When the effects of the lockdowns began to take a toll on workers here, local digital mental healthcare provider Safe Space was ready to direct them to the care they needed.
“Our solution has been available since March 2019,” says Antoinette Patterson, founder of Safe Space. “By the time Covid-19 hit, we already had a solution that was easily rolled out to both consumers as well as corporate clients.”
Earlier this year, the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) partnered with Safe Space to launch Singapore’s first report on the mental health of start-up founders here.
Safe Space spoke to 150 founders for the study, covering key triggers like stress, coping mechanisms and the impact of Covid-19, while comparing variables like gender and founding party size.
It found that while male founders were twice as likely to agree that running a start-up had taken a toll on their mental health, they were only half as likely to confide in somebody about their struggles. The four common difficulties named by founders are uncertainty, managing relationships, working alone and slow progress.
According to the report, top stressors include a challenging business environment (62%), company cash flow issues (35%) and long working hours (34%).
“Our mission is to ensure everyone has fast, affordable and discreet mental healthcare. As a start-up ourselves, we understand the challenges faced by our fellow founders to upkeep their mental health while building a business,” writes Patterson.
While 78% of start-up founders highly rated the importance of mental health in their teams, only 12% have a mental health advocate in their start-ups to care for their employees.
Safe Space hopes to bridge this gap between needing help and seeking help. The B2B2C healthcare provider connects workers to therapists and boasts a high 10% employee assistance program (EAP) usage rate, where the average benchmark for such schemes is 3%.
“For someone looking for therapists for the first time, if you’re having a mental concern, you’re actually not in the best frame of mind to be making a decision,” says Patterson in an interview with The Edge Singapore.
As a start-up founder herself, Patterson hopes the report’s findings resonate with the founder community and their business partners. “For the Safe Space team, all of us have had our own experience with mental health issues before; we have fully recovered. But we know firsthand what that was like. So, we built a platform based on our own experience and clinical expertise from the therapists,” she says.
What is the secret to getting people to open up? Given the sensitive nature of mental health issues, Safe Space has created a delicate onboarding process. There are many barriers to seeking mental health for the first time, says Patterson.
Safe Space aims to alleviate that fear with a therapist-booking wizard that uses a real-time matching algorithm. By having users answer a handful of questions online, the wizard recommends the top four therapists most suited to the needs of each user, saving time and money.
Since starting with a group of 12 therapists, Safe Space now offers more than 35 therapists through its platform. The goal, according to Patterson, is to bring at least 200 therapists onto the platform. “I would say 95% of our [current] therapists are in Singapore. But we do work with therapists in Japan, Dubai and Australia; because we want a good mix of different modalities, languages and timezones; with the aim to provide 24/7 support.”
Safe Space is also looking to plug skill gaps within the therapy space in Singapore. In June, Safe Space partnered social service group The T Project, which trained six of its therapists to support the mental health of transgender individuals.
“We found out that there are actually not enough therapists out there who are actually trained in handling transgender issues,” says Patterson. “We want to ensure that we can provide support.”
Two funding rounds
Safe Space is among the start-ups that have benefited from FundedHere’s crowdfunding model. According to Patterson, the company closed two funding rounds within months of each other, securing six-figure sums each time.
Safe Space raised US$250,000 ($338,421) in its October 2020 seed round. According to e27, Safe Space later bagged $353,000 in its bridging round in May.
While the company was first incorporated in 2017, investors were wary of the “taboo” nature of mental health and wanted a proof of concept and profitability. says Patterson. “Investors knew the value, but they were still looking for more research to be done in the space to prove that this can be a sustainable business.”
After fundraising for three years, Patterson decided to work with FundedHere to speed up the financing process. Safe Space met the funding goal of its first round in just one month, and later decided on launching a bridging round as the company was growing faster than expected, says Patterson.
See: FundedHere turns to the mass market
“We saw over 300% increase in the number of users on our platform this year compared to 2020.” Today, Safe Space has five full-time staff, and the company is on the lookout for potential employees to handle sales, marketing and account management.
On expansion, the company hopes to enter Malaysia and Australia in the next two years. “Our vision for Safe Space is to really be a regional mental healthcare ecosystem,” says Patterson. We want to ensure we are the best in class when it comes to providing counselling services.”
Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore