A Chicago-based app aimed at treating obsessive-compulsive disorder just got a helpful boost from a local healthcare venture capital firm.
nOCD, a mobile mental health app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to assist in treating OCD patients, has received $1 million from 7wire Ventures, a Chicago-based healthcare venture fund. The funding will go toward scaling up the app’s development team, which will help build the upcoming patient-clinician interface in the app, said Northbrook, Illinois-native and nOCD founder Stephen Smith. The company has also recently partnered with Stanford Medicine, San Jose Behavioral Health and Biohaven Pharmaceuticals.
As part of those partnerships, nOCD provides anonymized research data to each institution or company for analysis, which will help researchers understand how OCD affects people and create better treatments for those who suffer from the illness. Set up between June and September of 2017, these collaborations, Smith says, came about after cold pitching each institution. The 7wire Ventures deal, however, arose in part from an important connection. Glen Tullman, managing partner of 7wire Ventures, also serves on the board of nOCD.
“He initially invested in us … a couple years ago. And after we made progress, we started talking to his firm, 7wire, and they started looking into the deal more closely,” Smith said.
Citing the board’s decision to withhold user information, Smith declined to share the number of registered users on the site, but said in an email that the app’s community is comprised of 80,000 people, including app users, social media followers and newsletter subscribers.
Smith founded the app in 2015, back when he studied economics and Asian studies at Pomona College, a California-based liberal arts college. Smith, who suffers from OCD himself, said he started to experience symptoms in 2014. As his condition worsened, he went from being a starting quarterback at his college to scrubbing floors at a boxing gym, he said.
“I’d have OCD intrusive thoughts and would spend 12 to 14 hours per day googling in my room, trying to find answers,” Smith said via email. “The app still helps me today. I use the SOS feature if ever my episodes get pretty bad during the day.”
The goal for emergency in-the-moment help available on the app, Smith explained, is to help patients work through their compulsion whenever they need assistance. The app collects 56 data metrics about the individual’s quality of life and treatment adherence rates, which can then be shared with clinicians and family members. Smith declined to elaborate further, citing HIPAA regulations.
For now, current users can tap into the app to complete exercises designed to help them work through their symptoms, a feature which allows users to get ongoing help without the confinement of an office or business hours of a traditional doctor’s office.
But in early 2018, the company plans to add an opt-in program where users can share the data collected on the app with their family or doctor. The company is also working on a video chat feature that will enable users to talk with a clinician via the app, though the company is still working out the kinks with that, Smith said. The company is also beta testing the community help feature, which enables anonymous users to connect with and support each other via the app.
“Today, especially in mental health, you don’t have clinicians around you when you have the worst episodes,” Smith said. “What we do is we say, ‘We’re gonna give you technology when you have those episodes so that you’re never alone.’”