Why I crossed from tech into healthcare: Lantern


64% of Rock Health entrepreneurs are new to healthcare, and only 6% of them have an M.D. How and why do innovators from outside healthcare break into this massively complex, highly regulated industry? In this series of posts, hear the stories and advice from seasoned entrepreneurs who made the jump.

“Mental health is still the black sheep of healthcare.”

In 2009, over 40% of adults with a serious mental illness reported not receiving any treatment. Among 18-25-year-olds diagnosed with depression, that number is as high as 55%. Everyone has felt moments of self-doubt, stress, and sadness that can build up over days or weeks and bring down even the strongest of us. Despite the prevalence of these issues, many avoid seeking professional mental health care due to the huge barriers of stigma, cost, and access.

For Nick Letourneau, this reality was much more than a simple statistic. “I dropped out of undergrad after my brother, Michael, took his own life. He had the unfortunate combination of lifelong depression and a resistance to traditional therapy.”

Nick carried this personal experience into founding Lantern, (fka as ThriveOn), a startup that offers mental health care on demand through an online assessment and personalized coaching program. Previously, he had pursued a career in software development for a variety of startups, including Trulia. That’s where he met his co-founder Alejandro Foung, whose background was in psychology. “When having initial talks around working on a project around mental health,” Nick says, “it felt like I was building something that my brother could have, and probably would have, used. After that connection was made, I couldn’t be swayed to any other path.”

In between working in tech and jumping into healthcare, Nick transitioned by spending time as an application programmer at a bioinformatics lab at U.C. Berkeley. “That got my feet wet in using computer science to solve biological and health related problems.” Still, in building a digital health company, his team faced challenges from the stigma around mental health to understanding the intricacies of the U.S. healthcare system. “From the technical side,” says Nick, “Rock Health was a great aid in learning everything from HIPAA to insurance to EMR.” Today, Lantern’s cognitive behavioral therapy programs have been implemented at over 35 universities, helping thousands of students improve their mental health.

What inspires successful entrepreneurs? According to Nick: “Solving problems that matter. If you’re drawn to that sentiment, there is a huge amount of innovation potential in digital health.”

Hear the stories of founders who were so inspired (and frustrated) by their healthcare experiences that they jumped in to fix the system themselves by tuning in to our speaker session, “Turning Lemons to Lemonade,” at Health Innovation Summit (August 21-22). Videos from the event will be posted on our website and YouTube channel.