College students, budding businessmen use technology to connect patients, therapists

Authored By Chloé Morrison

They set out to solve a problem, and now, three college students are in the midst of launching a business that has gained significant local support.

“They really impressed me as strong, budding entrepreneurs,” Chris Daly, director of technology development and transfer at The Enterprise Center, said. “They are guys that are smart and really care about what they are doing … but the most impressive thing about them was how coachable they were.”

UTC student Riley Draper, University of Georgia student Josh Goldberg and University of South Carolina student Harrison Tyner are getting ready to launch WeCounsel-an online network that will allow patients to connect with therapists via videoconference.

The trio wanted to start a business. And, so they started looking at what problems they could solve. They thought about an array of ideas, but settled on mental health therapy.

Draper said that 15 millions Americans seek therapy for the first time each year.

According to ABC News, one in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010.

But a 2009 study from the American Psychological Association found that only 4 percent of Americans used therapy to combat stress.

WeCounsel will allow anyone who wants mental health treatment to connect with a professional online. Patients will be able to search professionals by categories, such as location and specialty.

And doctors and counselors will be able keep track of notes from previous sessions and communicate with other mental health professionals using WeCounsel.

Every professional on the site will be vetted and verified, and patients will be able to watch introduction videos of potential therapists.

The trio formed their business in the summer of 2011, and over the past summer, they took major steps forward, connecting with some of Chattanooga’s leading entrepreneurial experts, such as Daly, leaders of The Company Lab and the founders of LifeKraze.

And Daly said the trio was impressive in that they embraced guidance and followed up on every step and piece of advice he gave. 

Michael Brooks Jr., chief technology officer with LifeKraze, said via email that his team received a lot of help when they started their business, and they want to give that back as much as possible. 

And he likes the idea of WeCounsel. 

“Connecting therapists and patients online is something that could be very beneficial to a patient, while cutting down on traditional costs,” he said. “There are a lot of exciting opportunities in the medical world, and this is just one way to utilize new technologies to improve the experience.”

Draper said he and the other WeCounsel leaders secured capital during the past summer. After getting incorporated as a limited liability company in Delaware-because it’s a more business-friendly state, Draper said-they raised “tens of thousands” from family and friends.

“It was the best way to save our equity,” he said. “The idea is that you have to make your company as viable as possible before you actually want to go to investors to get more money or else . We are developing our product and developing a user base. That way, we can sell much less equity for a higher stake.”

The trio currently has 10 therapists from across the country signed up to beta test the network.

Draper said that video connection with therapists has the potential to make patients more comfortable because they can talk from a familiar place, like home. And it may also prevent people from missing appointments because patients won’t have to fight traffic or take time out of work to drive to a therapist appointment.

From people who are injured and find it difficult to travel to mothers and busy businesspeople-patients might find it more convenient to connect via video, he said.

WeCounsel will soon begin testing the system.

They are meeting with BlueCross BlueShield leaders about getting insurance, and Draper said privacy is a priority.

And, although there was an opportunity to center business elsewhere, Chattanooga is the ideal location for the headquarters.

“The Gig City is perfect for us, because with fiber optics and EPB, we are able to conduct higher broadband video conference session than ever before,” Draper said. “Video sessions will be very clean, very efficient, very fast.” 

In the process of creating this business, Draper said that he has been stunned by the amount of help and support he and his business partners have found in Chattanooga.

“The wonderful thing about Chattanooga is that we have so many entrepreneurial resources,” he said. “Had you asked me last summer, I would have not known. Never underestimate the value of meeting someone. You meet one person, and they introduce you to 20 other people who are willing to help. I’ve been shocked at how willing adults are willing to help young people.”