Redesigning a troubled industry for the modern age

The mental health crisis is reaching a tipping point. One in five US adults has a mental health condition, which is exacerbated by uneven access to mental health services. There’s been a 30% increase in suicide rates between 1996 and 2016, and a 130% increase in depression rates for young adults between 2005 and 2014. As a country, we’re facing $193 billion in lost earnings attributed to mental illness. Despite these staggering numbers, the stigma against mental health prevails, which often translates into a highly unsatisfactory experience for those seeking care.

I know. I see a therapist weekly. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s a central component of my staying sane in an insane life strategy. But it’s not something that I’ve ever felt like I could talk openly about. My sessions have long been on my calendar in a mysterious weekly “SM” (her initials) event on Friday mornings. And when I go to her office, which is in a small professional building with a random collection of other practitioners and businesses, I’m conscious of who else is around. I never feel quite right until the door closes behind me and I’m in the privacy of her office.

And the truth is, the therapy experience has been sub-par for practitioners, as well. To meet the mental health challenges in our country, there is an enormous - and growing - army of therapists who are extremely passionate and committed to their work. When we first began digging into this space, we were shocked to learn that the mental health industry is a $15.2 billion business in the US, with over 2.5 mental health providers for every one primary care physician. It’s a labor market that’s growing up to 25% per year, but it is also incredibly fragmented and underserved. In New York City alone, 90% of providers work as sole practitioners. Such fragmentation leads to a lack of sophistication in their practices and the quality of user experience they can offer, and it’s kept the industry as a whole from moving forward.

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Despite ongoing challenges, we are fortunate to live in a time where people are paying more and more attention to overall health and wellness, and mental health specifically. One of these notable individuals is Dr. Harry Ritter, a Harvard-educated McKinsey alum turned MD turned JD. Harry’s background makes him uniquely suited to thinking broadly about innovative models for healthcare delivery. In his first foray into the tech world, Harry worked at Oscar Insurance and built the company's first clinic in Brooklyn and its national telemedicine program. He pioneered a radically differentiated and successful user experience centered around both physical space and technology, and he’s now applying those same concepts to the mental health space with his latest endeavor: Alma. The company officially opened its doors yesterday and announced $4.5 million in seed funding from Primary, First Round Capital, Rainfall Ventures, BoxGroup and Able Partners.

Alma offers a brand new model for mental health that brings together top therapists into co-practicing communities with shared access to a full-stack technology platform - scheduling, billing, client acquisition and telemedicine - and flexible access to beautiful office space designed to optimize both the therapist and client experience. When presenting Alma to 600-plus VCs and entrepreneurs at last week’s Primary NYC Summit, Harry stated, “There’s something about being able to step into a beautiful space designed specifically for its purpose that elevates the experience. These are spaces that are thoughtful and put forward as places of healing and growth, and we think that is absolutely critical to making people feel excited about the work we’re doing.”

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The company’s first location - in Midtown - has 18 individual treatment rooms; space for group therapy; spaces for telemedicine; meditation pods powered by HeadSpace; and an event space for seminars, gathering and learning to facilitate the sort of close-knit practitioner community that has been so lacking in the field to date. It’s a space that feels like the lovechild of a Four Seasons spa and a OneMedical clinic. One that makes the typical sterile, impersonal waiting rooms feel almost cruel in comparison.

And while physical space is such an important component of the business, the platform has evolved into much, much more. In time, we envision Alma as being relevant to every wellness professional in the country, regardless of their location. Practitioners who do not need or can't access Alma’s physical spaces will get value from a digital-only membership option, enjoying Alma’s proprietary practice management technology, lead-gen assistance, community of like-minded professionals and other benefits to come. Alma combines the best elements of WeWork for shared space and community; ZocDoc does for discovery; MindBody for booking/billing/scheduling; and Teladoc for telemedicine. It sits at the intersection of those offerings, bringing a holistic and very disruptive approach to an eager community that is desperate for change.

Part of what is so special about Alma is the way it delivers value to all constituents. Of course, consumers are major recipients of Alma’s elevated experience. But as Harry notes, “Great therapists need to be taken care of too.” Being a mental health practitioner is an incredibly lonely, emotionally demanding and intense profession, and Alma is doing its part to alleviate those stresses by building a cohesive practitioner community unlike any that has ever existed. We are honored to be a part of Alma’s journey as it paves the way for a healthier future.