The topic of mental health and wellness has notoriously been one of contention. Stigma, cost, and accessibility have historically acted as obstacles to the evolution of a space meant to tackle the next potential global pandemic. However, the recent integration of tech-based solutions within this field has helped alleviate some of these obstacles, enabling adoption and supporting users in making mental health a priority.
Similar to the wider healthcare space, the first phase of innovation in the sector was centered around the ability to book sessions with practitioners via booking platforms. Tech-based solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated, ultimately decoupling earlier stages of the value chain, where the focus is shifting towards enabling users to ultimately take charge of their own mental health. As our relationship with ‘mental wellbeing’ evolves, so does the mental wellness economy, evidenced by a growing categorization of solutions, which now includes ‘brain boosting’ solutions, sense-space-sleep enhancers, self-improvement tech, and solutions focusing on one’s centricity & spirituality. All of the latter meant to alleviate the need for one-to-one, counselor-led sessions.
Exponential growth in demand, in part driven by 2020-induced stressors, is driving an equally exponential growth in the supply of companies that address mental wellness. And as businesses recognize the positive return on ensuring their employees’ mental wellness, we witness an increasing number of companies offering combined B2B and B2C solutions – a key trait among the 20+ global unicorns.
The models that will succeed will deeply depend on companies offering depth in their solutions. This will naturally create larger barriers of entry and create room for founders to create highly customizable solutions. Despite its very nascency, founders across MENA have been quick to realize this. And although the space continues to be dominated by booking platforms, we are starting to see an increased offering in the newer wellness categories, primarily in self-improvement tech, and solutions centered around centricity and spirituality.
In this primer, we explore the evolution of this industry, funding trends, and the business models of the largest operators, and the regional players that are addressing the region's need for solutions.
*By no means is this document comprehensive, it is a work in progress, meant to help us think through some of the trends shaping up, and changing our economies.
Ghassan Noursi is Venture Lead at Nuwa Capital.
Artwork: Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, “The Scream”, 1983