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  • Writer's picturedashaaven01

Introducing route: the "Waze" to mental health

Updated: Aug 29

Gary Kurtzman, MD

After years of investing, advising, and teaching at The Wharton School, I've decided to directly tackle a big problem, #mentalhealth. Please come join me and my great co-founders on this journey!

What’s bothering me? Three years ago, my life took a profound change with the challenges of Covid, the loss of my remaining parent, and the winding down of my formal investing practice. As I stood at this crossroads, uncertain about my next steps, I pondered, "What do I do now?" My journey had been diverse, spanning a decade in medical training, another in biotech, and two as a venture capitalist. Along the way, I had the privilege of teaching entrepreneurship to over a thousand students at Wharton over seventeen years. Yet, like many others, I had not fully prepared myself for this moment. I contemplated taking up hobbies like golf or painting, but the prospect of investing years in mastering these skills didn't quite appeal to me. I'm someone who thrives on solving problems and finding meaningful challenges to address.

What do I do about it? About a year ago, a friend introduced me to psychiatrist Roger Gould's work - a transformative approach developed over several decades to deliver a therapy-like experience through digital means. Roger's conversational model had been successfully tested on over 100,000 individuals, promoting introspection, insight, and improved self-awareness. Unlike typical digital mental health solutions that address surface-level issues, Roger's approach digs deeper, getting to the root cause and empowering individuals to tackle self-doubt and gain agency over their lives. I compared his approach to my own experiences with live therapy, and the similarities were remarkable. The missing piece was turning this approach into a product that could help those in need.

In a world where over 50% of individuals will encounter mental health challenges during their lives and where treatment can be scarce, mental health is undeniably a significant problem to solve. While billions have been invested in digital, virtual, and live mental health solutions, they all come with limitations. It was clear that there was room for a better, more scalable, affordable, and accessible solution that could avoid stigma and provide consistent, empathetic conversations. The solution should also be measurable in terms of outcomes. Thus, I found a big problem worth solving and a potential way to address it.

Why don’t I do it? After careful consideration, I concluded that the best way to productize Roger's solution was to start a company. Throughout my career, I've held various titles, but "founder" was a new and exciting prospect. I knew what a successful founder looked like and the passion and drive they needed to make things happen. I wondered if I could find someone like that. Fortunately, fate led me to Dasha Aven, a second-year Wharton student with consumer marketing experience and a deeply personal understanding of the value of therapy due to her own mental health journey. Then, we discovered Thomas Ross, who came to Wharton with the intention of launching a mental health startup, drawing from his experiences at Teach for America and his own mental health struggles. Together with Roger, the four of us assessed the opportunity, developed a strategy, determined the technical requirements, created a minimum viable product (MVP), and launched route ( I no longer had any excuses - I was now the CEO of a promising mental health start-up, surrounded by an amazing group of co-founders and a supportive network to help us succeed.

At route, we are on a mission to create the "Waze" to mental health, providing a digital navigator that guides individuals to their most efficient "route" to emotional wellness. Our platform offers authentic, empathetic, and personalized support, helping users navigate their emotions and mental health challenges. We leverage technology as a powerful tool for empowerment, assisting individuals in building resilience and finding emotional balance as they progress on their mental health journey.

The core of our approach revolves around three simple questions: What is bothering me? What should I do about it? And why don't I do it? We invite you to join us on this transformative journey as we work towards a world where mental health is truly accessible and supported for all.

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