How do you find your niche in the market? When is the right moment to turn a passion project into a full-time business? How do you convince investors of your healthcare start-up?
For the second episode of the EWOR podcast, Eleonore Poli sat down with Alissa Rohrbach. Alissa is the founder of Recovery Cat, a healthcare app focusing on severe mental illnesses. The app helps patients track and understand their symptoms and medication.
Alissa studied clinical psychology at Technical University of Dresden. Rather than become a therapist or researcher she decided to join the start-up Scientific Product Lead, in 2014. Here, Alissa gained her first glimpse into the business world.
The culture and ability to create something inspired Alissa to pursue business. She founded Making the New in 2015 and spent the following years in the corporate world before founding Recovery Cat in 2020.
In this article, you will learn from Alissa’s valuable insights in healthcare start-ups and how to navigate the early stages of founding a healthcare business.
How Do You Find the Perfect Niche for Your Healthcare Start-Up?
The more specific your product is, the better it will solve its intended problem. To learn more about Recovery Cat, we asked Alissa how she came up with the idea to target severe mental illnesses.
With previous experiences, in psychology and entrepreneurship, Alissa wanted to explore the intersection of the two. Before knowing exactly what that would look like, she met her co-founders, who shared an interest in the healthcare sector.
Together, the founding team researched the market and talked to users ranging from users and patients to therapists and doctors. They found that “light” mental illnesses such as mild depression or anxiety disorders are covered by apps and the healthcare system. However, they noticed a lack of attention on severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“So much needs to be done,” Alissa said regarding the lack of resources for these mental health struggles. The costs such illnesses cause for the healthcare system and society are severe. Alissa emphasised the suffering individuals affected by these conditions endure.
In recognising this opportunity, the Recovery Cat founders pinpointed their niche and pursued building their healthcare start-up.
If you want to benefit from experienced entrepreneurs like Alissa and find your niche, sign up to our EWOR Platform to gain access to 17 courses and countless resources.
How to Find the Perfect Team
Founding Recovery Cat was a group effort, as it is for most start-ups. Alissa shared her thoughts on what makes her founding team and what qualities they need to achieve success.
“I think the most important thing is to have a common mission and vision with the whole team, not just the founders,” Alissa stressed. Finding something that every founder and employee is passionate about is key. Helping people with their mental struggles is a passion that all Recovery Cat members share in common.
But how did she find those people?
Alissa’s team started small with a group of four or five members. After their early research phase, they recruited more friends and colleagues they already knew they liked and could work well with.
Today, Recovery Cat consists of about ten people. Alissa recommended this recruitment strategy early on, as it’s important to like your co-founders and co-workers.
Passion Project or Full-Time Job?
How do you know when to turn a side project into your full-time occupation? Alissa has experienced that transition with Recovery Cat and shared her lessons.
“You should be mentally completely dedicated to it if you follow that path,” she explained. Unless you’re committed to your project, it’s unlikely that you will succeed. Staying in a safe zone with a steady income is the easy choice. Alissa left that safety net behind and accepted the risks of working on her start-up full-time.
For Alissa, it’s the vision that fuels her motivation. The idea of bridging the gap between severely ill patients and resources keeps her going.
If you’re having trouble deciding which projects are worth the risk, Alissa has a suggestion. That is, to “do it because you really want to create something new.“ Making that impact – whether it’s in the healthcare sector or another market – is the main motivator for her.
How to Convince Investors
Without funding, there is no viable start-up business. How did Recovery Cat go about gaining investors?
Alissa told Eleonore there are two factors that ultimately convinced investors to support them.
First, she credited the strong team and its passion for their ability to gain their trust. Their expertise and vision were key to winning them over at first.
The second factor is the market. “It’s actually quite hard,” Alissa said of gaining investors nowadays, “especially in the current market where investors want to have much more security.“ That’s why it helped that their market is “still largely untapped” and big enough at the same time. It shows investors that Recovery Cat has a future and satisfies their need for increased security. Additionally, Alissa deemed it crucial to show investors that your team is flexible. Every start-up needs a business plan and clear strategy, but adaptability is important.
One more tip Alissa wanted to share with us concerned the type of fundraising you invest in. She explained how venture capital money isn’t the only way to get started. Those investment deals “come with a lot of strings attached,” so Alissa recommended looking into public grants. Recovery Cat receives grants from the Berlin Institute of Health now, but they started with Prototype Fund which is equity-free.
Alissa’s pro-tip: Look into other funding options first. Ask friends and family and benefit from angel investors or the Prototype Fund.
How to Gain Users’ Trust in Your Healthcare Start-Up
Convincing investors is only half the battle. Mental health is a personal and vulnerable topic. Sharing your emotional and mental pain is not the same as showing your doctor a broken bone. Thus, how does a mental health app like Recovery Cat convince patients to trust them?
Alissa made the distinction between wellness apps and what Recovery Cat is trying to achieve. Wellness apps like running timers or diet trackers don’t need special licences. Recovery Cat needs to be certified as a medical product before they can launch it. It’s a big difference that comes with increased regulations and certification requirements.
Recovery Cat values data privacy rules, as do other certified medical apps. In fact, Alissa’s co-founder is a data privacy activist who drives their belief that data belongs to patients. It’s sensitive data that they ensure is being treated accordingly.
Work-life Balance and Productivity in a Healthcare Start-Up
As the founder of a healthcare start-up, it would be ironic if Alissa did not prioritise work-life balance. With that, Alissa shared her thoughts on the connection between productivity and wellbeing:
“You have to see this as a long-term commitment, and you have to stay sane,” she told Eleonore. To achieve that goal, Alissa tries to take the evenings and weekends off and find a healthy balance. She’s aware of how other entrepreneurs work longer hours, especially during the early start-up stages.
However, research shows the negative effects of long work hours on someone’s productivity, according to her. Given her background in psychology and daily work with Recovery Cat, Alissa prioritises her mental health. She also credited the health tech market with making that approach possible. It doesn’t have the “usual growth” of other industries and the pace can be a bit slower.
The combination of a good work-life balance, a clear vision, and motivation are the perfect blend of factors to create a good working environment. According to Alissa, this is the base for success and good teamwork.
Final Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
If you want to enter the healthcare industry or found a start-up in a different field depends on your skills and passions. “What’s your sweet spot?” Alissa recommended asking yourself. She compared her own story to the overarching idea. “I’m definitely not the best psychologist, and I’m not the best product developer. But I have a sweet spot here because I’m experienced and interested in both.”
Alissa warned young entrepreneurs to keep a close eye on the current negative market developments. She also doesn’t encourage copying someone else’s business idea. Instead, turn a passion into a viable project, as she did.
The intersection of interests and expertise can be that golden opportunity for young entrepreneurs – as long as you stay true to yourself and take calculated risks. Enter the healthcare start-up community with your ideas, or find something in an unrelated industry. Either way, Alissa’s story and lessons teach us about the will to create an impact.