A venture capitalist is giving away free therapy to his portfolio-company founders after his own battle with loneliness and work stress

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  • Tech investor Josh Felser announced in a blog post on Wednesday that his VC firm, Freestyle Capital, will start paying for founders of its portfolio companies to receive certain mental health services.
  • Felser, a serial entrepreneur, hopes the benefit signals to founders that time spent on self-care is time well spent.
  • One of the mental health providers that Freestyle Capital is partnering with is also a portfolio company. Felser said they wouldn’t invest or offer the service to founders if they didn’t believe it was the best.
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After selling his second startup, Josh Felser started seeing a therapist to deal with the loneliness and stress he had suffered as a founder. He could not have predicted the return on investment.

Therapy gave him a private space to unload his fears and anxiety without judgment. Later, he was able to sleep more than two hours at a time, despite having a sleep disorder. His ability to focus and make decisions improved.

“When you’re a founder you have everything you live, breathe, and own wrapped up in one effort. There’s nothing more stressful,” Felser told Business Insider. “If I could have figured out how to have more life-balance, I probably would have started a third company.”

Instead, Felser entered venture capital because he thought it would be easier.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Felser announced that his VC firm, Freestyle Capital, will start paying for portfolio-company founders to receive mental health services, giving them the nudge he wished he had.

The serial entrepreneur and investor pointed out that while the stigma around seeing a therapist has lifted in recent years, there are plenty of other reasons for a founder to not seek treatment. Therapy is expensive. It can be hard to find a provider, or the time.

 

The mental health perk for founders could lower some of these barriers, Felser said. It also signals the investor’s belief that time spent on self-care, away from a computer, is time well spent.

“We in venture are in a powerful position to actually provide solutions and leadership to help founders get the help they deserve,” he wrote in a blog post. “It’s time we started treating mental health like physical health and remove all the friction standing in the way of quality, timely treatment.”

The news was first reported by Axios.

One of its mental health providers is also a portfolio company

Freestyle Capital is a boutique fund, making about a dozen investments a year. Its portfolio includes tech’s favorite spreadsheet app, Airtable, and BetterUp, which makes an app for employers to offer executive coaching to their employees on their phones.

Felser wrote that his firm will “curate the solutions” in its mental health initiative, starting with a three-month subscription to a service provided by one of its portfolio companies, Meru Health. The startup’s app bundles a variety of solutions for managing depression and anxiety, including video sessions with a therapist, a group chat, and daily meditation exercises.

Meru Health has raised $4.2 million in a seed round led by Freestyle Capital.

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Felser said the firm invested in Meru, as opposed to its competitors, because clinical research suggests it works. Two separate, peer-reviewed studies of about 100 participants showed a three-month program was associated with decreased symptoms of depression. Though the company is focused on selling to larger employers like Cisco and Intel, Felser said it’s giving free access to members of the firm’s portfolio. Freestyle Capital gets the bill but it does not know which founders are using the service.

“The first goal in this whole initiative was to provide the highest quality of service, and if Meru hadn’t delivered, then they wouldn’t have been included in this release,” Felser said.

 

The firm will also cover the $4,895 cost of a weeklong retreat that the partners have previously attended. The Hoffman Institute uses a combination of guided meditation, presentations, journaling, peer discussions, and coaching to help participants disconnect from negative thoughts and behaviors. The program does not require facilitators to have a medical degree, though it does put them through an internal training that takes two to three years to complete.

Liza Ingrasci, chief executive of the Hoffman Institute Foundation, said she doesn’t consider the program a type of therapy, “although there are measurable therapeutic benefits.” It’s geared toward people who have already tried therapy.

“It’s a bit of a soul searching in a way,” Ingrasci said on the phone.

A week away from the job can feel like forever to a founder, Felser said. But he thinks some startup founders will appreciate the retreat’s condensed format.

“For me, it was 10 years of therapy in one week,” Felser said.

SEE ALSO: A 33-year-old Utah startup founder went to Silicon Valley on business and was found dead in her car a week later. Erin Valenti’s family searches for answers following her mysterious death.

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