More bang for your digital healthcare buck
Syndi Health wants to make a real impact with its three-sided platform
There’s no shortage of digital health startups vying for a slice of the B2B market, and that can be a problem for employers who want to make sure their employee support budgets have the maximum impact.
London’s Syndi Health has spotted the opportunity to help the digital healthcare sector, employers, and employees alike, and is moving on it quickly.
PreSeed Now rarely focuses on startups that are announcing a funding round that very day.
But as chance would have it, I was introduced to Syndi CEO Ben Lakey as he was gearing up to announce the news of their £1.65m pre-seed round. So as a one-off, today’s edition is open for all to read in full. Scroll down for the full story.
In other news: The Exchange programme in Manchester is home to a bunch of really interesting early-stage startups (some of whom have featured in this newsletter!), and it was announced last week that the programme is expanding to Leeds.
I’m looking forward to checking it out. West Yorkshire startups: take a look.
💸 Just raised
A quick look at a recent deal:
Online auction management system provider Artisio has announced a £250,000 pre-seed raise led by Jenson Funding Partners.
The London-based startup says it has signed up 15 auction businesses to its ‘front to back’ full-stack auction offering so far. These include rare stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons, and coin and medal specialist dealer Baldwin’s.
Artisio is now pushing into the international market with an eye on US, and says it has already signed up its first customers outside the UK. It is developing a self-service onboarding flow to help with this growth drive.
Syndi Health wants to help digital healthcare make a real impact in a crowded market
Employers wanting to support their staff’s health and wellbeing have no shortage of companies keen to take their money.
From counselling platforms and mindfulness apps to ‘talk to a doctor’ services, you have probably come across plenty of them.
“Companies are getting bombarded by them and they're struggling to differentiate which ones are worth paying for and which ones are affordable and actually impactful,” says Syndi Health co-founder and CEO, Ben Lakey. “And once they licence something, getting engagement and adoption, and proving ROI, is very difficult.”
So Syndi Health aggregates (or should that be ‘Syndi-cates’?) a range of digital health services into one platform. Businesses can then allocate a budget for ‘virtual cards’ their employees can use to spend on the services they actually need. The startup is beginning with a focus on mental health services, but will expand over time.
And Syndi then collects the clinical outcomes from the services they use to show if they are having an impact through results like reducing sick days or improving employee satisfaction.
“We collect that real world evidence to really nail down ‘is it worth paying for?’ Is that return-on-investment of these services benefiting the organisation?”, says Lakey.
How it works
Syndi Health lets businesses white-label its platform with a custom branding and landing page.
Businesses can then choose the specific kinds of support they want to offer to employees. They can choose the clinical areas (such as stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, or eating disorders), and then the specific services they want to offer to address these conditions. These include mindfulness apps, chatbots, counselling, psychiatry, and coaching.
“We work with the organisation very closely to give them the full implementation path… emails to go out to the employees explaining what Syndi does, the access to the platform, FAQs, and reports at the end of each month on engagement,” explains Lakey.
Employers can also set up questionnaires for their staff to complete during onboarding and at periodic check-in points, to help keep track of the effectiveness of the service.
Once employees have signed up, Syndi Health guides them to the most appropriate services for the severity of their symptoms.
“If they're in the mild to minimal range of symptoms [it offers] self-guided lower cost services. If they're in the moderate to moderately severe range of symptoms, that's where the professional guidance support comes in – more high-touch, high-cost services like coaching, counselling, and psychiatry,” says Lakey.
“And if they're in the severe range, not everyone’s right for digital and we want to make sure that everyone's got the right level of support. So we say ‘call this number’.”
In the UK, that can mean services like NHS 111, Shout, or the Samaritans.
Syndi Health also offers an employee dashboard, letting HR staff monitor levels of engagement, the money being spent on different services, and questionnaire responses about the overall mental health of employees. This helps assess the overall return-on-investment. Personal details, such as who is spending the most on which services, are anonymised.
Lakey says that as businesses look to tighten their belts in a tougher economic climate, justifying money spent on employee health and wellbeing is increasingly important. Helping HR teams do that easily is part of the sell here.
From the oil sands of Alberta…
Lakey grew up in Canada. He studied mechanical engineering and went on to work in the oil and gas industry. But with a family of healthcare professionals, he felt the pang of wanting to make more of an impact on the world than he could on the oil sands of Alberta.
So he ended up in England, on a Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship masters degree at Imperial College in London. He researched control systems to enhance myoelectric prosthetic hands, but it wasn’t really for him.
“It was really cool in the laboratory and pretty useless in the real world. It was like putting new rims on a Ferrari. Not many people could get these £50,000 prosthetics.”
