Mental health statistics always boggle my mind. In the US alone, 43M adults experience mental illness in a given year, 60% going untreated*. $193B annually is lost in earnings due to mental health issues and 12% of Americans take antidepressants daily**. All this yet there has not been a major drug breakthrough in the field for nearly 30 years and talk therapy remains inaccessible to most. These numbers represent an enormous opportunity for improvement. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety and depression in the past, my interest in new treatment options is both personal, and as a venture investor.
Today we often think about virtual reality in relation to gaming but usage for mental health pre-date, and some would argue, was the true initial driver of this technology. Some of the earliest pioneering work in virtual reality was focused on PTSD for the military. Palmer Luckey was working in the Mixed Reality Lab at USC on such applications before co-founding Oculus.
Decades of research has found that using VR for exposure therapy results in reduced autonomic arousal, extinction of fear response and reduction in severity of PTSD symptoms***. To take a real world example, agoraphobia (fear of crowds and public places) affects 200,000 people annually in the US. Using VR, a therapist can simulate a variety of public environments for a patient and coach them through the experience by teaching them various coping techniques.
This concept fascinated me. I thought about how people use practice and repetition in sports to improve. Serving 50 times in a row or shooting free throws for hours on end is how athletes improve. With the availability and power of VR, why shouldn’t people with social anxiety be able to repeatedly practice walking into a crowded room with a therapist there to provide guidance and techniques to make the situation more tolerable.
Throwing my VC hat on, I went out looking for a startup working on this problem. It was Matt Huang at Sequoia that first introduced me to the team at Limbix. They were working on this exact problem. To boot, the founders Ben Lewis and Tony Hsieh were highly accomplished entrepreneurs with a proven track record. Their vision for building a company with the potential to help millions was inspiring and after one meeting, I knew they were building something special. It didn’t take long for me to commit to an investment alongside other fantastic investors like Sequoia Capital, Jazz Venture Partners, Pathbreaker Ventures and Presence Capital.
Limbix has been in stealth for the last few months, heads down in their Palo Alto office building their product and team. For the first time last week they came out to the public, featured on the front page of the New York Times Business Section. It’s a great read and I’m happy to now be able to publicly speak about one of my most exciting investments. I believe all of my investments are working to make the world a better place, but Limbix is on a special, and very personal mission to me and I couldn’t be more excited to be involved.
If you want to join a team revolutionizing an industry with the potential to improve millions of lives, Limbix is hiring. They are also looking to work with mental health professionals interested in exploring this platform. Click here to learn more about Limbix and the positions they are currently hiring for.