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Democratizing Mental Health in Latam

By Rene Lomeli - 500 Global Latam


By Rene Lomeli | Partner - Mon, 10/10/2022 - 17:00

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There’s a lot of pressure on the ecosystem of venture capital and startups. We are always pushing ourselves to do more and more, and sometimes, to do more with less. 

However, in this world of rapid growth, when do we find time for ourselves? Relentlessly reaching for results is what brings success but sometimes, in the process, we can neglect the activities most fundamental to our mental well-being. Spending time with our family and loved ones, sport, travel – all these essential things can be overlooked in the rush of our professional careers, and, as a consequence, mental health problems emerge, from insomnia and anxiety to impostor syndrome and depression. 

At 500, we believe it’s time to invest in solutions. In fact, we’ve been investing in healthtech, even before the pandemic started.  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, talking about mental health was considered taboo in various regions of Latin America. Whereas Argentina has a long-standing cultural acceptance of psychological therapy, in countries like Mexico, seeing a therapist has often carried negative connotations of weakness, craziness, and being “unwell.”

Since the pandemic, however, this has started to change dramatically, and the necessity for tech products that address the issue of mental health has been made clear, driven by a conscious and connected younger generation unafraid of demanding change.

The pandemic and its consequent lockdowns affected us all. The change in our daily routine that was forced upon us was unprecedented and dramatic: overnight, our entire world shrank to within the confines of our own homes, with no knowledge of when things were going to change. Our social lives were reduced to interacting only with our families, partners, or roommates, and those of us who live alone were limited to just digital forms of communication.

People across the world were driven to seek solutions to the impact on their well-being, and the world of mental health, which had always existed, was now brought into the spotlight.

Taking care of your well-being now occupies a cultural position unimaginable a few years ago. Social media is full of content, tools and information related to mental health, and A-list celebrities, such as Billie Eilish and J Balvin, have all spoken out on the topic, with Balvin releasing a documentary about mental health difficulties as well as developing an app.

LatAm Startups and Well-Being

In this new context, a plethora of health startups that have existed for several years are ready and waiting to satisfy this high demand in Latin America’s market, bringing great opportunities for local and international investors with their product-market fit. 

Three of these companies, Terapify, Yana and Pura Mente, joined 500 LatAm’s portfolio before the pandemic. We’re now seeing huge levels of growth in this category thanks to the new social and cultural context.

Terapify emerged as an answer to the growing need to address mental health and well-being after the 2017 earthquake in Mexico City, an event which left many with long-standing anxiety problems and post-traumatic stress. Like the pandemic that followed, the event left a market appetite for services that addressed these problems in a digital, one-on-one format, and Terapify filled that gap, allowing users to schedule individual sessions with real-life therapists through the app.

Yana is a completely free, 24/7 online chatbot through which users can seek assistance with their mental well-being. After gradually gaining traction before the pandemic, the app has now gone what can only be described as viral, with millions of users, representing another huge investment opportunity.

Pura Mente is a platform that provides guided meditation in Spanish. The benefits of daily meditation for mental wellness have long been proven. After the pandemic, this company saw a huge leap in growth, aided by a fantastic team and cutting-edge approach to metrics.

These apps and services not only represent rich investment opportunities in this new Latin American market context, but also provide internal benefits to companies. The more happy and fulfilled founders and employees feel at work, the more dedicated they will be to their company, and the results will show across the board. 

Other 500 portfolio companies such as Plerk and Bonum Coaching offer a range of tools and benefits that impact company culture through individual employee use, helping with personal professional development, which goes hand in hand with company performance.


The Future of Healthtech

Health is an industry that we are watching very closely because it is clear that Latin America has two factors:

  • The reality of the health industry in Latin America is that it has not been resolved. We can use the public system with long waiting times and low-quality service, or we can pay out of pocket for a private doctor who offers an expensive and non-digital service.

  • Tons of entrepreneurs are paying attention and developing tech to solve health problems, which shows a market opportunity. Our job at 500 is to find them, invest in them and help them build a successful company.

That’s why we are closely looking at the health tech industry. One of the most interesting verticals of this sector is mental health. So, what do we believe will happen in the coming years?

We believe that the current climate of mental health awareness, both on a broader cultural level and in the world of business, will continue opening up new discussions and investment opportunities. 

Inadequate access to healthcare in Latin America is the gap in the social infrastructure that talented tech entrepreneurs will start to fill across all verticals of healthcare.

Finally, I want to leave a question for you reading: What are you doing to take care of your mental health? What does it mean to you? It could be therapy, meditation, daily exercise, yoga, or family time.

However mental well-being looks to you, we invite you to start doing it today. You deserve it.

Photo by:   Rene Lomeli

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