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Zinc hits start for women’s mental health

Zinc, the new London innovation initiative building tech-for-good ventures from the bottom up, launches its much-anticipated programme this week, with its first 55 entrepreneurs addressing the challenge of women’s mental and emotional health. Julian Blake reports.

womens mental healthAs campaigners around the globe mark #WorldMentalHealthDay, one of the most anticipated new tech for good programmes seen in the UK to date launches with a sharp focus on women’s mental and emotional health, with 55 digital entrepreneurs from across the world committing to a six-month incubator programme to build new businesses from the bottom up.

Zinc.vc was founded earlier this year by tech entrepreneur and investor Saul Klein, who co-founded Europe’s biggest tech VC in Index Ventures, before helping set up its most successful accelerator in Seedcamp. Alongside are Paul Kirby, ex-head of government and public services at KPMG, and Israeli tech entrepreneur Ella Goldner.

Zinc aims to take on some of the world’s most intractable social problems through digital innovation. The programme sets out to combine talent, ideas and money to build businesses from the ground up – drawing on a model created by Entrepreneur First – only this time to create impactful social change, at scale.

The focus on women’s mental and emotional health has surprised some, given more popular for-good endeavours on issues like education and physical health. But, in an interview with DigitalAgenda this summer, Goldner (pictured below) said the issue “represents a $100bn opportunity in the developed world for 650m women and teenagers” with innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning and more able to improve the range and quality of services on offer.

Stats bear out the importance of #WorldMentalHealthDay and the scale of the challenge. According to the Office for National Statistics, one in four young women in the UK have suffered from anxiety and depression. Globally over 300m people suffer from depression and more than 260m are living with anxiety disorders.

The Zinc programme was seed-funded with £500,000 from Klein’s latest VC funder LocalGlobe and is now raising additional capital from angel investors, other venture funds, impact investors and strategic corporates. At the end of the six-month programme, Zinc expects to form early-stage companies and take an 8% stake.

The programme, based at Camden Town Hall, kicked off a two-week bootcamp phase last week with talks and presentations to the 55 from senior business and technology figures including Google Ventures partner Tom Hulme, Blippar co-founder Jess Butcher and Unruly chief exec Sarah Wood. Week two sees expert speakers on women’s emotional and mental health drawn from academia, the NHS and the medical establishment – as well as a launch-night speech at the BMA from digital minister Matt Hancock.

ella goldnerThe 55 participants in the first Zinc programme were selected from a pool of 800 applicants worldwide. The group of 24 women and 31 men includes doctors, data scientists, tech entrepreneurs, UX/UI designers, computer vision experts, parents and founders of social enterprises. Zinc says the average age is 33 and over half of the founders have previously started businesses. Nearly half are non-UK nationals.

Klein said: “We live in unusual times and one of the big themes that is emerging is social activism. People want meaningful solutions to the most pressing issues they face in their everyday lives and they are increasingly realising that the solutions can not be effectively provided by the state or academics acting in isolatio

“We live in a world where over 3 billion people are connected and technology is capable of major leaps forward, we have a chance to combine commercial organisation and public sector thinking to impact some big problems.”

Zinc said it hoped its approach would bridge the gap between profit-driven commercial companies and the public and charitable sector, by creating global businesses capable of tackling social problems through a consumer approach.

Zinc cohort 1 founders – three of 55

Amit Khutti – co-founded DrEd, which is now Europe’s largest online doctor service with 80 staff. Now looking to develop tech for mental health

Nina Kumari – a qualified doctor from Imperial College, who is a founding team member of a new digital health startup looking to revolutionise clinical communication.

Hugh Boys – design engineer expert in novel human computer interfaces and product design. Recently completed a PhD from Queen Mary University of London, looking for help commercialising his innovation, within the mental health space.

Agenda Setters interview: Goldner catalyses Zinc startup mission

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