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Exclusive: Peer support network Forum plants $5M

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Peer support marketplace Forum collected $5.3 million in seed funding, CEO Rajiv Kumar tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Behavioral health startups have seen steady interest from venture investors amid higher-than-normal rates of anxiety and depression.

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.
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