Issue No. 160: The Mental Health Gym

Illustration: Courtney Powell

In search of clarity, sanity, or spirituality, mindfulness is a powerful practice.

A step further, in pursuit of high performance, mastering the “mental muscle” has become yet another facet of health to optimize.

From cognitive resilience to emotional health, mental fitness is bulking up.

Mental Health Goes Mainstream

Over the past decade, Americans have acknowledged the importance of mental health.

  • Pre-pandemic, one in five US adults experienced mental illness as of 2019, with many saying their needs went unmet.
  • Burnout, depression, and anxiety have reached all-time highs, affecting an estimated 625M worldwide and costing over $1T in productivity every year.

As demand for affordable and accessible mental health solutions skyrocket, the mental health market is exploding, reaching a staggering $245B by 2027.

DTC tranquility. Headspace and Calm have ridden the mindfulness wave to billion-dollar valuations. Today, meditation is a wellness mainstay:

  • The number of US adults who practice meditation has tripled over the last decade.
  • From Chorus to MindLabs, over 2,500 new meditation apps have launched since 2015, per AppInventiv.
  • Fitness and tech companies alike, including Peloton and Apple, are tapping into mindfulness.

B2B serenity. At the same time, the “Great Resignation” is accelerating, sending employers scrambling to bolster their benefits, including mental health offerings.

Emphasizing mental fitness as key for employee resilience, Calm ($2B valuation) teamed up with both Lyra Health ($4.6B valuation) and Kaiser Permanente, expanding into healthcare and helping employers create healthy workplaces.

Similarly, Headspace merged with teletherapy platform Ginger this October, forming a $3B company and expanding into B2B. Meanwhile, digital health giants like BetterUp ($4.7B valuation) and Spring Health ($2B valuation) also plan to provide coaching for corporate mental fitness.

Joining in, Modern Health raised $74M in Series D funding, propelling its value north of $1B.

Peace of mind. Mindfulness is often criticized for its lack of clinical backing, but research-backed teletherapy options are growing:

  • SonderMind recently reached unicorn status with a $150M Series C and just acquired biometric data platform Qntfy to personalize mental healthcare.
  • Meru Health, an online treatment program and wearable biofeedback device, secured $38M this past September.
  • In June, Brightline raised $72M to boost its virtual therapy services for teens and children.

Hitting The (Emotional) Weights

The rise of mental health and mindfulness has spurred the creation of a new category — mental fitness. Distinct from solutions treating anxiety and depression, the mental fitness movement seeks to enhance, not remedy.

A 2021 survey found that 82% of global consumers now believe that mental and emotional health are as important as physical health. As more consumers adopt a holistic lens to well-being and seek to optimize performance, fresh opportunities are opening up for brands in the space.

Train your brain. Cognitive resilience is a key aspect of an athlete’s readiness to perform — particularly at the elite level.

One example: Professional basketball player Kevin Love suffered a panic attack during an NBA game in 2017. It was strange, he wrote, to feel so helpless on the court:

“In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. Coaches, trainers and nutritionists have had a presence in my life for years. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe.”

Today, Love is an investor in Coa, the world’s first “mental health gym.” Though the pandemic sidelined brick-and-mortar plans, Coa has pivoted its offerings to a digital platform, where users bulk up their “emotional” muscles.

Elsewhere, companies are partnering with athletes across digital health, blurring the line between physical and mental performance:

  • Rewire Fitness just launched its first-to-market neuro performance app for athletes this September after a pre-seed funding round led by Under Armour.
  • Simone Biles recently invested in teletherapy and medication platform Cerebral and is now the company’s new Chief Impact Officer.
  • Nike is rolling out Mind Sets, a movement series for the mind focused on “how you feel, not what you achieve.”

Resilience for all. And for the general mental fitness seeker, a growing array of companies offer options to optimize the mind:

  • Breathwork startups like OthershipBreathwrk, and Open are gaining steam.
  • Muse, Core, and Zendo help meditators train with precision, tracking the brain and body with neurofeedback technology.
  • AI-powered coaches like Flow Lab and Heyr offer a 24/7 approach to mental fitness.

A key target for mental fitness brands, 72% of entrepreneurs are concerned about their mental health, says Coa co-founder Dr. Emily Anhalt. It’s especially important for founders to be mentally fit, as the road for them is fraught with emotional hurdles.

“If founders make taking care of their mental health an ongoing and proactive practice, it will reverberate through their companies… strong companies take shape when emotionally fit founders are sitting at the top.”

Looking Ahead

Mental fitness offers a way for anyone to fortify their mind against modern-day stressors. While improving mental resilience is generally a good thing, there’s always the risk of taking it too far — obsession versus optimization.

But, as the mental health crisis worsens, startups who can successfully transfer mental fitness insights to consumers, however that may manifest, will always have a ready market.


