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Exclusive: Wisq raises $20M for staff social wellness

Erin Brodwin
Apr 25, 2022
Illustration of a social media "like" icon made out of a $100 bill.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Wisq, maker of a new employer-facing social platform, booked $20 million in Series A funding, CEO Jim Barnett tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: The pandemic-driven boom in telemental health funding has opened up a space for a parallel arena focused on overall wellness to blossom.

  • As COVID drags on, employees that work from home report being increasingly disconnected from work.
  • Those feelings of disconnection can coincide with increased feelings of loneliness and sadness, which Wisq hopes to minimize with virtual social activity.

Details: Norwest Venture Partners led the funding round and was joined by True Ventures and Shasta Ventures.

  • The fresh capital brings Wisq's total funding to just over $40 million.

Context: While a group of startups treating severe behavioral health conditions has thrived in recent months, startups like Wisq are also beginning to prosper.

  • Paraclete, maker of an employer-facing virtual wellness offering, in February raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding, Axios reported exclusively.

Be smart: While startups such as Paraclete pair people with coaches specifically trained to help them feel better, Wisq hopes its offering can boost happiness with social connection.

  • Barnett, who previously founded employee engagement tool Glint (now part of LinkedIn), says his team noticed staff scores related to feelings of belonging started to dip a few months into the pandemic, particularly among young people, new hires and underrepresented employees.
  • "So we thought, what if we created a platform where people could connect and share and build relationships?" he says.

The other side: Barnett sees the tool not as a consumer platform but one specific to companies, and one that might look a bit like the early days of social media networks like (ahem) Facebook.

How it works: Wisq's visuals-heavy platform encourages employees to share photos and thoughts that are not related to work.

  • Staff can also join groups categorized by interest, similar to the way many companies offer channels dedicated to dogs or cooking through Slack or WebEx's Meetings tool.

What they’re saying: Jeff Crowe, senior managing partner at Norwest and board member at several software and health care companies, says he’s been struck by the degree of worry among their executives about the negative impacts of remote work, including isolation and loneliness.

  • “All of my teams are deeply concerned,” Crowe tells Axios. Remote work “seems transactionally more efficient but they feel they’re losing aspects of their culture, creativity and employee connectivity. And retention is lagging.”
  • Crowe says existing tools like Slack and LinkedIn aren’t poised to address the issue because they’re inherently about work and productivity, not social connection.
  • When you’re using those, he says, “It’s all business. How do you mix social life in there?”
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