Exclusive: Peer support network Forum plants $5M
Peer support marketplace Forum collected $5.3 million in seed funding, CEO Rajiv Kumar tells Axios exclusively.
Details: NextView Ventures led the round.
- MBX Capital, Cue Ball Capital, SRB Ventures' Sahil Bloom, Romeen Sheth, Shaan Puri and City Light Capital participated.
- Funds will go towards growing its marketplace and expanding into more areas of peer support.
- Kumar declined to say when Forum would raise a Series A but said its seed provides the company with "runway for more than a couple of years."
How it works: Based in New York City, Forum's peer groups address common issues like grief, loneliness, chronic conditions, substance use, caregiving, relationships, and work.
- Forum onboards facilitators by scheduling meetings, offering online onboarding and training, and helping them to start their own groups.
- Groups are small, consisting of five to 10 members who meet regularly on live video and pay a subscription fee to access Forum's services. "These are not just discussion boards," says Kumar.
- Facilitators can be licensed mental health professionals, social workers, coaches, or peer support specialists.
- "Virtual peer support is a highly fragmented market," Kumar says. "We're trying to aggregate this and organize supply and demand."
The backstory: A trained physician, Kumar previously founded weight-loss startup ShapeUp based on his experience organizing patients into small groups to support one another to lose weight.
- "It was such a magical intervention," Kumar says.
- At ShapeUp, Kumar met Forum co-founder and president Lee Pichette, and the two went to work building their new company.
What they're saying: "We really think about the company through the lens of a tipping point," says Pichette. "If you need a place to stay while traveling, you think of Airbnb. In the future, if you need peer support, you're going to think about Forum."
State of play: Several venture-backed behavioral health companies use a peer support-based setup to address issues ranging from mild anxiety to severe substance use disorder. For example:
- Marigold Health, a startup using peer groups to offer support for people with substance use disorder, last February closed a $6 million seed round.
- Eleanor Health, a startup applying a harm reduction approach to addiction that includes peer support, last April collected $50 million in Series C financing.
- Paraclete, an employer-facing virtual mental wellness startup that matches participants with guides, last February raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding.