It was no surprise when LinkedIn suggested a connection based on commonalities between two University of South Florida alumnae living in Raleigh and working in public health professions. But what really united these women was a shared conviction that can’t be measured by LinkedIn algorithms.
After initially connecting with Kelly Earp (pictured top), who has years of experience executing public health programs and research, Connie Mester asked for help on a project for the Global Pain Institute, a virtual care platform she founded to assist patients with chronic pain.
Upon finishing the project, the pair realized that they should take advantage of their similar professional backgrounds to collaborate on more projects. They both wanted to address a disparity they’d come across in their careers—just because some people don't undergo behavioral health therapy (often because of factors like cost or stigma), that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for help.
Mester and Earp thought they could close this gap through mobile technology. So, after multiple meetings on back porches and at Panera tables, what started as a piece of paper with an idea became a company called Thrive 4-7
Thrive 4-7 is now parent to an app called Mevii
, which streamlines multiple cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. It’s meant to be a tool for individuals with symptoms of anxiety and mild depression, offering them support and positivity. The app’s name encourages a “Me, Version Two” mentality among users as they improve their health outcomes.
Initial development was made possible by funding from a small investor group. Some local development firms helped build a design to complement the scientific methods behind Mevii.
And for early-stage startup support, Thrive 4-7 worked with mentors provided by RTP-based Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network
. That granted them access to HQ Raleigh’s coworking space and the network there.
Launching and re-launching Mevii
Mevii’s debut launch happened last year—the app included a broad range of education and activities centering around wellness.
But it became apparent that Mevii’s offerings were too general and needed to be more focused. Mevii CEO Deborah Hylton, who joined the company in January to build and grow sales, says feedback from users suggested that they liked the content, but it was a bit too much to handle.
So the team made changes, such as trimming down content to what was most necessary, adding other key concepts from cognitive behavioral therapy and more mindfulness, and giving users more freedom to jump around from tool to tool instead of trying them all in order, from start to finish.
They mapped out revised content with help from Tamara Somers, a Duke University clinical psychologist and researcher with experience translating proven health interventions into mobile format.
That’s what led to Mevii 2.0, a revamp of content and design based on user feedback.
The update, released earlier this month, is more “laser focused on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness,” Hylton says.
Six modules help guide users to better mental health practices—get started, relax, behaviors, thoughts, connect and look forward. Each one lays out information on how to succeed in these domains in step-by-step fashion.
The app has a health tracking function and a journal tool, both of which can be used to record their feelings and activities each day.
A section labeled “relax” helps with mindfulness through stress-reducing audios and activities.
The 2.0 version also upgrades some audio and visual components and adds design elements to make the app more gender neutral, appealing to men more than 1.0 did.
Building a user base
With the new app complete, this summer is focused on sales and marketing efforts. Mevii’s marketing officer Natalie Nuttall is leading a digital ad campaign, mostly on Facebook, to generate buzz and sign on more users.
She says the app’s demographic is anyone—male and female—18 and over who is experiencing symptoms of mild depression, anxiety and stress. And according to Hylton, the team is working with Raleigh digital marketing firm Greenroom Communications to target people searching terms relevant to topics inside Mevii’s content.
Although the marketing campaign is primarily targeted toward individuals, the focus of the company is to land enterprise customers. These include health insurance carriers and employers.
Carriers can add Mevii to their packages with employer clients. A contract to pilot this approach is in the works and Hylton anticipates an announcement in late August.
Other enterprise deals would involve employers offering Mevii as a benefit to their employees, without it coming through their health insurance carrier. Six to seven large employers are currently evaluating this idea.
What the companies get from this deal is data that shows aggregated, anonymous trends and patterns of employees' engagement with Mevii that may offer perspectives on their mental health. This can give employers insights on how to better manage the health and culture of their workplace.
Hylton notes an interesting repeated remark among many of the companies: they can see an impact on workplace productivity during times when their employees need help. This offers validation that Mevii can serve those populations and the companies they work for.
An “Ask Mevii” feature is added to the app for individual enterprise users. It’s an IBM Watson-powered tool that allows them to ask specific questions and get specific answers within the app.
“Ask Mevii” is only in the app’s enterprise version at this point, but that may change in the next phase of product development.
It’s important to note (and the Mevii team stresses) that the app is not a diagnostic or treatment tool. It’s a program that teaches and grows mental health self-management skills.
But the team does believe Mevii has the power to provide benefits to users, especially since it’s based on years of credible scientific research that backs cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness.
“We draw on that strong science to be disruptive, taking things we know that work and blending them into a new way," Earp says.
Mevii’s future: research, validation and replication
In the future, Earp and the team hope to confirm this belief in an academic research setting. They’re holding off until the time is right though—the app is still new and flexible to change.
Also down the road is an idea for Thrive 4-7 to replicate Mevii to support other diseases, like chronic pain, cancer and diabetes.
Hylton says the principles behind Mevii be applied in other areas of behavioral health, especially when there’s comorbidity between physical and mental illness. These plans are fairly early in the works, though.
At the moment, Hylton says the team is working to relocate from the company’s existing space in Morrisville to American Underground in Durham as soon as possible.
A move to the hub would help Mevii to be more woven into the startup environment, Earp says.
In the face of setting goals for the future, the team is proud of the so-far resonance Mevii has made on users. This was seen through positive feedback from the app's first version. But they still acknowledge that the product is young and has room to grow.
“We take comfort in the fact that every great product starts where we are—the beginning,” Hylton says.