What is What If Ventures?
What if Ventures is a syndicate investing in mental health and addiction startups led by a former addict with bipolar disorder, living in recovery, who happens to have over a decade of finance and early stage investing experience.
1) Billions of people have mental health needs, and most do not get help due to stigma, cost and and lack of access.
2) Stigma reduction is driving increased demand, and new solutions into the market.
3) We invest in entrepreneurs bringing needed solutions to this market.
How Big is the Problem / Opportunity?
--> 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 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
--> Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
--> 300 million people globally suffer from depression/anxiety annually according to W.H.O.
--> Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
How big is the mental health startup landscape? Read our overview here: Approaching 1,000 Mental Health Startups in 2020
Our Analysis on the mental health startup market in Q1 2020.- An Explosion of Funding In Mental Health Startups During Q1 2020
Stigma, shame, fear, etc. have kept people quiet about their suffering for a long time when it comes to addiction and mental health. In recent years, celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and many others have started talking about their struggles openly. When we share openly, our shame melts away and when that happens, we overcome our struggles. The increasing amount of openness has led to mass stigma reduction and a willingness to not only talk, or seek help, but to build solutions around a very personal problem set. Founders are coming in droves to build in this space. Just ask the folks at YCombinator about their latest batch of applications.
There is no dedicated early stage capital for this space. Our passion is to build that vehicle, no matter the costs to do so, at What if Ventures.
Who is Stephen Hays? Why Him?
I've lived the problem. I know it inside and out. I've built a community of people around me who are interested in not only investing, but building businesses, and sharing their stories for the sake of helping others (check out the Stigma Podcast). This community / audience will be the source a lot of the early users of the companies we fund.More on my personal story of recovery here.
Previously Stephen started and managed a small venture investment vehicle called Deep Space Ventures (portfolio here) which performed well. Anyone can look good on paper, I get that, but of 25 investments, I've had 5 exits, 1 failure and 19 are still operating with a 2.4x TVPI to date (3 and a half years into the life of that vehicle).
The Name: What if Ventures?
In my investing experience, I've found that the most intriguing, and inspiring conversations I have with founders revolve around the the question, "What if?" - When inspired by a founder or an idea, I often find myself wondering what if we applied the solution here, or there, or everywhere. Now I find myself wondering what if, but about solving one of the greatest problems facing humans today: mental health and addiction. What if, we actually solved these problems?
What Kinds of Things Would We Be Investing In?
Measuring and testing for mental health using technology (has never been done before) - using voice, face, blood, heart rate, and other bio-markers to measure mood and wellness
Providing affordable access to care
Using technology to leverage existing resources
Peer to peer platforms for support and treatment
Child specific resources
New delivery modes and platforms
I'm syndicating all deals unless the founder / company explicitly prohibits me from syndicating, but in that case, we probably aren't in the deal anyway.
I source deals by being the most visible, and networked investor in the mental health startup space, and through my deep network of founders, investors and clinicians that I've cultivated in recent years. You can see the debt of that network in the research I wrote recently on the size of the startup market. I'm the first person to analyze this market at this level of detail, and thus, one of the most knowledgeable on the space.
After meeting with hundreds of mental health companies (likely more than any other individual), he has created an unfair advantage over most investors in the space. Specifically:
1....more He’s able to rapidly synthesize deep insights into both business and product strategies.
2. He quickly conceptualizes various models: how they can fail, drive success, and strengths/weaknesses.
3. His network in the market is extensive: he personally knows virtually every founder in mental healthcare.