Huddle: Five Atlantic Canadian Startups Tackling Mental Health Issues

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Over the last several years, the topic of mental health has come to the forefront. What was once as a topic veiled in shame and secrecy is not being discussed openly, and for the better.

Whether it’s in the workplace, educational institutions, or at alone at home, businesses and startups worldwide are introducing products and services to help improve mental wellness, some of those startups are in Atlantic Canada. Here is a look at just five of them:


New Brunswick’s WellTrack provides mental health software for post-secondary students. The software allows students to monitor their moods and progress and to get the right help they need. Features include guided therapy for stress, anxiety and depression; Virtual Zen room; securing sharing with councillors and more. WellTrack has been hard at work over the last few years. In February last year, they were accepted into 500 Startups’ 20th batch of companies. Their customers now include Boston College, Georgia State University, Memorial University, University of California Santa Cruz and Ryerson University.

Reframe Games

Fredericton’s Refram Games is on a mission to create games and applications for tackling real-world social issues in a fun and enlightening way. The first game they hope will do this is Guide, which focuses on empathy to help kids tackle anxiety issues. The game follows the story of Fia, a baby phoenix chick lost and alone in a dark forest. Players help Fia to escape these woods by encouraging her to face her fear of the forest’s shadows. By doing this, the aim is to help both Fia and the users to acknowledge “the fire that they always had within.” As recently reported by Entrevestor, the company is in the process of getting the data it needs to assess whether its new video game is effective in helping children cope with anxiety issues.


Formerly ADDtext, Halifax-based ADDvocacy offers support for youth and adults who live with ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Autism, Anxiety and other occurring conditions that impact executive functioning as they transition to post-secondary, career exploration and/or entrepreneurship. ADDvocacy’s employs certified “strADDegists” who coach clients using various communication channels, including SMS/MMS. CEO Keith Gelhorn tells Huddle that business is up over 350 per cent from this time last year and on track to hit 500 per cent growth by October.

Wear Your Label

Founded in Fredericton in 2014,  Wear Your Label is a clothing company on a mission to eliminate the stigma around mental health. The company has gone through some challenges over the last year, but with co-founder Kyle McNevin rejoining the company as CEO back in May, the company appears to have a promising future. Back in July, the company announced a new partnership with Hudson’s Bay Company, one of the largest retailers in North America, for its new #TheFutureisStigmaFree t-shirt campaign. In an interview with Huddle at the time, McNevin says the company was planning some new partnerships for the fall. “This is just the beginning. The next several months will reveal a lot about the improvements we are making,” said MacNevin. “For now, we are focusing on making a great product and strengthening our supply chain and infrastructure to ensure the company is ready for bigger and more meaningful partnerships.”


Based in Halifax, Tranquility offers an online platform that leverages Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to deliver knowledge and skills to help users suffering from different types of anxiety. The company is founded by Joel Muise, a chartered financial analyst and mental health advocate and Rebecca Tucker, a Clinical Psychology PHD student at Dalhousie University. Tranquility is a subscription-based service and offers self-help, group and one-on-one coaching options starting at $49.99 a month. The company is currently offering 7-day free trials of its services.    ]]>

The Purpose Project: How Spring Loaded’s purpose is helping them grow

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Spring Loaded’s purpose

Helping our customers overcome common mobility impairments, so they can live life to its fullest. 

Where it all started

Spring Loaded’s purpose has guided the company’s decision-making from the beginning. It all started when the company’s three founders met at Dalhousie University and discovered that they shared experiences having worn standard knee braces at some point. These were great for providing stability but all three were frustrated that the braces did little to help with the mobility required to get back to work, to school, to athletics, and to everyday life. They decided there must be a better way and Spring Loaded’s idea – and its purpose – was born.

Staying motivated during R&D

During the hard slog of developing their initial spring-loaded brace, the Levitation, their purpose kept the team focused and motivated. It’s easy to get distracted with trendy features when you’re deep in the product development stage, but frequently returning to their purpose helped maintain their focus. Using the Lean Startup methodology the team kept close to patients and clinicians to really understand their most important needs. As they did so they heard about the vital factors of individuality, dignity and quality of life. The engineering team ensured the brace technology they developed would help give people back their mobility and reduce pain, and indeed change their lives.

Strategy and measuring impact

Today Spring Loaded has grown into a medium-sized business with a significant export footprint outside of Atlantic Canada. Chris Cowper-Smith, CEO, attributes this success to sticking close to their purpose. It runs through Spring Loaded’s business strategy, how they attract customers, and how they measure their success.  “Our internal company dashboard has ‘Number of lives changed’ not ‘Number of braces sold’”, says Cowper-Smith.

