Mental health chatbot Woebot gets $90m boost

21 Jul 2021

Image: © Warlley Santos/Stock.adobe.com

Irish-founded Woebot built a chatbot that can bond with users and help them reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Irish-founded tech company Woebot Health has raised $90m in Series B funding, bringing the total investment in the company to $114m.

The company hopes to use the investment to expand its services to meet rising global demand for mental health care post-pandemic.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Woebot was founded by University College Dublin graduate Dr Alison Darcy. Digital treatment development caught her eye when she studied psychology at the university in the late 1990s.

“I always thought that technology would be able to solve some of the problems we have with access because most people aren’t getting in front of a clinician or a doctor when they need help,” she told Siliconrepublic.com last year.

Darcy went on to found Woebot in 2017. Using the power of AI, the company developed a chatbot that attempts to create a therapeutic bond with users and help them learn strategies to improve their mental health.

The company’s latest investment round was co-led by San Francisco-based Jazz Venture Partners and Singapore-based Temasek. The round also saw participation from VC firms BlackRock and Owl Ventures, among others.

Woebot said it will use the proceeds to accelerate further development of its relational platform and expand its team.

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“We’re at a moment when mental health issues are front and centre in a global conversation, and there’s incredible momentum to apply cutting-edge approaches to help solve real human problems,” Woebot CEO Michael Evers said.

“It’s gratifying that some of the world’s leading investment groups see the same potential for relational technologies to deeply engage people in their mental health at scale, and to transform care. We’re thrilled they are aligned on our core vision and energised by their commitment to advance the next frontier of technology-enabled mental health care.”

Ian Chiu, managing director at Owl Ventures, said that the stress of the pandemic has made an existing mental health crisis even more alarming. “We’re seeing this first-hand in adolescents in classrooms across the [US] and in adults who are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression at a rate four times pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

Chiu said that Woebot’s innovative technology is well-positioned to meet increasing global demand for accessible mental health care as it continues to bring new digital therapies to the market.

Meghan Reynolds, a partner at Jazz Venture Partners, said that at a time when many people around the world lack critical mental health support, Woebot’s work to deliver accessible and quality care has been impressive.

“With this new funding accelerating growth, it will be easier than ever for people to get the on-demand support they need and deserve,” Reynolds said.

In May, Woebot’s digital therapeutic solution, WB001, was granted breakthrough device designation by the US Food and Drug Administration. WB001 combines cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression. Patients interact with the digital therapeutic via a smartphone.

Woebot also published a study which provided evidence that its chatbot establishes a therapeutic bond with users, countering the notion that this can only be achieved in the human-to-human domain.

Vish Gain is a journalist and copywriter with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com