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Entrepreneurs — particularly tech entrepreneurs — face the uphill struggle of building something new in the world. Sometimes that struggle can exact a heavy mental toll. As much as everyone knows they should be sleeping, exercising and meditating, it’s hard to keep all that up when you are trying to build a company.
As an entrepreneur whose startup is literally about maintaining good mental health, Silja Litvin is well aware of the pitfalls. And more so because she’s also a trained family therapist.
She attained her master’s in Clinical Psychology and Systemic Family Therapy in 2013 from Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich and became a Systemic Family Therapist. In 2015, she began her PhD in Clinical Psychology at LMU with the help of Oxford University College.
Born in Germany but living around the world, including California, Litvin encountered many countries and cultures as a professional model, along the way developing an interest in the human condition. This inspired her to go on to look at mental health issues as an entrepreneur.
Her mental health startup eQuoo recently became the only game in the U.K.’s National Health Service App Library and is set to shortly close its seed funding round. More recently, she’s been speaking to tech accelerators, most notably Techstars Berlin, about staying mentally healthy in tech startups.
EQuoo is an emotional fitness game that aims to teach healthy psychological skills. A U.K. doctor can formally refer eQuoo to their patients to improve their mental health and well-being. The startup has gained scientific backing for its app, going through a “three-arm,” five-week, randomized control trial with more than 350 participants with Bosch U.K. Indeed, eQuoo has also now achieved a top rating at leading health app assessment platform ORCHA and counts Barmer, Germany’s largest insurance company, among its clients.
TechCrunch: Everyone is familiar with normal work stress. What is different about being a tech entrepreneur in relation to the issue of mental health?
Silja Litvin: I think as an entrepreneur you completely identify with your job with your company; it’s very closely linked to your self-worth and how you value yourself. And so, if you fail in a normal job environment it’s just you being human, but if you fail as a startup it feels like you aren’t being the best you could be and I think that really puts a completely different pressure on people. And then you have the problem — as well as being a startup founder — that you are kind of the “lead horse,” you’re pulling the cart, and you have to have this appearance of strength towards your employees else they or your investors might freak out. And if you show any weakness, then, you know, it’ll all start to crumble. That’s the difference.
The round was led by existing investor Wamda Capital, with participation from Modern Electronics Company (a subsidiary of AlFaisaliah Group) and North Base Media.
Tamatem says the purpose of this round is two-fold: to “double down” on its efforts in the MENA region, and to expand to other underserved markets worldwide. This will mean investing further in marketing for existing titles, including through offline events, which I’m told is an important part of the region’s marketing landscape. In addition, the company will open an office in Riyadh and launch multiple new titles in 2020.
Tamatem says it will expand internationally beyond its current regional boundaries, with plans to publish titles in other emerging and underserved markets. That’s something CEO Hussam Hammo believes isn’t always the norm for Middle East-based startups that often feel their market potential is limited to the MENA region.
“I love seeing startups expand beyond those boundaries, and I am proud that the team at Tamatem is now looking beyond just the Arabic speaking market,” he says. “I believe this latest round of funding will allow us to deliver on our vision of becoming the top mobile games publisher for every underserved emerging market in the world”.
Founded in Jordan, a country that has both Iraq and Syria as neighbours, Hammo says the country’s economy has been a bright spot in the region, in part through technology companies’ ability to cross “virtual borders.”
“Tamatem [has] led this digital economic expansion for the country and has shown that, despite tough regional conditions, commerce and high tech startups can thrive,” he tells me.
He says that Jordan has also been more welcoming to refugees than almost any other country, taking in over one million Syrian refugees (“pretty good for a population of just ten million”). However, despite Jordan making claims it has the biggest concentration of entrepreneurs in the Arab market, external venture capital investment is flowing towards the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“Tamatem is focusing hard on creating high skilled jobs in the country and also has a plan specifically to employ more young Jordanians and refugees by giving workshops and training to over 150 university graduates in 2020,” adds Hammo. “It’s important to me that we give back to the people that need it the most. These are hard working people that have been stripped of all their freedoms while being largely neglected by a lot of Western economies, so I’m proud that we are employing a lot of them in high skilled, stable and exciting jobs”.