Callaghan Innovation launches counselling service for startup founders

Callaghan Innovation has launched a counselling service to support founders whose mental health is suffering due to the significant pressures associated with establishing and growing a startup.

Plans for the service were announced at the Electrify Aotearoa conference on 1 August at the same time as the organisation launched a guidance and resolution service for any startup founder who has experienced inappropriate behaviour within the startup ecosystem. 

The findings of an online survey of 258 startup founders in New Zealand conducted over a two-week period in August have also been released today. The survey by Horizon Research was commissioned by Callaghan Innovation to gain insight into the types of issues impacting the mental wellbeing of founders and to better understand what kind of support could help them.

“We have looked at global trends and anecdotal evidence on founder wellbeing but there is limited local data available,” says Callaghan Innovation chief executive Stefan Korn. “The work done by Horizon Research gives us some further insights into the state of founder wellbeing in Aotearoa.”

Creating a startup is inherently difficult, and the Horizon Research report indicates that startup founders in New Zealand are indeed feeling the pressure, with 87% of respondents reporting that being a startup founder can have a negative impact on their mental health. Seventy per cent said that they have had anxiety, 55% have experienced burnout and 31% indicated that they had depression. 

To provide some international comparison, research published earlier this year by founder advisory Startup Snapshot revealed that 72% of overseas founders felt that running a startup had a negative impact on their mental health. Thirty-seven per cent reported feelings of anxiety, 36% had experienced burnout and 13% had depression.

While the results suggest that New Zealand founders are doing it tough compared to their peers overseas, 32% of respondents said that being a startup founder has had a positive impact on their mental health. 

The Horizon Research respondents in New Zealand were asked if they would like to utilise an anonymous, free and confidential counselling service for startup founders whose mental wellbeing had been impacted by the pressures of operating a startup business. Fifty-three per cent of respondents said they would ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ use this service. 

Callaghan Innovation will pay for startup founders who are struggling with the daily pressures of startup life to access three counselling sessions delivered by leading employment assistance programme provider Benestar.

The service is for New Zealand-based startup founders who would like professional support for their mental health and wellbeing, and is being run on a trial basis until the end of 2023, at which time the service will be reviewed. It is available to all startup founders, regardless of whether they are a Callaghan Innovation customer or not.

The free counselling service complements Callaghan Innovation’s recently-announced guidance and informal resolution service, which is delivered through Aspen Restorative Consulting. That service is available to startup founders who have experienced inappropriate behaviour within the startup ecosystem. They do not need to be a Callaghan Innovation customer to take advantage of the service.

The launch of the service through Aspen Restorative Consulting is timely, as nearly half (49%) of respondents to the Horizon Research survey said they have experienced or witnessed inappropriate behaviour in the startup ecosystem. In the four weeks since its inception, 22 people have booked appointments.

“We want Kiwi founders to know we have their backs and make it easy for them to access a range of services available to support them,” says Korn. “The New Zealand specific insights from the survey and the anonymised data from the providers of the services we are trialling will help us to better support our country’s innovators in the future.”

Michael A. Freeman, M.D., founder, psychiatrist for founders, serial entrepreneur and world-recognised entrepreneur mental health researcher says New Zealand is leading the way on founder mental health and wellbeing. “Ecosystems around the world should study and emulate the founder wellbeing policies, programmes, processes and procedures developed by Callaghan Innovation.”

For more information on these free, confidential services and other founder wellbeing resources, go to https://www.callaghaninnovation.govt.nz/founder-wellbeing.