Hiring and keeping talent

Making sure their purpose is more than just words on a page has been key to attracting and keeping the talent that they need to grow. Employees are motivated by knowing that the work they do every day changes people’s lives: this shows in performance reviews and in casual chats at the office, and the company has a low turnover rate to prove it. Spring Loaded’s cheeky tag-line “Making the world a better brace,” was the brain-child of a team member, and it’s stuck. They focus on hiring young talent who are often looking for meaningful careers. And it was an employee that nominated Spring Loaded for the Game Changer’s Award for Youth Employment in 2017.

Attracting investors with purpose

In their start-up years Spring Loaded couldn’t afford to hire and keep the talent they needed without investors, and the business was able to attract capital specifically because of their purpose.  This includes impact investors like Ray Myzuka from ThresholdImpact who actively seeks investments that provide both excellent financial returns and excellent social returns to the world. Cowper-Smith feels that all of their investors are motivated by more than profits. “Investors need to make a bunch of decisions each year about which companies they are going to invest in. If a product is going to make a difference for someone’s life and it has a potential to be massively scalable in the end, then that’s what they’re going to choose. We are seeing that investors are caring a lot more about that rather than some widget that might be nice to have but doesn’t really make a difference.”

What’s next?

There is always more to do to and Cowper-Smith says they are refining their mission, vision and values in preparation for a deeper roll out in strategy and HR processes. Spring Loaded also recently launched a customer survey that will examine quality of life before and after using their knee brace, so the company can quantify and report on how their purpose is having an impact on people’s lives.

The Purpose Project: How DGI Clinical’s purpose is their business strategy

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DGI Clinical’s purpose

Creating a healthier world by putting patients at the center of care and research.

Business with social impact

DGI Clinical is a boutique Contract Research Organization (CRO) developing tools for patient-centered research and care. The company builds and validates software systems for pharmaceutical companies to use in individualized patient-centered research. Based in Halifax, N.S., DGI has been operating for over 20 years and has undergone several iterations, from a focus on professional research services such as data analytics to licensed digital health and research products. Their approach to patient-centric care and research is based on asking patients and caregivers what’s important to them and then tracking that over time to see if they’ve achieved their personal goals for their healthcare. “If you do science and healthcare this way, by giving the reins to the patient or the caregiver, it actually improves their health outcomes in the end. I don’t know if it’s a lucky coincidence or the beauty of our business that our business purpose is directly aligned with a social purpose, but it’s a fantastic kind of marriage,” says Chère Chapman, CEO of DGI Clinical. “And the neat thing is that this isn’t something that we drummed up just because it’s good for society or just because it’s going to empower patients. It is because it has better health outcomes, and it’s also good for our business too.” A great example of DGI Clinical’s purpose in action is their recently launched app SymptomGuide™ Alzheimer which allows caregivers to track their loved one’s symptoms, especially those symptoms most important to them. This helps facilitate the conversation between the caregiver, patient, other family members and clinicians. The app also provides dementia management strategies and other useful information to caregivers coping with the burden of this complex disease.

Purposeful strategy

While DGI’s purpose has always been inherently part of the company, over the past two years they’ve been working on sharpening their focus and becoming clearer on their purpose. By doing so, they’ve discovered that “our purpose is our business strategy.” They spent time asking themselves “what are we most passionate about, what do we have the potential to be best in the world at, and what can make money doing?”  What they found at the intersection of these three questions is their core purpose – of patient-centric approaches to care and research.  And this is the core focus of their business strategy. Chapman admits that figuring this out hasn’t always been straightforward. With the company having the skills and expertise to generate revenue in a number of ways, they’ve dabbled with various offerings over the years, and even found success with that approach. But she believes for DGI to grow in the future, they need to be laser focused on their purpose. “If you don’t know what your own values are as a company then you have no ability to make strategic decisions,” she says. “There are always going to be tough questions to consider and tough decisions to make. But once you have those values laid out then the path forward is way more obvious.”

Research that matters

Their clear purpose also helps to keep them focused on the research that matters the most for the company and for the patients they help. “There are a thousand and one fascinating research projects at any one time we could undertake and we are filled with PhDs and master level employees and others who are just excited by the intrinsic nature of the interesting research that we do,” says Chapman. “But because we know exactly where we’re headed, the research is all very aligned with that.”

Big ambitions

Chapman calls DGI Clinical “a small business with big ambitions.” As interest grows in the pharmaceutical industry to better understand how drugs and therapies work in individuals and in the real world, DGI is looking at how best to respond, guided by their purpose. “We’re trying to figure out how to take our unique approach to companies faster and better than we have been doing in the past,” says Chapman. “We’re trying to see how can we do this at scale because we really believe in this purpose and this mission.”
If you don’t know what your own values are as a company then you have no ability to make strategic decisions.