How would you feel if you could to talk to a therapist or life coach through your computer, tablet, or smartphone? No calling to make appointments months in advance or awkwardly waiting in a room with a bunch of strangers, but being able to sit in the comfort of your home while talking to a professional — at a fraction of the price. That sounds like a pretty great deal, huh?
I recently had the opportunity to speak with SparkLabKC Class of 2015 graduate Mark Nolte and discuss his business, Start Talking. What sparked the idea for online therapy? Well, after his own experience with depression, Mark found out that there are three reasons why people don’t get therapy. He said,
“One, they don’t want to admit that they have a problem and the stigma that is associated with it. Two, they don’t want to go to a doctor’s office and fear they might be recognized by someone they might know. Three, they don’t want to file on their insurance claim in fear that their employer might find out that they are having mental health issues and they may get fired from their job or may not get the promotion that they deserve.”
Mark set out to create a solution to these three problem, and hit the jackpot with online therapy — where everything is confidential and secure, in a space that is your own, and on your own time.
The SparkLabKC Effect
After completing a weekend Google hack-a-thon, Mark and his business partner, Jim Braun, found that they had a valuable service to provide — they just needed to learn how to get their business off the ground. That is when they turned to SparkLabKC. Even though both partners had previously built businesses of their own, they were looking to hone their skills while networking with mentors and potential investors. Throughout their experience with the accelerator program, access to our pool of accomplished mentors was one of the most beneficial aspects. Mark explains,
“…for the first time in my life I was actually in the mix with the big boys… the true entrepreneurs, the people who invest in companies, and I had never been exposed to that before… if I hadn’t gone through SparkLabKC, I wouldn’t have had exposure to those people.”
From presentation coaching to the Wednesday night dinners featuring different speakers each week, Mark took advantage of everything the accelerator had to offer. He says that the impact that SparkLabKC had on Start Talking lasted much longer than the 90-day program.
Start Talking has experienced continual growth since graduating from SparkLabKC. The company was recently awarded a $150,000 tax credit by the state of Kansas. In addition, Start Talking is featured on United Way 2-1-1, which is a hotline individuals can use to find solutions to “everyday needs that aren’t quite 9-1-1 emergencies.” They are also currently working on a deal with VA hospitals to provide therapy for their veterans in remote locations. Additionally, the company is looking to partner with Truman Medical Center on a grant that would provide online psychotherapy services to a small rural town in Northern Missouri that is experiencing a large demand for marriage counseling and addiction support.
One of the most exciting upcoming plans Start Talking has in development is a mobile app. It will feature video voicemails and secure text messaging. Mark mentions a recent study that really prompted him to initiate the change, which showed that,
“People who have an addiction who fall off the wagon are 30 percent more likely to contact their therapists through text messaging than they are actually to go in person and face them in their office because of the machine factor... We know that text messages are a very effective way of providing online counseling or life coaching so we will have that here very soon.”
Keeping up with industry trends is not always easy, but Start Talking is making every effort to do so. With the new mobile app, the text messaging and video voicemails will remove the lengthy amount of time between in-person sessions and allow the patient and therapists to stay connected at all times. Mark states,
"You can still do in-person therapy, but you also need the capability of in-between sessions on a live video and/or being able to text message your therapist, or be able to do the video voicemails. That will really give you [an improved continuance of care, and give therapists] a truer picture of what their patient's life is, rather than seeing them once every three months.”
Mark shared a piece of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs out there:
"Get into some kind of accelerator program… it’s going to get you more focused and organized and expose you to some things that you weren't aware of or didn’t realize you need to do and because it’s a 90-day program it’s pretty intense but it forces you to get on the ball and get going.”
We are excited to see what the future holds for Start Talking and how it will continue to revolutionize the intersection of technology and the psychotherapy industry!