UpLift, A Science-Backed App for Depression Sufferers, Raises $1M Seed

Uplift app

Mental health startup UpLift has raised a $1 million equity seed round from the Laidir Foundation, a non-profit that funds companies aiming to make a positive impact on the world.

UpLift co-founder and CEO Eddie Liu says the seed funding will help the company scale its product and team to reach one million individuals suffering from depression.

“Uplift was founded out of a movement called effective altruism, which is all about the most effective ways of doing the most good for the world,” Liu tells Hypepotamus.

“Our goal is to help as many people as we can, and we’re happy to have found a source of funding that is just as aligned about that as we are.”

Liu was in the midst of medical school at the University of North Carolina when he began to learn about the potential of a relatively new psychology technique — computer-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — for helping those with mood disorders like depression. 

Liu already had experience in digitally-assisted mental health education. Even before medical school, he had built MoodTools, an app that gave users depression tests, a thought diary, and other tools for free. 

MoodTools, which is still available for iOS and Android, has been downloaded by over one million people. 

In 2017, Liu decided to drop out of school and focus his energy on creating a digital CBT program for depression. But before he began to code, he met Spencer Greenberg, a Ph.D. who was working on the very same concept.

The two combined their background and training to launch Uplift together.

“I realized that combining my tech skills with my health background, I could make something that was unlike anything else on the market,” says Liu.

Uplift is the first consumer-grade CBT-based app. Once users download the app or create a profile on the web-based platform, they are led through 12 “Sessions” which mimic the flow of a course of CBT therapy. 

“We’ve designed it to mimic a standard traditional therapy, so about 40 minutes once a week is the norm,” says Liu. “Users answer questions and we send them down different pathways with different content.”

The app also presents a toolkit of “Challenges” that users complete in between active sessions to hone in on what they learn during the sessions.

The first session is free, after which the user pays a subscription fee per month or, for a 50 percent discount, per quarter. The subscription ends once they finish the modules, though they retain access to the toolkit for free.

The Uplift team first tested the program with 120 participants with low-to-moderate levels of depression. Based on a standard depression index, they found that depression scores fell by 50 percent over the course of one month — and stayed lower after six weeks and six months.

They released the app to the public in 2018 and have thus far seen 20,000 downloads and 1,000 paying users.

According to Liu, the seed round of funding will be used to power UpLift’s product development as the team explores adding a program for anxiety, which he says is “very co-morbid,” with depression. They’re also looking into adding human coaching features, gamification, and other tools. 

Liu is also planning to hire additional team members in Atlanta, where he is based. They will likely be on the technology and sales fronts.

As a social impact-focused company, Liu says they debated the merits of raising money as a for-profit entity versus going the non-profit route. He explains that the for-profit route ultimately will enable them to help more people. 

“The difficult with the non-profit model is that you have to constantly be raising money,” he shares. “As a for-profit, it’s firstly much easier to raise money because the investors get more for their dollar than for a donation.”

“Then, you don’t necessarily need to raise money again. You can become profitable and use your money again and again to help more people over a longer amount of time.”