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This former Super Bowl champ has a mental health app for black millennials

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In 2016, Ryan Mundy was sitting in a room full of venture capitalists presenting start-up proposals when a thought occurred to him: none of the ideas he had heard were intended to solve the biggest problems of his own life.

Mundy, a 2009 Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, struggled to find purpose after leaving the NFL in 2015. He suffered from anxiety, resulting from multiple parents being sequentially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the disease Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

Mental health was on his mind – and he was pretty sure that was also true for other young black Americans. “I found it very confusing how to take care of my shoulder and knee, but when it came to emotional and mental health support, I was really struggling,” Mundy told CNBC Make It.

The 37-year-old says mental health in black American communities can be a struggle: awareness is often low and access to care is even lower. In 2019, only 9.8% of black Americans reported having received mental health treatment, compared to 19.8% of non-Hispanic white Americans, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Eventually, Mundy decided to do something about it. In October 2020, he launched Chicago-based startup Alkeme Health, a mental health platform specifically designed to meet the needs of black communities. Alkeme – pronounced as “Alchemy” – has already amassed around 30,000 users, around 300 expert contributors and $5 million in funding, he says.

It’s a good start, but Mundy says his company’s fight is just beginning: “30,000 users” is nothing compared to the country. approximately 11 million black millennials Alkeme wants to achieve.

“Stigma is a barrier for everyone”

As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Mundy says he watched other aspiring student-athletes struggle to acclimate, eventually returning home before the academic calendar even began. In 2008, during his rookie season with the Steelers, Mundy said the standard locker room response to mental health treatment was, “What is it? How do you do that? Take that away from me. .”

During his eight seasons in the NFL, Mundy played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

Grant Halverson | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Today, many professional sports teams have in-house sports psychologists, and top athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have spoken out against the stigma surrounding mental health. But when Covid hit, Mundy says, the teletherapy industry largely revolved around women, the elderly and members of the LGBTQ community.

Black Americans, he says, have been mostly left behind.

Mundy saw an opportunity. Since leaving the NFL, he’d built a strong business network — earning an MBA from the University of Miami, starting and selling a reusable straw business, and becoming the CEO of a water management company. ‘assets. These connections helped him fund Alkeme fairly quickly, he says.

The biggest challenge, he notes, was figuring out how to build a platform for a community that wasn’t the most aware of — or didn’t accept — mental health care. Leading with “trying therapy” may not always be well received.

Instead, Alkeme’s website and app offer three types of health education content: live expert panels, meditative audio clips, and skill-building masterclasses. The masterclasses include lectures on tackling issues often specific to Black Americans, like microaggressions, racism, and generational trauma.

“It’s something that I’ve pontificated a lot about, because when it comes to mental health, the automatic response is to go see a therapist,” Mundy says. “I wanted to take a different approach because stigma is a barrier for everyone.”

An uphill battle for black well-being

Mundy wants Alkeme to reach 60,000 users by the end of 2022. The company is on track to achieve that goal, an Alkeme spokesperson said. At the company’s current subscription rate of about $70 a year, that would give it $4.2 million in annual revenue this year, according to an estimate from CNBC Make It. (The company declined to confirm that estimate.)

This is a very modest stake in a booming market: the global mental health apps industry was valued at $4.2 billion last year, according to a Grand View research report. published in February. Well-known apps like Headspace — which “reaches over 100 million people,” a company spokesperson told CNBC Make It — and BetterHelp are leading the way.

For Mundy, these apps do little to attract black Americans, giving him a chance to make Alkeme a “universal [mental] health care provider for the black community. Of course, he notes that anyone could theoretically benefit from the resource types on Alkeme’s platform.

“What’s good for black people is good for everyone,” he says.

Still, there’s no denying the challenge of carving out a niche in a well-established market. Mundy says it can be exhausting for the company’s seven full-time employees – and it would be counterproductive if his mental health company didn’t follow its own advice.

“I always remind my team…we need great work habits, but we also need great rest and recovery habits,” Mundy says. “Whether it’s listening to an alpha wave riding my peloton or walking around to clear my head, I’m always trying to find a way to decompress so that when I’m actually working I can give my best. myself.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Alkeme Health has 30,000 users and aims to double that number by the end of 2022. It has also been updated to reflect a CNBC Make It estimate of projected revenue from Alkeme Health for 2022 at $4.2 million.

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