Knowing when to change direction can be vital for a startup

Wellola adapted its business communications portal to fit the mental healthcare sector

Sonia Neary: “Wellola is unique in that patients can book either video consultation or in-house care depending on availability and we are one of the few providers offering a solution to small and medium enterprises.”

Sonia Neary: “Wellola is unique in that patients can book either video consultation or in-house care depending on availability and we are one of the few providers offering a solution to small and medium enterprises.”

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Wellola is a business-to-business communications portal focused on the mental healthcare sector.

Its Software as a service (Saas) product has been in development since 2014 and actually started out as a booking system for physiotherapists.

However, company founders Sonia Neary and Dr Greg Martin quickly realised that the biggest need for their solution was in mental healthcare and a smartly executed pivot has seen the company develop a video consultation and secure messaging product aimed at psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists who would like to offer their clients the option of blending face-to-face and online therapy. 

“Wellola is unique in that patients can book either video consultation or in-house care depending on availability and we are one of the few providers offering a solution to small and medium enterprises looking to compete with the bigger online consultation service providers,” says Sonia Neary.

“We soft launched approximately 12 months ago with a very loose iteration of the software. We then went out and spoke with over 850 clinics across Ireland and built our platform based on their feedback.

“It was interesting to discover that their idea of what they needed was different to what we had imagined. We officially launched in June this year and our go-to-market strategy has been about leveraging our medical network and identifying and pairing with appropriate partners to get our product into the hands of those who need it en masse.”

The company’s secure patient portal includes an online reservations system for online therapy, video consultation with no third-party downloads, integrated payment and e-invoicing and messaging that’s compliant with the EU’s GDPR data privacy regulations. It also offers a telepharmacy component. 

“The benefits of online consultation systems in both the public and private sectors are significant,” says Neary.

“It can improve efficiency, assist with maximising available resources, facilitate the reduction of waiting lists and increase reach to remote, underserviced areas.

“One in ten adults in Ireland has a mental health difficulty at any given time while almost 20 per cent of young people aged 19-24 and 15 per cent of children aged 11-13 years have experienced a diagnosable mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

User-friendly

“In May of this year over 6,500 children and young people were waiting for their first appointment. Some clinics have started to use Facetime, Skype or Zoom but have found they can be a bit unsafe, unprofessional and clunky to use. They are also missing the seamless link from booking through to treatment and payment which Wellola provides. Our system is very user-friendly and can easily be used those who are not tech savvy.” 

Wellola’s team of four is led by Neary who is a physiotherapist with 15 years clinical experience in rehabilitation in both HSE and private clinic settings. Co-founder Greg Martin is a doctor and healthcare entrepreneur with an MBA in public health. The company’s CTO is Criostóir O’Codlatáin Lachtna. 

“Greg and I knew what we wanted the system to do and initially outsourced the development. But it’s expensive and slow and you can’t be a tech firm without in-house competence,” Neary says.

“I met Criostóir, who is a full stack developer, on the New Frontiers programme and having him on board has been invaluable. We had to tweak things in various ways including making sure we complied with the new GDPR regulations for example.”   

The company now has over 150 clients and is revenue generating. It charges on a subscription basis and also takes a small commission on payments and e-invoicing.

Development costs have been in the order of €150,000 and the venture has been supported by the South Dublin LEO and Enterprise Ireland under its HPSU programme.

Wellola is currently fundraising and is looking for investment of around €250,000 to bring the company to the next stage and into the UK.  

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