO of Andela, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji which is valued at $3 billion raised $250 million early this year in Series D funding. Paystack another Fintech exited when American based Stripe acquired them for a whooping $200 million in 2020 which catapulted the founding duo of Ezra Olubi and Shola Akinlade to global fame. Two other Fintechs – Opay and Interswitch are also Unicorns as well. Many Fintechs in other African nations especially in the key countries like South Africa, Egypt and Kenya have seen them raise millions of dollars to scale their highly capital-intensive operations. In terms of funding, the Ed Tech sector comes next as U-Lesson founded by Sim Shagaya who sold Konga to Zinox recently raised $15 million from foreign investors, Gidimo owned by Dr. Tunji Adegbesan got an undisclosed sum in form of a grant from the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation and other Ed Techs like and many others have raised millions of dollars from investors.

Unfortunately, at the bottom end of the spectrum in terms of both local and foreign investor funding is the healthcare startups. They are so poorly funded and generally ignored that it makes a mockery of the age-long cliché that ‘health is wealth.’

The lack of attraction of investor funding into the mental health sector space is largely as a result to the lip service being paid by most African nations. The budgetary allocation to the health sector is abysmally low and highly embarrassing. The conditions of service for most health workers are worse than working in sweat shops which makes many of them seek economic solace abroad. Nigeria alone witnessed the exodus of over 6000 medical doctors to the UK not counting other popular destinations like the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and excluding other healthcare professionals like nurses, radiographers, medical records officers, clinical psychologists, medical social workers etc.

Despite the gradual proliferation of mental health apps in the country, they not only struggle to stay afloat but hardly attract investor funding which may make them tragically have an extremely high mortality rate.

It is a well know fact that public policies aid telemedicine. For instance, it is a gargantuan shame that in Nigerian public psychiatric hospitals, they still carry the files of their patients in the 21st century. Why can’t the operations be totally computerized? Is the management trying to be modern day Luddites merely to give jobs to the boys?

The ratio of psychiatrists to patients globally is extremely low and is worse in Africa making it imperative for the critical intervention of the twin combination of telemedicine which these apps provide which will greatly cut out the waiting time and long distances that these patients have to travel merely to see their doctors and the positive effects of globalization whereby patients from Africa could be exposed to doctors and mental health care experts from the West depending on the focus and reach of the apps.

Africa has come of age for her mental health care startups to be run as a business rather than being viewed within the purview of a beggarly charity which stands the risk of being asphyxiated by donor fatigue.

I heartily look forward to the day when mental health startups in Africa would be able to replicate what their counterparts in the Fintech and Ed Tech sectors are doing by raising millions of dollars as there is the need to greatly improve mental health service delivery in Africa.

To borrow the immortal words of the legendary Rev Martin Luther King Jr, I have a dream that one day mental health startups in Africa would raise hundreds of millions of dollars and that Unicorns would berth among them.

Have a swell weekend and stay safe my dear readers!

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