Startup Profile: Shimmer
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States faced a mental health crisis. In 2017-2018, nearly a fifth of the population experienced a mental illness, which marked an increase in 1.5 million from the year before. Mental healthcare, however, can be expensive and inaccessible. People often have trouble finding the right mental health provider for them, a challenge which increases for people with marginalized identities. In response to these challenges, Blackstone LaunchPad Fellow Jonathan Wang founded Shimmer, an online mental health platform that provides support groups led by peer coaches. After completing the Spring 2021 LaunchPad Fellowship, Jon and his team recently participated in the Summer 21 batch of the prestigious Y-Combinator. Past companies to come out of Y-Combinator include Stripe, Airbnb, DoorDash, Dropbox, and Twitch.
Shimmer has its roots in a mental health crisis close to home: Jon founded the company after seeing the severe effects a lack of mental health solutions had on his community back home.
“I was in medical school at the time,” Jon explains. “I tried to volunteer, I did research, but I just didn’t feel like I was making an impact. I wanted to build something that could help people who are struggling and prevent a lot of the terrible consequences I was seeing amongst my friends.”
He decided to start a company that tackled an area of mental health that was rarely addressed: preventive care. “A lot of services exist that focus on the moment of crisis, but preventative care isn’t as well developed. That’s where the innovation is happening. That’s where we’ll save the most lives.”
Members who join Shimmer are carefully matched with a group of six to eight peers with similar backgrounds and experiences. These groups meet weekly via video chat for hour-long sessions led by a Shimmer’s cohort of diverse peer coaches, called Shimmer Guides. Focused on peer support, the groups aim to create a safe space where people can connect and feel supported.
Though Jon was interested in entrepreneurship as a high school in Minnesota, his interest remained dormant during his undergraduate years at Stanford and the start of medical school at UCSF. Once he decided to reconnect to his entrepreneurial roots, Jon turned to the UCSF Blackstone LaunchPad for support getting his idea off the ground and participated in the tech focused Spring 2021 Fellowship.
“The Fellowship was really helpful because we got to meet other founders,” Jon says. “Meeting other founders and feeling like we’re all in the same place was cool — student founders have a unique identity. We have to think about whether we leave school, and we have this combination of ambition and scrappiness that’s unique. It’s definitely motivating to have peers to meet and share what’s going on.”
The Fellowship helped prepare Jon to participate in Y-Combinator. “You learn how to build a business through Y-Combinator. We came out of that so much more knowledgeable, especially about our challenges. We’re readier now than ever to innovate so that we can build a startup that changes how mental health is consumed.”