Many children have been learning their ABCs through video games. Now Mightier wants to help them conquer anxiety and depression disorders using the same technology.
The gaming startup seeks to treat children with ADHD and otherwise help kids gain emotional control. The product of Boston Children’s Hospital’s incubator, which helps bring about pediatric care technologies, Mightier raised $6.6 million in May for a total funding of $10.1 million.
Pharma and biotech investor Foxkiser led the most recent round, with participation from new investors FundRx and Asset Management Ventures and additional funding from seed round vets Founder Collective, Slow Ventures and Project 11.
While video gaming has faced criticism as a source of some of the problems Mightier is seeking to cure, company CEO Craig Lund told Karma that the company’s 25 mobile games are building kids’ emotional responses in a positive way by improving an individual’s emotional response to different situations. The games train the right “muscle memory” by providing detailed feedback of users’ key biological responses, including heart rate, breathing patterns and eye movement.
Lund, who became CEO in 2016, describes Mightier’s mission to Karma as “collecting biofeedback to help children learn emotional control, and at the same time giving parents a big warm hug.”
That “big warm hug” comes via a team of Mightier coaches who are part of its top-tier subscription. Mightier charges $99 to sign up after a one-month free trial, then a monthly charge of $35 for full family access and a monthly consultation. (The platform is also available for a single child without consultations for $19 a month after the one-month trial).
The typical result, Lund says, is that children show improvement by the end of the fourth month, exhibiting fewer outbursts and “oppositional behavior.” Other Mightier parents often participate in networking, too, through the company’s website, further helping kids build helpful life skills.
“We create a supportive community for the child in this game-a-fied world where the more they’re able to control their emotions, the more success they have,” Lund said. “We give them skills like deep breathing and other validated skills while they’re taking on challenges in this world so that the more they’re able to use those skills and work through challenges.”
A Growing Field
Mightier is part of a wave of skills-building games aimed at countering the image — fed by R-rated products — that online games are bad for kids. Many healthcare professionals have dismissed learning games, saying they foster isolation, short attention spans and encourage antisocial behavior.
The idea that gaming can help assess and improve emotional health and cognitive abilities is not new. Airlines and the military have used them to train pilots, drone operators, tank crews and naval commanders for decades.
Applying video gaming to child behavior rather than simple skills development is still new. Several companies are working on the idea.
In 2017, a University of California, San Francisco study found significant benefits in some games for treating ADHD in children. The San Francisco researchers are working with Akili Interactive Labs, in its Project Evo for delivering medical and neurological treatments via video gaming.
ADHD and “attention tuning” was also the subject of a separate clinical study the same year sponsored by NeuroPlus, a gaming-based company that uses EEG monitoring to help ADHD patients improve focus. The trial found that NeuroPlus’ biofeedback game possessed treatment potential.
Time to Scale
With the May funding, Mightier plans to double its marketing and business development staff and add more coaches. It is seeking to expand from its current 4,000 to 30,000 subscribers in the next two years. Lund said he can imagine exploring institutional channels — schools, clubs or therapy offices, for instance. “We do have therapists in schools who are buying it,” he said, but the main target is the parent in the home.
Online reviews appear to generally praise Mightier, although not everyone is sold. Clinical professor Russell Barkley of the Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center told the Wall Street Journal this year that the technology may require further study.
Regulatory concerns could factor into decisions about distributing Mightier in clinical settings. But Lund does not foresee the need for Food and Drug Administration approval. “The field is still evolving, so the opportunity space we see is about our brand, and about how we care deeply about how we treat families,” Lund said. “As long as you stick to your knitting on the research, and you can talk about current research and present that to families to give them honest choices to make, that’s the key. ”