Wanting to stay in the prosthetics space, he co-founded a startup called Mitt Wearables, which is now known as Koalaa and specialises in offering low-cost upper-limb prosthetics.
Lakey says this first experience of the grind of the “startup rollercoaster” affected his mental health. And when he finally contacted his GP for help, he discovered there was a 10-month waiting list during which he received no monitoring, support, or digital options.
“It was just a black hole. That really opened my eyes up to the state of the backlogs in public services. This digital health revolution we’re hearing so much about - in that time of need, in that pathway, they were nowhere to be found.”
And thus Lakey had a new problem he wanted to solve with his next startup. In the locked-down world of 2020 where normal networking was suspended, he turned to Entrepreneur First to help him find a technical co-founder. There he met Jorge Alexander, who became Syndi Health’s co-founder and CTO.
“He’s different to me in all the best ways. He's a developer, a data scientist, has a masters in A.I., he can do all those things that I can't do. But most importantly had a similar experience to myself [with the problems around receiving mental health treatment]. So we got together and founded Syndi to make sure less people go through what we went through.”
Iterating towards success
Syndi Health was founded in November 2020 and quickly iterated as it looked for the right solution to the broad problem Lakey and Alexander wanted to fix.
“One thing we heard over and over was that in healthcare and medtech, it's not your first idea that sticks, it’s your third or fourth.”
Lakey says Syndi’s first product was a chatbot for clinical assessments.
“We got some great user feedback on that. It worked quite well, but then if someone was moderately depressed or mildly anxious it didn't solve much.”
The next idea was an app store for digital health apps. While it didn’t solve enough of a problem for users, Lakey says it attracted over 40 of the top digital health services, who wanted to sign agreements to be on the platform. That led Lakey and Alexander to realise that these apps were looking for new pathways to grow their userbases.
Based on these experiences, it became clear what Syndi Health’s product direction should be. A partnership with student discount platform UNiDAYS helped test the product. “We integrated our platform within their app and website, and onboarded over 17,000 users.
“With students, there were really high levels of engagement; they’re digitally native, with sadly really high rates of depression and anxiety. But we hit that age-old healthcare problem: ‘who actually pays?’ The university wasn't going to pay, and the NHS sure wasn't going to pay for a nationwide reimbursement system. So that's when we moved to the employer channel.”
They launched a sales campaign in November and are now onboarding companies and generating revenue. The next step is scaling up.
Lakey says Syndi Health has Class 1 medical device approval and ISO certification to help it access more commercial channels such as employee benefits providers and occupational health services.
“We're building the links into those many-to-many organisations; the insurers, insurance brokers EAPs [employee assistance programmes], occupational health, to really get scale going from there,” says Lakey.
Syndi Health plans to focus on the UK market for the first half of this year, before expanding internationally.
Lakey and Alexander got off the ground with £80,000 from Entrepreneur First, and have since raised a combination of equity investment and grant funding, which they’re announcing today as £1.65 million in funding.
The apparently over-subscribed pre-seed round includes investments from Damien Marmion (ex-CEO of AXA Global Health), Puli Liyanagama (co-founder of DataTiger, acquired by Apple), and even a member of the House of Lords, Baron O'Shaughnessy.
The next five years
Lakey says that within five years he wants Syndi Health to be available worldwide, covering all aspects of digital health. He also wants the data the startup collects from users to be put to work better directing individuals to the right services for them.
“There have been some bad players that are hurting the trust in these services. We want to have the data to know which people need to go to which level of service, and which ones are best for them based on the data that we have of similar people like them.”
And Syndi Health could even help people beyond those who work for companies that sign up. Lakey would like to be able to use the data it collects to be able to help regulators, national health services, and insurers know which digital health services they should be supporting and paying for.
And right now, there’s nothing out there quite like Syndi Health. Lakey notes that while parts of its service are offered by other companies around the world–the closest being an ‘app store’-style aggregator in Germany called ama mind–Syndi’s combination of white-labelling, aggregation, and performance monitoring appears to be unique right now.
“We're building this because of what we went through, and we're building for people like us,” says Lakey.
“We're a very impact-focused company. But you don't have to be impact and not growth focused. I think you can do both. We want to make a great return for our investors. We want to have the funding and revenue to grow to reach more people to make a bigger impact. They really go hand in hand.”
Name: Syndi Health
What they do: Aggregate digital health services to allow employers to offer tailored and personalised support to their staff, while measuring return on investment
Raised to date: £1.65 million (equity and grant funding) + £80k previously from Entrepreneur First
Currently raising?: No
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