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The company has also built a network of facilitators who moderate the groups
There's a loneliness epidemic happening, both in the U.S. and around the world: according to Gallup, almost a quarter of the entire global population is experiencing loneliness, while Cigna has found that 58% of adults in the U.S. are lonely, with even higher rates for young adults, individuals with lower-income, and people of color. There is also a strong association between loneliness and mental and physical health conditions.
One way to help people is with support groups, but they are laborious and resource-intensive, requiring a lot of administrative work, including handling payments, marketing, social promotion, and finding a place to actually host it.
That's what virtual peer support group marketplace Forum provides. The company, which announced its formal launch on Wednesday with $5.3 million in funding, delivers highly-specific, live, video-based, and facilitated group meetings to people in need.
"It’s hard to find an in-person support group, and if you do find one, it’s unlikely you’ll identify with the other group members," Rajiv Kumar, MD, CEO of Forum, told VatorNews.
"The lack of structured, facilitated, intimate, authentic, and highly specific peer groups means that people aren’t able to access the type of social support that can truly help them navigate life’s biggest challenges."
That's why it's important to take peer support groups from offline to move them online, where issues such as geographic constraints and a lack of specificity will no longer be a problem, he explained.
"Prior to COVID, there was a widely held belief that peer support groups are only impactful if held in-person. Post-pandemic, it’s become clear that virtual groups, if structured the right way, can be highly effective. The barrier that remains is that they are still too hard to find. Forum is fixing that. The world needs a marketplace to aggregate supply and demand and help match people with the right groups."
When consumer join Forum they can can browse the marketplace and subscribe to a specific group that meets their needs. Forum groups are small cohorts of individuals who meet regularly on live video to participate in facilitated discussions. Current support group topics include family and relationships, health and wellness, career and business, and life transitions.
Each of Forum's support groups is led by a facilitator who have group facilitation experience and a passion for leading groups. The company's platform equips them with the tools they need to create, grow and manage their groups.
"We carefully vet every facilitator, evaluating their past experience, testing their group facilitation skills and then providing extensive training during the onboarding process. Once their group is launched, we provide longitudinal feedback and professional development opportunities," said Kumar.
Members pay a monthly subscription fee to join a particular group, while Forum also has a revenue-sharing agreement with its facilitators.
Dr. Kumar was previously the founder and CEO of ShapeUp, a venture-backed digital health company built on group-based behavior change models, that was acquired by Insight Partners and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, while co-founder Lee Pichette was a product leader at ShapeUp and previously served as SVP of Strategy at talent optimization leader Predictive Index.
It was at ShapeUp where they both learned that people have many different reasons for joining a peer support group, Kumar said.
"Desired outcomes also vary widely by group topic, for example mental health versus physical health. In the early days, we’re primarily measuring facilitator and member satisfaction and retention. As we launch more specific health-related topics, we plan to track outcome measures that are specific to the condition being addressed," he explained.
The company's seed round was led by NextView Ventures, along with MBX Capital, Cue Ball Capital, Sahil Bloom of SRB Ventures, Romeen Sheth, Shaan Puri and City Light Capital. The funding will primarily be used for Forum's go-to-market and product development.
"We’ve already hired an incredible team and built the first version of our platform. Now we’re telling the world about Forum and executing on our product roadmap so we can build a truly horizontal marketplace that covers every major life challenge," said Kumar.
"While we are starting in the U.S., our vision is to create a global marketplace, spanning thousands of topics, where people anywhere in the world can find a group of others just like them who can navigate life challenges together."
(Image source: joinforum.com)
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