(This story is sponsored by Futurpreneur Canada.)
William Masih, founder of Wellin5, says there are lots of benefits to running your own business.
“I like the flexibility but, more importantly, I like that the sky is your limit! You don’t have to think inside the box.”
After reflecting on his own personal experiences with traditional methods of counselling and therapy, Masih felt certain that there was a way of using technology to provide easier access to mental health treatment. From there, a business idea was born.
“Wellin5 is an innovative, private, and secure online counselling platform. We partner with corporates to connect employees with licensed counsellors to address mental health concerns, reducing the cost of productivity loss and expensive medical claims,” says Masih.
There is a slow shift in attitudes toward mental health, but there is still a way to go, which makes Wellin5’s undertaking so timely and important. In fact, it poses a challenge that is far broader reaching than we might first suspect.
“We have some really staggering statistics when it comes to mental health. One in five in Canada has a mental challenge, costing the economy $51 billion annually,” Masih adds.
One of Wellin5’s main goals is tackling the stigma around mental health, and more specifically, around getting help.
“Some of the barriers we see that hinder people from accessing counselling are the stigma, the long waiting times, as well as the cost, and the accessibility. And that’s where we come in. We provide a technology that puts the access to counselling at your fingertips through PC or mobile,” he says.
While Masih saw that there was a gap in the market for online counselling, he also reached out to people within the industry to determine how his proposed platform might work from the perspective of the professionals. It was at this time that he realized that counsellors were very excited by the idea and wanted to be a part of it.
At these very early stages, Masih brought counsellors onboard so that he could develop a system that worked for them, too.
“We have an excellent core management team and that includes a licensed counsellor who has 12 years of experience and a PhD candidate who’s also onboard with us. We wanted to capture that experience on the Internet and on our platform—and that’s what we have done.”
Every team member is passionate about the company values around the importance of accessibility to mental health treatment in breaking down societal stigma, as well as other barriers such as time and cost.
“They either have a personal journey or they have seen a family member go through some mental health challenges, so they really want to get behind this cause,” Masih shares.
But like every startup, Masih required funding to get his business off the ground.
Futurpreneur Canada has been helping young people across the country to build and grow successful and sustainable businesses since 1996. Masih first connected with Futurpreneur in August 2017.
“We started to talk to them and we realized that they were very much passionate about the things that we were doing and they were very much onboard about mental health specifically.”
Futurpreneur recognizes that it can be difficult to get funding when you’re a young person without a lot of assets. By offering young entrepreneurs, like Masih, collateral-free loans of up to $45,000 toward launching or buying a business, it supports and opens doors for people with great ideas—in ways that other financial institutions may not.
“And that’s where we really saw value from Futurpreneur in that they chose to see us differently than any other organization. That was really a big comfort and a big support. They are not seeing us as a traditional organization like a bank or a credit union would. They are seeing it very differently. They are choosing to see the mission, and the vision, and the people that are behind it—and the change that we are trying to bring,” says Masih.
From Futurpreneur’s perspective, entrepreneurship matters to the health, vibrancy, adaptability, innovation, and economic activity of our communities. It’s for this reason that it looks to alleviate the financial barriers that might prevent a young person from starting their own business.
But Futurpreneur is more than just another financing option, offering local experts and a full suite of online and in-person business services that help aspiring entrepreneurs to build their confidence and meet their goals.
“They connected us with a mentor as well. And that provides an additional layer of support. We are able to bounce ideas off of them. It creates a sounding board for us. If we are making any decisions we can always run those decisions by them as well,” says Masih.
In fact, research shows that 70 percent of small businesses with owners who receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the success rate of those run by entrepreneurs without that support. As Masih points out,
“Starting a business can be a very lonesome journey, therefore a mentor can be a great adviser and add a sense of accountability for us to be able to achieve our milestones.”
It took around a year for Masih to fully develop the Wellin5 system so that it is user-friendly and simple. Users can select from a menu of different topics from anxiety, to stress, to life transitions, and beyond; they can then choose a counsellor; and request a time that best works with their schedule. Users can also determine their preferred method of delivery by video, email, or chat.
“One of the biggest barriers we see is the stigma. So people don’t want to tell their friends or they don’t want to tell their coworkers. They don’t want them to find out that they’re seeing a counsellor because they are afraid that they will be seen differently. Or that they will be passed over for any promotional opportunities in the workplace. So we provide that counselling access on their mobile device or their laptop so they can be in their home or in their office.”
Since the launch at the end of last year, Masih notes that there has been a notable uptake in the number of female patients in their 40s and 50s. Masih says,
“They are more open to accessing counselling. We see less males coming in because the cultural expectation is there—that they have to be tough, they can’t share much, or they can’t be vulnerable.”
And this just goes to reiterate the stigma that Wellin5 is hoping to help overcome.
“You know mental health is such a huge concern of the society at large and it affects the economy and it affects the city and provinces in a major, major way,” Masih adds.
But thankfully, fighting attitudes around mental health is not a one-business battle.
“The government is really doing a lot at provincial and federal levels. As well as a lot of private corporates have jumped in to destigmatize mental health, address some of those concerns and, change behaviour and attitudes around that.”
One of Masih’s main goals for Wellin5 going forward is to reach as many people as possible, particularly through employee benefit plans. But he notes that while lots of people have a dental plan, not everyone visits the dentist. And the same can be said for counselling, with an average industry uptake of between four and seven per cent.
“We are trying to increase that engagement by offering incentives and by making counselling more appealing. And as the government and other health organizations come behind that cause to destigmatize mental health in culture, we only expect that to increase in a big way. So we are trying to strategically position ourselves so that we can capture that wave.”
Unlike other financial institutions, this was a factor that Futurpreneur could really get behind.
And for that, along with the mentor and resource support provided by Futurpreneur, Masih could not speak more highly of their partnership.
“As a company we also want to reach our financial milestones and we really want to make a difference. So we want to sponsor counselling sessions for low income individuals and families. So they are able to get behind that and that is a big relief. They are able to see our business plan and what we want to accomplish, and they are still taking that chance and that journey with us. They have been a great partner. They have been very supportive in all emails and just talking with them it has been a pleasure to be working with them. I would highly recommend any one, or any business, or any startup company to reach out to Futurpreneur because they have been great partners for us.”