The rise of technology, startup-accelerator guru Todd Embley believes, is the root cause of a lot of the world’s problems.
It might seem like a paradox that an individual embedded in the tech community would be so vocal about its negative aspects, but the BCIT grad has a lot of experience interacting with technology’s less favourable components. At the beginning his business career, in China, his startup was unexpectedly co-opted by a silent partner. After choosing to dedicate himself to helping other fledgling companies so they wouldn’t suffer a similar fate, he became a mentor at Chinaccelerator, a 90-day program that helps entrepreneurs gain a foothold in their industries. Over that time, he became interested in how technology can be used to help solve the issues of mental health, wellness, and joy.
“I’m not thrilled with the state of the world today as we know it,” he tells the Georgia Straight on the line from Kelowna. “What we’re seeing now is an increased rate of anxiety, which is the number one mental-health issue in America, and it’s the number one mental-health issue in China.
“The rate of depression in China is what would be considered to be off the charts,” he continues. “I think technology is where most sadness lives.”
In Embley’s view, the best way to combat tech’s negative effects is to put more resources into creating apps and services focused on improving health and well-being. Upon moving back to B.C. from China, he found his opportunity to help. Meeting fellow Chinaccelerator mentor Rui Ma in North America for lunch, he learned about the new accelerator she had cofounded. Named the Transformative Technology Academy, it aimed to help companies in the wellness space hone their products and services. Embley immediately signed on as a mentor, and became the country manager for Canadian applications to the program.
“The Transformative Technology Academy focuses on helping any and all startups that are doing anything related to mental health, wellness, and joy,” he says. “It could literally be anything, from addiction recovery to helping to fund mindfulness centres. The key here is that it’s virtual, so there’s no need to have a physical location for it. There’s no fee, so you don’t pay. There’s no equity, so they don’t take anything from your company, and it lasts for a month. We had 1,100 applications, and we took 120 companies.”
Typically, Embley says, a lot of people in the health industries struggle to push for revenue because their passion lies in helping others rather than practising ruthless business tactics. Many are not driven by money, or they operate as nonprofits. The Transformative Technology Academy aids those companies in working out how they can best survive, thrive, and scale up.
“We’re helping them figure out the ways that they can actually not just provide for themselves, but sustain their solution so it can be provided to as many people as possible for as long as possible,” Embley says. “One of the biggest impacts I feel I can make is to help people who are trying to make the world a better place.”
The program’s curriculum follows three tracks: innovator, leader, and entrepreneur. Using a combination of video, reading materials, Slack channel discussions, and Zoom conferences with more than 300 participants, the program lets founders work through their issues with self-directed learning and advice from more than 20 mentors and industry insiders.
With the first cohort of companies completing the program in mid-October, Embley says the company will be gearing up for new applications in the near future.
“It’s far exceeded anyone’s expectations, from the amount of applications to the involvement of the companies,” he says. “The organizers did an amazing job.…It filled me with so much optimism to see how many people are trying to bring help to the space of mental health, wellness, and joy. It’s incredible how many people are involved in this right now, and how many people are working on it. So there’s definitely going to be another one.”
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