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Founder Mental Health Pledge Launches with Early Support from Y Combinator, Foundry, Felicis, Techstars

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A mental fitness platform for startup founders that combines therapy/mental performance coaching, business coaching, and group peer support to drive your startup success.

Coalition of 50+ venture capital firms and 200+ startup leaders pledge support for mental healthcare for founders as a business imperative and expense

SAN FRANCISCO, March 24, 2023 — In the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, which intensified anxiety for the many startup founders that were part of the bank’s ecosystem, a fast-growing coalition of tech founders and investors is taking a stand for mental health. Through the Founder Mental Health Pledge, hundreds of companies are pledging to destigmatize and encourage mental healthcare for founders and the greater startup community as a business imperative.

Led by founder mental fitness platform Pioneer Mind, the coalition pledges to prioritize mental healthcare for founders as a legitimate and encouraged business expense — including therapy, coaching, group support, and app-based solutions. More than 250+ signatories have committed to the pledge, including venture capital firms representing 18,000+ portfolio companies.

Naveed Lalani, CEO and founder of Pioneer Mind, launched the pledge after learning of a founder who nearly committed suicide in the wake of stress from the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. Alongside venture capitalist and pledge co-creator Brad Baum, Lalani sought to shine a light on the immense daily pressure facing startup founders and encourage companies to take a public stand in support of mental well-being.

“Data shows that 72% of entrepreneurs have a history of mental health concerns,” said Lalani. “For every person that shares their struggle, there are at least a hundred more feeling it but not sharing their story. Our goal is to bring mental health out of the shadows and normalize mental wellness as a standard business expense like any other. We’re not saying don’t hustle— we’re encouraging people to hustle responsibly. We know mental health isn’t just a feel-good priority — research shows it tangibly improves business outcomes.”

Entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression and experience suicidal thoughts, three times more likely to abuse substances, and ten times more likely to have bipolar disorder, according to research out of the University of California San Francisco. In a Pioneer Mind survey of more than 200 startup founders and executives, participants overwhelmingly reported that a combination of therapy and coaching led to improved health and business outcomes, including increased resilience (91%), improved employee retention (75%), and increased fundraising ability (72%).

“The pledge enables investors and the broader tech community to take a public and definitive stance on the importance of founder mental health,” said Baum. “Investing in mental health increases the probability of business success. This pledge shines light on a seldom discussed topic and gives founders a conduit to justify investment in their own wellness — and by way of that, the health of their companies.”

In little more than a week, the Founder Mental Health Pledge has taken on a life of its own, garnering support from prominent institutions including Y Combinator, Techstars, Foundry, Felicis, and more.

“Following the Silicon Valley Bank crisis, I saw and experienced the extreme stress and anxiety that founders, CEOs, and leaders of startup companies face almost daily. It reinforced the importance to me of continuing to help destigmatize mental health and mental fitness issues across the startup community. I’m pleased to add my personal support to this movement.”
— Brad Feld, partner and co-founder, Foundry

“As anyone who has been on the entrepreneurial journey will tell you, building a company from scratch is a lonely and exhausting endeavor. Things go wrong more often than they go right. Your life is an endless list of intractable problems. And the pressure, once it takes hold of you, rarely lets up. That is why it’s so important that as an ecosystem, we continue to prioritize our personal mental health, that of our teams and of our founders.”
— Maëlle Gavet, CEO, Techstars and 3-time founder

“The mental health of founders matters because our future is in their hands. 80% of net new jobs are created by companies that are less than five years old. The visionary entrepreneurs that build these companies give us full employment today plus breakthrough solutions for the challenges of tomorrow. Econa researchers have found that 3% of entrepreneurs make suicide attempts and 1.7% experience psychiatric hospitalization. This is unacceptable. Entrepreneurs take care of us. It’s time for us to take care of them as well.”
— Michael A. Freeman, M.D., founder, Econa

