Wysa is raising $20 million to expand its psychotherapist chatbot to a wider range of mental health services.

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VisaThe popular mental health app, originally founded in India based on an AI-powered chatbot that helps users speak through their feelings, has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round to expand its business after reaching 4.5 million users in 65 countries.

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The investment round is led by Indian digital health-focused venture capital fund HealthQuad, also co-led by British International Investment (BII), a UK-based development finance institution. The plan will be to use the money to double sales in its home market, as well as in the US and UK, where it has already been approved by the FDA and the National Health Service (NHS), respectively, and is being used by the latter as part of its online health services. mental health care. Originally built to operate in English, Wysa is also using part of the investment to expand multilingual support. Now there are 100-150 people in the team.

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Previous backers have included both Amazon and Google (who are investing with funds from their digital assistants), and Wysa has raised $9.4 million prior to this round. This is not a disclosure score.

“The demand for mental health, as you can imagine, is skyrocketing,” Ramakant Vempati, co-founder of Wysa, told TechCrunch. “The number of mental health professionals is simply not enough to meet this demand.”

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The executive added that in India, the country of 1.3 billion people where Wysa is based, fewer than 10,000 people are trained in mental health professions. He also noted that the proportions are similar in other parts of the world. In the UK, the NHS has a waiting list of six to 12 months, Vempati said.

“Usually access to psychiatric services is closed. It’s limited to some kind of diagnosis – they say that only if you’re serious enough can you talk to a therapist, because obviously therapy is expensive and someone has to pay for it,” he said.

On the contrary, he noted that the app offers “early interaction and a safe space where people can come in and just anonymously talk about what’s bothering them.”

“It encourages people to speak up,” the executive said.

Wysa, operating in Bangalore, Boston and London, is positioned as the solution to bridge this gap.

The app, developed in 2016 after CEO and co-founder Joe Aggarwal fell into a deep depression, offers users a range of therapeutic methods.

Vempati stressed that Wysa works as a tri-state solution. The first part is available to the general public as an AI chat, while the second part is more structured help that comes from people, including coaches, consultants, and staff therapists. The third part, he says, is what the company calls clinical programs.

Simply put, smartphone users can access Wysa as a mental health app under a freemium model, while employers including Accenture, Colgate-Palmolive, Aetna International and Swiss Re offer their support through their existing employee benefits. including employee assistance programs (EAP).

On the other hand, healthcare providers including the UK National Health Service as well as governments including the Singapore Department of Health are also using Wysa as a solution for large populations in their countries.

Vempati told TechCrunch that about 80 percent of Wysa’s business comes from corporate clients.

“Enterprise and B2B will become increasingly important in the future for both commercial growth and impact,” he said, adding that the B2C model has historically driven much of Wysa’s market power.

“The need for Wysa is present in all countries, from high-income countries to low-income countries,” Charles Antoine-Janssen, chief investment officer of HealthQuad, said in a statement. “AI mental health patient triage that is fast, efficient, and non-stigmatizing for patients living in unacceptable societies meets a huge need in India, the rest of low-income Asia, Africa, as well as the richest countries in the world.”

Wysa also has a development component, helping users through cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) along with regular meditation, breathing and mindfulness exercises, and micro-activities to help address their mental health issues.

“We have done many clinical trials and have had very good results in patients or people who are experiencing and struggling with chronic pain,” he said.

Visa in May received the designation of a breakthrough device from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The status is intended to emphasize that the solution is “better treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions.”

Vempati said the FDA recognition is “signaling force” for the application.

“This is an inherent confidence in the quality of the product and what we have created,” he said.

The achievement, however, is not the FDA’s approval to allow Wysa to be prescribed as a medical solution.

However, Vempati said the signaling coming through the breakthrough device designation has opened up “multiple commercialization avenues” that the company is currently exploring.

Last March, Wysa became one of 17 apps included in Google’s investment program. it’s the same raised $5.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Boston-based W Health Ventures, which also included investments from the Google Assistant investment program, along with pi Ventures and Kae Capital.

Speaking about the nature of the relationship between Google and Wysa, Vempati emphasized that it is mainly about building an application with smooth integration with Google in mind.

“New features, new ways to make the app better, what Google makes and releases helps us use that to help users be better,” he said.

Google’s support also helps Wysa explore voice capabilities. The company is also part of AWS Accelerator in the UK, which is helping it integrate Alexa alongside Google Assistant.

However, Vempati indicated that voice support integration is currently at a “very early stage”.

“I want to scale the impact. Now where we are, we are in a good place, but we can do much more,” he said.

Wysa is also working on how to maintain user privacy while expanding its mental health support services. So far this has been a difficult area for him, after tt has been allocated by Mozilla in a report earlier this year that also flagged some of Wysa’s competitors for their lackluster attitude to privacy.

The company wants to use the new investment to create new partnerships, improve and enhance the product, go beyond English and introduce new languages, Vempati said.

“Through our investment in Wysa, BII is taking a holistic approach to supporting long-term productive economic prosperity by supporting an innovative technology company that expands access to mental health services for low-income and rural people,” said Srini Nagarajan, MD and Head of Asia at British International investment.

Credit: techcrunch.com /

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