AI-powered chatbot Wysa brings in $5.5M to focus on employee mental health

Investments in digital mental health startups are booming driven by demand for behavioral health services due to pandemic-induced isolation, anxiety and burnout.

Wysa, an artificial intelligence-enabled chatbot, plans to put $5.5 million in Series A funding to work to focus on employee mental health.

The round was led by W Health Ventures, a Boston-based digital health investor with participation from Google Assistant Investments, which focuses on the future of digital assistants, and existing investors pi Ventures and Kae Capital. The startup will also use the capital to scale up its sales team and therapist network.

Launched in 2016, the Boston-based startup offers a conversational mental health platform that's available both to individuals and through employer benefits programs. Wysa helps in dealing with stress, depression, and anxiety with the help of an "emotionally intelligent" bot, which uses evidence-based cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), meditation, breathing and mindfulness exercises, as well as micro-actions to help users build mental resilience skills, according to the company.

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Wysa executives say the company is primarily focused on the “missing middle” between meditation and medication of mental health in which 60% of people fall under, where mindfulness apps are not enough, but they are not in need of psychiatric or medical intervention. To help bridge this gap, the company's platform provides anonymous AI-guided listening, triage and self-care.

Many large employers have some combination of mindfulness support and employee assistance programs (EAP). However, it is hard to tell if this is helping employees, and even harder to tailor this to any specific concerns they may have, company executives said.

Wysa tries to tackle this by customizing its support to employee needs and giving employees complete anonymity as they work through their issues while also fitting its technology around existing resources, according to the company. 

The company's platform maintains employee anonymity yet gives real-time population-level insights and benchmarks related to their employees' mental wellbeing. 

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"When organizations roll out Wysa, what surprises them is the insight they get about usage, while still maintaining employee privacy. For example, most people start with group meditations or sleep routines, and about 30-40% need help with negative thoughts and emotions," said Wysa co-founder and CEO Jo Aggarwal in a statement.

"For the first time, employers use data to understand how the mental wellbeing of their employees is constantly changing, and how it compares against benchmarks. Today, every employer is looking for a solution that goes beyond traditional EAP. This investment allows us to bring the next generation of workforce wellbeing solutions to organizations across the country," Aggarwal said.

The startup has facilitated over 100 million conversations with more than 3 million users and covers 10 million lives in 65 countries. Wysa works with 20 enterprise partners and seven million employees worldwide, with partners that include Accenture Global, Aetna International, NHS, L'Oreal and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"We are impressed with Wysa's uncompromising clinical safety and unparalleled patient-centricity. It maintains a near-perfect rating from approximately 100,000 reviews resulting from over 100 million conversations," said Dr. Pankaj Jethwani, executive vice president at W Health Ventures in a statement.

"As we enter the second year of the pandemic, so many people are struggling and seeking mental health support. Wysa is an example of how technology is helping millions of people access everyday mental health support and self-care tools without being gated by a clinical diagnosis. We are thrilled to deepen our relationship to support Wysa's next phase of growth."