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UCL startup supports mental wellbeing and happiness for all

MindHug is helping deliver a host of transformative therapies to people who need them, including music therapy, art therapy, yoga and mindfulness.

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22 September 2021

The startup is launching its first mobile app in 2021, which will connect individuals with therapists across the UK. It’ll deliver a hybrid solution, with digital content and face-to-face to therapy sessions.

“What Headspace does with meditation, we want to do with a whole host of different therapies,” says Raj Singh, CEO and Founder of MindHug, referring to the market-leading Headspace meditation app.
 
He adds: “Many people still assume therapy is a white-collar privilege, but we believe everyone deserves therapy and we're trying to do it in a way that’s more affordable.”

The shortcomings of current therapy

Raj founded MindHug in 2019, after graduating with a Master’s degree in Technology Entrepreneurship from the UCL School of Management. Before that he worked in financial services for around 10 years.

“I had my own personal struggles with mental health and that really motivated me to do something different.”

Raj wrote his UCL Master’s dissertation on mental health services. Investigating the current state of play in the UK, he found there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treating depression and anxiety. Around a third of patients do not respond to conventional therapies such as anti-depressant medication or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Of those who do respond initially to these treatments, a third will relapse.

This situation is further compounded by long NHS waiting lists and extremely expensive private treatments.

And so Raj started to think about ways of doing things differently.  

A more holistic approach to mental health

He found that there was an increasing body of clinical evidence to support a suite of therapies such as music therapy, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, sound therapy, and yoga and mindfulness. He started thinking about how to deliver these therapies, as well as established methods like CBT, in a more accessible way.

Raj successfully applied to join BaseKX, UCL’s entrepreneurship hub, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. Here he received free, tailored support and dedicated office space which helped fast track his ideas for developing MindHug.

“I think the biggest benefit for us was the mentor network UCL introduced us to. One of our mentors has now come on board formally as an advisor and he's putting a lot of effort into helping us get customers and funding.”

Being part of UCL’s thriving entrepreneurial community has also been hugely beneficial. MindHug has worked closely with another UCL startup, software consultancy Skillwork, to develop their digital therapy platform.

The long road towards better mental health for all

Raj now manages a team of 10 staff at MindHug and a growing community of therapists on its books. The company was recently announced as a winner of the Santander UK Summer Challenge startup competition.

MindHug has also benefitted a lot from the help of UCL’s Global Innovation Team within UCL Innovation & Enterprise. MindHug also secured funding from Innovate UK, to research and build systems to ensure the complete safety of sensitive mental health data.

With the imminent launch of MindHug’s first app, the company is already looking to the future. They want to employ the latest artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to privately and securely assess people’s mental wellbeing. They can then select the most appropriate course of therapy, personalised for the individual.

However, Raj is at pains to point out that MindHug is not simply a technology company, and they see their mission to address the mental health crisis as a decades-long journey.

“We call ourselves a mental health innovation company and the digital platform is just a small step on a long road. If, tomorrow, someone comes up with a novel pharmaceutical therapy and we have the skills and expertise to assess it and potentially distribute it, we’ll look at that as well.”

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Photo © Kirsten Holst

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