🛶 Connected Crew

As the rowing wars heat up, CITYROW hopes its hybrid approach will stand out.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: Helaine Knapp, CEO of CITYROW, joined us to discuss the company’s omnichannel offering, including boutique studios, a connected rower, and digital content.

We also cover: raising $12M in funding, opening 12 studios, and selling 65 franchise locations.

Listen to today’s episode here

📲 Unbundling Physical Therapy

As movement health becomes a trillion-dollar market, technology and wellness are reimagining physical therapy.

Why it’s happening: An expensive and largely preventable condition, musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders affect over 50% of US adults and cost employers over $100B every year. Now, work-from-home has worsened MSK symptoms, exacerbating the national physical therapist shortage.

PT go home. Filling in for in-person guidance, advanced sensing tech is revolutionizing PT, boosting engagement and accessibility.

  • Last month, SWORD Health notched a $2B valuation in a $164M funding round.
  • Hinge Health secured a whopping $600M in October, boosting its value north of $6B.
  • RecoveryOne added $33M in September and Kaia Health landed $75M earlier this year.

And Big Tech can’t resist getting involved: Google recently partnered with ProMedica to launch an MSK operating system, while Amazon launched Movement Health back in June.

The big stretch. Outside of healthcare, a rising number of alternatives offer PT-esque services:

  • Studios like Stretch Zone, Stretch*d, and Xponential Fitness-backed StretchLab have sprouted up.
  • Wellness recovery studios like Pause and Hydra Studios offer alternative forms of healing or preventative care.
  • On the hardware side, the portable massage gun market is worth billions, led by Hyperice and Therabody.

Takeaway: Digital solutions are empowering patients to properly rehab at home, while stretching studios and massage guns offer the benefits of PT without the need for a referral. Up next, get ready for the business of mobile PT.

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🦈 Activewear’s Feeding Frenzy

Gymshark is set to open its first permanent brick-and-mortar location.

Valued at more than $1B, the UK-born athletic apparel maker found success by leveraging social media influencers and local events. Now, in pursuit of growth, the brand is evolving beyond its DTC roots.

Built to win. The 18,000-square-foot flagship is set for London’s Regent Street shopping district, debuting in summer 2022.

The three-level physical storefront will include an on-site fitness studio and other experiential fixtures, creating a mecca for Gymshark’s fervent online community. According to founder and CEO Ben Francis, sales are a secondary priority:

“The vast majority of the store will not be dedicated to selling Gymshark product… the real purpose of the store needs to be to cultivate the Gymshark community and connect with people.” 

Blood in the water. Gymshark has been busy in the past 18 months. In addition to raising $266M at a $1.3B valuation, the company opened its North American HQ in Denver and reported $550M+ in full-year sales. Amid IPO rumors, Francis has downplayed Gymshark’s public offering.

Elsewhere, the activewear space is, well… active:

  • Wolverine Worldwide, owners of Merrell and Saucony brands, acquired British apparel maker Sweaty Betty for $410M in August.
  • California activewear upstart Vuori secured $400M at a $4B valuation in October.
  • After stumbles, Outdoor Voices engineered a turnaround to profitability in early 2021 with intention to expand its physical footprint.
  • Ahead of its third-quarter FY21 earnings call on Dec. 9, lululemon’s stock is outperforming the S&P 500, up 31.3% as of the end of November.

Takeaway: It’s clear to see that, with the global activewear market expected to reach $547B by 2024, the biggest players are marking their territory, both digital and IRL.

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📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. invested in CLMBR, creator of a connected vertical climbing machine, joining a host of other athlete-investors.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Athlete VC
  • Edgewell Personal Care Company, owners of Schick, Skintimate, and Playtex brands, acquired DTC women’s shaving product startup Billie for $310M.
  • UK-based Glorify, an app combining aspects of Christian worship and personal well-being, secured $40M in a Series A round led by a16z.
  • The EVERY Company, a foodtech company producing fermented, animal-free proteins, closed an oversubscribed $175M Series C round co-led by McWin and Rage Capital.
  • Asian-inspired organic oatmeal brand Yishi added $3.13M in pre-seed funding.
  • Evereden, a multigenerational skincare brand, raised $32M in a Series C round led by GSR Ventures.
  • Health tech firm OxiWear, makers of an ear-worn pulse oximeter, closed $1.25M in an oversubscribed pre-seed round.
    More from Fitt Insider: Big Tech, Wearables, and Healthcare
  • Proov, makers of an at-home ovulation testing kit, raised $9.7M in funding.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Future of Fertility Tech
  • Ecuadorian superfood company LiveKuna, makers of gluten-free chia and quinoa products, landed undisclosed funding in a Series A.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony and Joe Vennare, Melody Song, Wesley Yen, and Ryan Deer. 

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