“Too often, founders and other folks who join startups lose their way and find themselves struggling to stay mentally well. Worse still, when we merge our sense of self-worth with endeavors like our companies, it is not only us who pay the price but those who love us–our partners, our families, and even our children. It’s not enough that we normalize talking about our struggles to maintain mental well-being. While normalizing the struggle is important, it’s time that we made investments in mental well-being tools an essential component of investing in companies. As I often teach, better humans make better leaders and whatever we do to help people be better humans is, ultimately, an investment in better leadership.”
— Jerry Colonna, CEO and founder, Reboot.io and author of Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

“Like other investments in optimizing business performance, paying for a founder to receive support is simply an investment in the business’s future performance. Founders deserve access to the same tools and techniques that help all high performers be their best when it matters most. That’s why we’re bringing mental performance to the founder community — it’s a way to help founders make meaningful progress on something they care about, their own performance, and to engage with a professional that’s there to elevate and serve them and their business.”
— Alex Auerbach, Chief Health and Innovation Officer, Pioneer Mind

“I wish more founders realized that they do not have to go it alone. A range of mental health experts and coaches are much more accessible than founders realize. Working with the right expert can be a game changer to a founder’s personal well-being, productivity, creativity, communication, and overall well-being. It is a very small investment of time and resources given the potential gains for the business and the human lives involved.”
— Dr. Sherry Walling, clinical psychologist and founder, ZenFounder

“The mental health and wellbeing of founders is often overlooked, yet it’s critical to their business. Founders who are mentally well make better business decisions, are more creative and persistent. Therefore, their businesses thrive. Nurturing founder mental well-being is likely one of the most cost-effective investments for success.”
— Professor Ute Stephan, King’s College London

“As founders everyday we wrestle with uncertainty, while shouldering the weight of responsibility not only to investors, our teams and ourselves, but also to the vision we are trying to create. It can be a very lonely position that brings out the best and worst in us. It’s critical that we build sustainable paths for founders and startup teams to develop and strengthen their mental health. I’m on my third startup and because of coaching, group work, breathwork, etc I’ve been able to build this latest startup with a deeper clarity of goals, a natural resilience and sense of joy that I know my investors, staff and customers benefit from.”
— Niles Lichtenstein, CEO and co-founder, Nestment

“The upside of supporting an entrepreneur’s mental health far outweighs the cost to do so. A more resilient entrepreneur — one who is developing more control over their mind and emotions — is an entrepreneur that can run a company longer, build a healthy and productive work environment, and make better decisions across all aspects of their company.”
— Andy Johns, startup advisor and investor

“Mental health is a deeply personal and important topic for me. Since founding Brex, I’ve been deeply ingrained in the startup community. I’ve seen many founders succeed and build great companies, but I’ve also seen others quit prematurely and not reach their full potential because of the impact the job has on their mental health. It’s a sad and limiting situation for the tech ecosystem, and one that founders, investors, and executives should deeply care about.”
— Pedro Franceschi, co-CEO and co-founder, Brex

“As a founder, the steps you take to protect your mental health are constant, and frankly, it’s the most strategic dimension of your success. If investing in startups becomes a more meaningful part of my life, one of the very first themes I’ll explore with my founders is their well-being plan, and how I might provide guidance in that regard. If a founder doesn’t have an active strategy to protect their mental health, it’s a red flag, as much as it’s a red flag to have investors who are not actively supporting their portfolio companies in this way, if only to protect their investment itself.”
— Deron Triff, co-founder, WaitWhat

The Founder Mental Health Pledge website includes resources for mental wellness, as well as a platform for founders to share their personal stories. After committing to the pledge, investors are invited to join a Slack community focused on how to move commitment to concrete action.

“This is just the beginning of the movement,” says Lalani. “We’re committed to accountability and making mental healthcare for founders a priority in the startup community.”

To see the full pledge and list of participating companies, click here.

About Pioneer Mind:
Pioneer Mind connects VC-Backed & Bootstrapped Startup Founders with 1:1 and Group Mental Performance Coaching. Our coaches use science-based techniques to help you build resilience to the constant and unpredictable startup pressures.

For more information:
Naveed Lalani
CEO, Pioneer Mind
[email protected]


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