College and COVID: How a Launch NY portfolio company is improving access to mental health services

Buffalo, N.Y. – In the midst of Mental Health Month, it’s especially timely for Launch New York to announce BetterMynd as its latest portfolio company in both the nonprofit Seed Fund and for-profit Limited Partner Fund. Launch NY, the most active seed fund in the state, and upstate New York’s first and only venture development organization to provide pro bono mentoring, has invested $75,000 in the company.

BetterMynd was founded in 2017 and has been working with Launch NY’s Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) program for over a year. The company partners with colleges and their counseling centers to provide students with access to confidential online video-therapy sessions from the privacy and convenience of their laptops and mobile devices.

Cody Semrau, BetterMynd’s founder and CEO, was inspired to start BetterMynd because of his own mental health challenges in college.

“That experience made me realize both how hard it can be for a college student to struggle with a mental illness,” said Semrau, “and how hard it can be for that student to reach out and access the help they need.”

He says that the challenges from the current COVID-19 pandemic are only increasing the need for better access to mental health resources among students.

The Rochester-based startup is making a move to Buffalo’s Seneca One Tower and will use the $75,000 from Launch NY to grow its team and scale operations to meet growing demand amidst the pandemic.

“The number of online session requests we have seen from students has more than doubled over the past two months,” said Semrau. “A lot of students are feeling anxious and uncertain about their own personal and academic futures because of the pandemic. Through BetterMynd, students can continue to access the mental health services they need, now more than ever.”

According to a recent survey of college students by ActiveMinds, a national mental health advocacy group, 80 percent of respondents reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health, with 91 percent citing stress and anxiety as factors. Alarmingly, more than half said they wouldn’t know where to go if they or someone they knew needed professional mental health services right away.

“The coronavirus crisis is creating unprecedented times for all of us,” said Dr. Marnie LaVigne, president & CEO of Launch NY. “However, there’s an entire generation coming of age to become our future leaders now, and we are grateful to be able to fuel companies like BetterMynd that are well-positioned to make a difference by offering a vital resource for college students.”

BetterMynd is currently available at New York State schools like Colgate University, Hamilton College, SUNY Oswego, and SUNY Plattsburgh, as well as other colleges throughout the country, including in Colorado and California.

Colgate, Semrau’s alma mater, was part of BetterMynd’s initial pilot and still continues to work with the company to help their students struggling with mental health issues.

“BetterMynd strives to help college counseling centers better meet student needs,” said Dawn LaFrance, Colgate’s director of counseling. “In a rural, homogenous community, it has been important for us to give our students options beyond what the Counseling Center can offer. It has allowed us to expand our referral network, and the customer service has been excellent.”

Semrau said the startup is in discussions with numerous new colleges about offering BetterMynd to their students, particularly as all learning has been moved online and students no longer have the same access to on-campus resources.

“Due to COVID-19, mental health is a huge topic right now,” he said. “But there is comfort in knowing we’re all in this together and that we will come out stronger. It has been incredible to be supported by Launch NY, especially during our early stages of development, helping us to access the talent and resources we need to build a successful startup here locally.”

About the LaunchNY investment:

Designed to provide $25,000 to $100,000 in investment capital to companies that meet Launch NY’s criteria, the nonprofit Seed Fund is supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and U.S. Department of Treasury CDFI Fund, as well as by additional grants and donations. The fund has invested over $2.9 million in Upstate NY startups. Returns are fed back to the fund to support investments in future startups. Launch NY’s for-profit Limited Partner (LP) Fund co-invests alongside the Seed Fund, doubling the capital available for Launch NY client companies.

These financing programs are offered through Launch NY’s #InvestLocal platform, which also supports deal-by-deal investments from accredited investors into these portfolio companies through its Investor Network. The Investor Network also offers Qualified Opportunity Funds with tax incentives for investments in eligible businesses in designated low-income Opportunity Zones.

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