SAN FRANCISCO — The mental health startup Mindstrong had the makings of a trailblazer in the field: top-tier leaders from companies like Google and Uber with expertise in neuroscience, medicine, and computer science. About $160 million from the same heavyweight Silicon Valley investors who bankrolled industry-shifting companies like Warby Parker and Airbnb. And an alluring pitch to stave off mental health crises with technology.
But now, the company that trumpeted an innovative digital “smoke alarm” has collapsed, after already scaling back its services to simple largely text-based therapy. This month, Mindstrong disclosed it would lay off most of its employees and shutter its Menlo Park office, and it will reportedly stop treating patients in March. Rumors are swirling among former employees that the remaining barebones team is looking to sell the underlying technology off for parts.
Tom Insel, Mindstrong’s co-founder and a marquee name on the company’s star-studded executive team, said he left the company in 2019 and hasn’t been involved with Mindstrong at all since then. When he joined in 2017, Insel said, the goal was to do for mental illness what blood glucose testing has done for diabetes. As the company winds down, he told STAT that the idea might have been right — ”but the execution was not.”
An examination by STAT shows that Mindstrong assembled a talented executive team with a largely noble mission, but struggled with the tension between the slow, measured pace of designing and pressure testing a new tool and the breakneck demands of the startup world and the investors who back it. Engineers and clinicians at the company clashed with investors and occasionally with each other about whether the technology was truly ready for prime time, they said.
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