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Virtual couple's therapy startup Ritual debuts

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As North America continues to suffer from a so-called epidemic of loneliness, a startup called Ritual is rolling out virtual tools to help people build and sustain meaningful relationships, CEO David Pruwer tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Healthy relationships are a core element of overall mental health, yet virtual offerings tailored to couples are lacking.

Deal details: The company raised $2 million in pre-seed funding in a round led by Ground Up Ventures with participation from Samsung Next, Verissimo Ventures, 97212 Ventures, Fresh Fund, Secret Chord Ventures and individual backers including HLTH CEO and founder Jonathan Weiner and Errol Damelin.

Context: Although the vast majority of recent venture funding in the behavioral health sector has gone to companies offering individual support, several other couples-focused ventures have emerged this year, including:

  • Ours, a Houston-based provider of premarital therapy for engaged couples, raised $5 million in pre-seed funding in May.
  • Paired, a London-based developer of virtual relationship guides, pulled in $3.6 million in seed financing last year.

What's next: Pruwer tells Erin that Ritual will use the pre-seed capital to expand nationally. The company plans to raise funds again in the next nine to 12 months, he added.

How it works: For $200 a month, individuals and couples who sign up with Ritual can meet with a therapist 15 minutes a week and complete three digital sessions tailored to a recent issue they've identified.

  • The company also offers a stepped-down version of its services for $30 per month that includes access to the app and asynchronous therapist feedback.

What they're saying: "You could say relationships is niche, but we’re social beings, and relationships make our lives worth living," Pruwer says.

  • In his new book, "Healing," former National Institute of Mental Health leader Tom Insel writes, "Of all the things that we psychiatrists and psychologists do not acknowledge about people with serious mental illness, loneliness may be at the top."
  • "We’re all about preventive care, but what’s the equivalent in the relationship world?" Jonathan Machado, a Ritual investor and the managing director of Samsung Next, tells Erin.

Between the lines: Although the market is moving away from point solutions toward more comprehensive tools, several industry observers tell Erin the relationship-focused therapy sector is a prime area for startups to innovate for two reasons:

  1. Insurance doesn't typically cover couples counseling, employer programs don’t usually offer it, and Medicare Part B covers family therapy only that's directly related to treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
  2. It's designed to support two people, unlike most direct-to-consumer mental health offerings currently on the market, which focus on just one.

State of play: With very few tools like Ritual's, "I think there is a market for this," says Shivan Bhavnani, founder of the Global Institute of Mental and Brain Health Investment.

  • Bhavnani tells Erin he could foresee Ritual ultimately being folded into another behavioral health platform, similar to how virtual therapy company Talkspace acquired marriage counseling startup Lasting in 2020.
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