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Mental health ‘coaching’ startup Sanctus raises £4.25 million from ScaleUp Capital

·3-min read
Sanctus founder James Routledge (Tom Price / tomalprice.com/ Sanctus)
Sanctus founder James Routledge (Tom Price / tomalprice.com/ Sanctus)

A startup that offers mental healthcoaching” to staff has raised £4.25 million as investor interest in the space rises.

Sanctus was founded by James Routledge in 2016 after battling with his own mental health problems. Routledge was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety that left him struggling to sleep after the failure of his first business, a social network themed around sports.

Today, Sanctus works with everyone from startups such as Carwow and Joe Wicks’ company The Body Coach to big businesses including Red Bull, Boston Consulting Group and media company Omnicom.

Sanctus offers employees of these companies access to one-to-one sessions with professionally accredited coaches. They offer an “impartial, confidential space” to discuss everything from thorny work problems to relationship issues and personal struggles, Routledge said.

Sanctus aims to help people avoid mental health issues, rather than treat them once they emerge. It deals with everyday struggles and emotions, rather than clinical issues. Routledge said Sanctus helps businesses attract and retain staff.

Some of Sanctus’ coaches (Sanctus)
Some of Sanctus’ coaches (Sanctus)

The new cash will be put towards improving Sanctus’ tech but Routledge said the company will remain “human-first and tech enabled.”

“There’s a lot of apps, there’s a lot of AI, there’s a lot of content — we’re all about putting humans together to connect,” he said. “A lot of VCs might want you to create a robot that can solve someone’s issues with their mental health. It’s not going to happen and that’s not a world we want to be a part of.

“For us it’s about empowering people to work through some of their issues and then moving forward with their lives not to give everyone an app.”

The investment is Sanctus’ first major cash injection. The company has raised only around £1 million to date from individual investors. The new cash injection comes from ScaleUp Capital.

Routledge said he was “nervous” about VCs “because of growth expectations” — “The whole move fast and break things approach in mental health is a bit dangerous” — but said the Sanctus product was now ready to be expanded.

The funding round comes amid growing investor interest in companies offering mental health services, partly fuelled by what many think is a looming crisis caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

“It’s been a difficult two things for all of us yet if it’s done one thing, it’s put mental health right at the forefront of the conversation,” Routledge said. “Mental health support in the workplace has gone from a luxury to an absolute necessity.”

The issue has also risen up the agenda thanks to public statements about mental health struggles from Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle. Harry joined San Francisco coaching and mental health startup BetterUp as “Chief Impact Officer” last March.

“Any awareness for mental health and more conversations about how we feel is essentially a good thing,” Routledge said of the Prince’s work. “The Royals have played a massive role in this country.”

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