Canadian business relaunched this month, building on its platform as a trusted media brand and social network for the nation’s fastest growing companies and innovative leaders, who are changing Canada for the better.
Canadian business It provides these leaders, and those who want to learn from them, the resources, networking opportunities, and inspiration to innovate, connect, and continue to challenge the status quo. One of the ways we are doing this is by launching the Canadian Business Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Program, where each month we engage with a different entrepreneur building an impactful business in Canada. As part of the program, readers will have the opportunity to connect with these forward-thinking business executives for mentoring and professional development through exclusive content, virtual fireside chats, and more.
We are joined in September by Luke Vigeant, President of Inkblot Therapy, an employee wellness and video counseling platform that matches patients to therapists based on their specific mental health needs. Here, he chat with writer Katie Underwood about her entrepreneurial beginnings and how to separate the good ideas from the not-so-good ones.
How are you during the pandemic? How has the business changed?
Well, we triple our staff starting next month. So if you think about it, two-thirds of the team that is essential to scaling our business have never met in person. We are also doing 10 times more business than before the pandemic to support the growing demand for mental health services. We also sold the company to Green Shield Holdings Inc. during this time to lead its digital health frontier. I also smuggled a baby somewhere in there. My daughter, Pearl, was born unintentionally in the upstairs bathroom. But that’s a completely separate story.
What made you decide to enter the business world? What qualities make a person especially suitable for that style of work?
When I got married, my mother gave a speech and the beginning was, “Luke fight, then prosper.” That’s an idea she always had about me, and she’s also a business-backed entrepreneur.
IBM hired me in my third year at St. Francis Xavier to work in corporate consulting. Although I loved people, I realized that I was working on small pieces of big problems and wanted to work on the whole. Finally, I quit and moved into my Volkswagen Rabbit.
For about a year, I visited every state, province, and territory, and met a group of entrepreneurs to see what people were building. I found someone to show me the basics of starting a business, like raising capital and building a product team, and they wrote me a check to start my first and second businesses. We built Inkblot on the sides of our desks, just as a social good, and I went from being a side project to my full-time job in 2019.
I think it’s about getting really comfortable in the fight, seeing where it’s going and how difficult it’s going to be. Even when the company only had a couple months of track left, and no investors wanted to talk to us, it all seemed too important to walk away. So I can see the benefit of going through this, even though the people I left at IBM are now buying cabins and I am still buying a used minivan at Kijiji.
As an entrepreneur, how do you decide which concepts are worth creating and bringing to market?
I think my sweet spot as an entrepreneur is to align myself with someone who has a detailed exposition and understanding of a problem that I have less knowledge of. What I am good at is evaluating the hundreds of ideas that I have been proposed to work on and that I can move forward. Inkblot is about mental health, so I worry about fixing it. Then it is, How can I move this from a loose two-sentence email to a full business? How can I wrap it with a model? Or build a product around it?
Can you explain how startups are disrupting the existing healthcare sector? What gaps need to be filled in Canada, a country widely revered for its healthcare system?
The main area we play in is employer sponsored benefits. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are the predominant mental health benefit purchased for Canadians. So, you call a phone number, and then someone determines if you receive care, and then they refer you for an allocation of hours. Sometimes the person you called may have been prompted to steer you away from talk therapy and may instead get you an exercise book. I just don’t think that a publicly traded company should have the largest mental health support shareholder or be the predominant support system for mental health and Canadians. Also, people are largely unaware of how to use their EAP. And when they do, it is not a friendly experience.
We want to find out how to get employees to actually use their EAP and allow them to continue to see the counselor with whom they have established a great therapeutic relationship, even if they leave the company. So in a world where the majority of mental health benefits are provided by businesses, there is great room for improvement. People need attention and navigating the system can be a nightmare. We have excellent health care in Canada, but access to mental health takes too long. And with mental health, taking too long to access care is not good.
Is something lost in migration to more remote patient care systems? How does Inkblot accomplish this?
There are many studies showing that virtual counseling is as effective as in-person counseling and we are seeing this on Inkblot with our users. While certain elements of in-person therapy may be lost, the benefits are a definite countermeasure. Your doctor is very important and our system matches you with the counselor who can best improve your health. Anything you miss out on by not being there in person, we make up for it by providing you with the counselor who is your best option in the area we are authorized to match you with.
Suppose you have gender identity issues in North Bay – if that specialization in care is not prevalent in the community you live in, isn’t it amazing that there is a place you can go that matches your [concern]? If we could teleport everyone to be the closest therapist to you, maybe it would be better, but we have empirical evidence that our system works based on user scores. It also feels pretty good to know that as a company we have the permission, the budget, and the buy-in to develop the mental health product Canadians need rather than the one with the highest margins.
As an entrepreneur, you seem to have a wide range of interests. In which industries would you like to be part of the next disruption? Is there a product or initiative that you are particularly excited about?
I think my likely next act, maybe 10 years from now, is to rank 100 more pitches for things that people want to build and try to align with the one that I think I can be most useful for. Right now, we are quite on the market with EAP. Last week, Green Shield announced that we are their preferred EAP operator going forward. So that’s pretty big. And we believe in our approach to digital first, with a genuine desire to help people feel better from day one, so we continue to revolutionize that. We will continue to branch out more and more into healthcare. Inkblot will be one of the top three digital health companies in Canada in the next five years. Our overall goal for 2025 is to make as few transfers as possible, that is, prescriptions, talk therapy, EAP, and some collaborative care. There is such an appetite to build that. And it is completely necessary.