PsyCap Recap: 3 Key Takeaways from the What If Ventures & Chun Law Presentation at Psychedelic Capital

The revival of the psychedelic renaissance is set to profoundly impact the way we approach healthcare–particularly the treatment of mental health. The incredible benefits promised by these compounds have drawn significant attention from venture capitalists and industry leaders. In their Psychedelic Capital presentation, Stephen Hays of What If Ventures and Ruth Chun of Chun Law have an engaging conversation with Richard Skaife of the Conscious Fund about how their organizations are helping shape this evolving industry. Here are three key takeaways from their dynamic discussion.

Key Takeaway #1: Stephen’s Transformative Journey Through Mental Illness Shaped His VC Efforts in the Space


One of the most notable highlights from this panel at our September Psychedelic Capital event was Stephen’s powerful story of his own journey through battling mental illness and how it helped shape his vision for What If Ventures. His personal struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction, along with his powerful recovery, offer Stephen deep insights into the value mental health startups bring to the evolving landscape of mental healthcare. Being a West Point graduate with an MBA from Vanderbilt and seven years on Wall Street, Stephen brings strong financial experience, perseverance and discipline to this important sector. 

While many people view Mental health as a subsidiary of overall healthcare, Stephen believes mental health will become the “front door” to the future of healthcare. He states that “as stigma reduces and more supplies, resources and solutions come to market, more people will start to get all of their healthcare originating from their mental healthcare providers.” Indeed, Stephen’s own challenges with mental illness have offered him a valuable perspective into this evolving landscape. The recent explosion of mental health startups in this space clearly spotlight significant investor interest in this emerging sector as well.  

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Key Takeaway #2: Mental Health Startups are Exploding in Number


Before 2006, there were a total of 34 mental health startups with the earliest one coming to market in 1987. In a fascinating blog Stephen recently published on Medium, he reported this number is rapidly approaching 1,000 mental health startups in 2020. In fact, at the time Stephen published his findings, he found there to be 717 mental health startups to be exact.


Despite this modern explosion in the number of mental health startups, early-stage mental health and addiction-related startups is limited. Stephen’s venture capital group, What If Ventures, aims to fill this funding gap for early-stage mental health startups. They are currently a syndicate that is invested in 7 mental health startups and have deployed 3.3 million into the space since January, with over  2100 limited partners they strategically collaborate with. This dynamic involvement in the space is clearly reflective of how much Stephen values the mission these mental health tech startups are on. 

Also in this panel was Ruth Chun of Chun Law Professional Corporation who provides legal advice to cannabis and emerging plant-based medical companies. She defines her role as a “problem solver” and “people connector” in the cannabis and emerging psychedelic medicine space–both of which have significant implications on mental wellness. Ruth states that, “addiction and mental health surrounds everybody” and that the tumultuous events of this year have made it ripe for these important conversations to happen. Her deep experience in the space allows her to provide expert insight to Stephen’s team of investors and the audience at Psychedelic Capital.

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Key Takeaway #3: Stigma, Cost & Access are 3 Major Challenges for Psychedelics 

One particularly important point raised in this panel are the three major challenges faced by the emerging psychedelic medicine space: stigma, cost & access. Stephen insightfully states that “the stigma around psychedelic medicine is decreasing since we are beginning to have more of these discussions.” However, with this cultural destigmatization has come a rapidly increasing demand for these therapies–highlighting barriers to scaling and widespread access. 

Stephen states that, “since we are not producing therapists and clinicians fast enough, supply remains the same, thus driving up the cost and limiting patient access.” This is a primary reason for the collaborations between Stephen Hays at What If Ventures and Ruth Chun of Chun Law Profession, as both are aiming to aid in the expansion of mental health and wellness resources. 

Indeed, this reduction in cultural stigma has also attracted a flood of entrepreneurs and investors looking to solve this very personal human problem. The work of people like Stephen and Ruth is sure to help expand the reach and access of these important therapeutics during this time where the world needs them most.

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Looking Ahead to the Future of Mental Health Startups

The nascent mental health startup sector is rapidly expanding. The dynamic investment efforts of Stephen and Ruth are positioned not only to bring capital to this important space but also to bring value. As the spectrum of mental health startups continue to emerge, the team at What If Ventures and Chun Law Profession are sure to add enormous value to this essential industry. 

Click here and use the code ‘PSYCAP’ to access this recording for free today! Make sure to get tickets to our October Psychedelic Capital event here

mental health tech startup venture capital investment

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