Podcast Ep 84: Ken Cahill describes how SilverCloud is pursuing a global mental health mission.
When organisations join forces on research collaborations no one is really certain what the journey will look like. But in the case of SilverCloud Health, a spinout from a collaborative project between the NDRC, Mater University Hospital and Trinity College Dublin, they don’t come sweeter than this.
The project, to further 10 years of advanced clinical and academic research into workplace mental health, has blossomed into one of the biggest Irish tech acquisition stories of the year. In recent months US telehealth giant Amwell agreed to acquire SilverCloud for an undisclosed sum, but which was reported in the media at in excess of €214m.
“If you don’t look after your team – your staff, your employees – someone else will”
The achievement earned CEO Ken Cahill the title of The Irish Times Business Person of the Month, in association with Bank of Ireland.
SilverCloud Health is one of the world’s leading digital mental health companies, enabling providers, health plans and employers to deliver clinically validated digital health/therapeutic care that improves outcomes, increases access and scale while reducing costs.
The platform, used by more than 350,000 individuals, and growing by over 15,000 users per month, has demonstrated results on par with face-to-face therapy in multiple randomised controlled trials. Beyond its industry-leading results in clinical trials, real-world evidence demonstrates that over 65pc of SilverCloud users have shown significant decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms.
More than 300 organisations globally use SilverCloud’s mental health programs. This includes a pilot project with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and over 70pc of the UK’s NHS mental health services.
A positive spiral
“The fact is we’re going to double the size of the organisation over the next 12 months”
“It’s been quite a journey,” says CEO Ken Cahill who is speaking via Zoom from his home in Boston. “I got involved in SilverCloud when it was in the latter stages of its research as part of the NDRC, and the aim was to commercialise later stage, academic and clinical research.”
It was a journey that began in 2012 with five people and today the company has more than 120 people. “That journey has been an interesting one. We held true to our mission and a good old-fashioned Irish humbleness in terms of knowing we’re not experts but always willing to learn more and get better.
“We looked at existing solutions in the marketplace and how they failed to deliver in terms of mental healthcare. So when you look at digital delivery, mental health has a couple of barriers, including low user or patient engagement and limited clinical improvement. They failed to deliver what they had promised to do.”
When Cahill came on board it was clear the team was on to something special. “The work ethic, the passion and the caring that was there was second to none. We started in 2021 and today we serve well over 300 organisations worldwide, enabling them to deliver. We operate as a trusted partner to deliver effective mental healthcare at scale.”
Cahill believes the subject of mental health has come a long way from a decade ago when even talking about stress was a taboo subject. The Covid-19 pandemic, he believes, changed a lot of things. “It’s definitely allowed people to communicate not only that they are stressed, but that they are anxious.”
Indeed, the pandemic and the resultant feelings of isolation and stress, have only added to mental health problems in the workplace and that’s where SilverCloud comes in. It encourages people to slow down and stop if necessary, go for a walk, focus on resilience, stress management, sleep hygiene. “It’s a positive element to help people improve but also catch someone with a low mood or insomnia or depression or anxiety.
“Organisations have improved their approach for sure, but there’s still a long way to go. Mental health should be framed in multiple phases and stages.
“I think some of the great things that the team at SilverCloud have done is delivering across a full spectrum. And that helps with stigma as well. So, if you’re working in a large corporate environment and you see someone using SilverCloud, they might be using it for sleep, or mindfulness or journaling, rather than just for clinical intervention. We operate with the NHS and major insurers around the world. It’s about helping people to act, think and feel better in their approach to mental health.”
Bringing Irish firms up to scale
In terms of seeing more Irish companies grow to scale, Cahill believes there are great supports for businesses at the start of their journey and those that have reached a certain scale. But in between is where the problems lie. “When you are growing from zero to 40 people it’s great, but between 40 and 200 it [the support] kind of fades away and then it reappears.
“There are challenges in that we are an island with a relatively small population size. We’re also a very difficult society to sell to.
“For us, we had a number of very supportive organisations like Aware, a national charity for suicide and depression, which was an amazing supporter of SilverCloud for years. But in order to make some kind of commercial success we had to travel to the UK and the NHS to try and bring that market along as well as travelling back and forth to the US.
“That happens to a lot of tech companies in Ireland. And it’s a reasonably well-trodden path. And there are a lot of scary stories of companies that tried to stretch into the UK and US and fell short of the mark.”
The acquisition of SilverCloud by Amwell will see the SilverCloud brand endure, but with the backing of a larger business with the resources it needs. “It gives us access to multiple markets. It gives us access into segments and sectors that would have taken us longer to do. Plus. the funding is there to help us grow and expand.
“Typically [after acquisitions] you hear the dreaded word ‘synergies’ and companies get downsized significantly. That’s not going to be the case with Amwell and SilverCloud. The fact is we’re going to double the size of the organisation over the next 12 months, which will put huge pressure on our talent acquisition team. But it’s a good problem to have.
“Our purpose and our mission is to help people improve their mental health through technology, and Amwell really believes that and wants to fund us to achieve that.
“So, when you say it’s business as usual, it’s actually an uptick in pace, which is not the norm after an acquisition.”
The new hybrid working paradigm which is likely to be the norm for organisations across the world presents challenge for organisations to ensure their most important assets – their people – are in a good place. There is less opportunity to spot or notice if a staff member is struggling with their mental health, which means there are fewer opportunities to intervene.
But that’s where digital comes in, says Cahill. “Evidence-based, validated mental healthcare is kind of what we’ve tried to pioneer at SilverCloud and we’ve had a high degree of success where we empower and enable across a spectrum of worry, sleep, stress management, resilience, living in Covid times, living in challenging times all the way through to intervention for problems with depression, anxiety, insomnia and even elements of chronic disease.
“Digital enables access to all of those vital assets in an organisation – which are the people – and I think more and more organisations are becoming more hyper aware that the people are the most important thing. Otherwise they are just a shell of a company. And if you don’t look after your team – your staff, your employees – someone else will.”