As the mind-training field continues to develop, the pace of change is naturally increasing before our eyes. When we came together as Bridge Builders Collaborativemore than seven years ago, the question my partnersposed was: “Is there anything to invest in in the mind-training space?” We were not sure. Now, we’ve looked at likely over 500 companies in and around the space where we invest. I’m currently observing the continued and accelerating growth — in interest, adoption, and integration of applications that have been created. However as that happens, things are shifting for the companies that operate in the field and for the investors of those enterprises. Here’s a few recent highlights:

Mergers and Acquisitions:Congratulations to the team at Interaxon, makers of the Muse brain sensing headband, on their acqusitionof Meditation Studio(we are investors of Interaxon). This is a marriage that made sense on multiple levels, including a content company merging with a hardware company. It brings together two strong leaders that compliment and respect each other. They have created an opportunity to combine their efforts to reach a higher level of impact. I’ve been saying for some time that I thought we’d begin to see merger and acquisition activity in our field. My sense is that we’ll likely hear of other companies choosing to compliment each others’s efforts through mergers and acquisitions. I also believe Private Equity firms are likely to begin looking at rolling up companies in the space.

I am thrilled that Derek Luke(CEO Interaxon) and Cyd Crouse(Founder of Meditaiton Studio and now CMO of Interaxon) are working together. They are both authentic and collaborative leaders who will add even more strength to one of the more talented and experienced teams I’ve seen operate in our space (Interaxon).

Endings:It was big news that Lantern announced they were shutting their doors.This was a company that provided assessments, daily exercises, and coaches for people who faced mental health challenges. We seriously considered investing in Lantern several years ago. They were one of the early companies in the field and had a leader that I respected. Lantern was a venture backed company with some great investors, which had previously raised $17 M.

At the same time this announcement surprised me, I think there will be more news like this over the next couple years. I suspect there will be more companies with great ideas and good leaders in the mind-training space that have initial promise and early-staged funding, but struggle to pivot to the right model or can’t make the transition when they do. There are a lot of companies in the mindfulness, contemplative practice, mental health space that show initial promise. We seem to be in a market where raising funds for even mediocre concepts can seem relatively easy. If there is a market correction, it will be really challenging for those companies to keep their doors open when they are not cash flow positive.

Beginnings:There a lot of companies still entering the mind-training space, which is still in its infancy. I love talking to entrepreneurs about their ideas and enjoy hearing how their personal experience has translated into an enterprise. It is wonderful to see how the global customer audience responds to ideas and to see how companies are perceived and rated. At the same time I’m seeing many new business models, I’m not always seeing that the entrepreneur’s personal passion aligns strongly with a stated unmet need in the community. Maybe they found a teacher (or guru) they think can be the centerpiece for a new mindfulness app. Maybe they have another new niche in the corporate well-being market. Maybe they believe they can be a large new digital therapeutic. Or a new coaching model. I’m hearing more and more ideas that seem less and less differentiated. And every once in awhile, we come across one which feels differentiated enough that we invest.

Financing Growth:Recently, it was announced that Click Therapeuticsraised $17 M, in a financing round led by Sanofi Ventures. Congratulations to Click’s team on this fundraise. This is on the heels of major announcements in recent months of Akili’s$55 million fund-raise and Pear Therapeutics raise of $50 million. The digital therapeutic space is red hot with investor interest at very high levels in a space that shows fantastic progress, both for returns on investment and for the consumer’s health. There are still a lot of questions that I have about how this space will develop, but the high level of interest and investment at growing valuations portend a bright future for this segment of our field.

As this is happening in the mind-training space, we have an opportunity to create a better world with sustainable enterprises that facilitate positive social change. There will be a lot of money made (and lost) in these endeavors. For the CEOs in the space, here are a few suggestions for operating in an ever-changing landscape.

  1. Hold your cash dearly and ensure you have enough to weather rough times, while investing wisely to pursue growth opportunities.
  2. Consider collaboration, working with others, finding mutual benefit. Your idea might be a great niche for a larger platform but may not have a path to sustainability on its own. I see too many people with ideas they think are large but in reality are best to be smaller parts of a larger platform.
  3. Make sure you really understand what is uniquely different about your product. I listen to a lot of people who think their ideas are unique. I encourage that you frequently consider asking the marketplace for feedback on your product’s or service’s efficacy and point of difference.
  4. Remain connected with people in the space. Your competitors could soon be your merger partners or acquirers.
  5. When you pitch investors, ask yourself whether these people be partners during times that become difficult or when you’re considering a merger. Will they add value at difficult times? In challenging times, you’ll find out a lot about your investors.
  6. Is your organization skilled at change management and can it adapt to market shifts and opportunities. Those that can hold to strong core values but pivot when there’s significant opportunity will likely have a greater chance of success.

Change is a metaphor for our lives. Life itself is about beginnings, endings, collaboration and growth. These are exciting times for our field, and more and more skills will be needed to successfully navigate the change in front of us.

Investing in Mindful Relationships


Why would a group of investors focused on mind-training invest in a dating app?

To answer that question, meet MeetMindful, an online relationship platform with a community that shares a value of personal growth. Currently, the platform is helping to match people whom have shared interests in personal growth, mindfulness, healthy eating, authentic living, and yoga for potential dates. Based in Denver, the passionate team is led by Amy Baglan, a fantastic entrepreneur, along with her co-founder Adam Taylor. Committed to prioritizing company culture and conscious leadership practice, they have assembled a talented group (50% women — 50% men) to help create opportunities for people to find authentic connection with others. The platform is currently focused in six major cities and has a large and growing base of users.. The company recently launched an entirely new version of the app to further increase engagement. They started in the Pacific Northwest and are launching to other new markets in July.

Bridge Builders Collaborativerecently led Series A round of investment of more than $5.5 M and our partner, Bo Shao joined MeetMindful’s Board of Directors.

So back to the question, why invest in a dating app? We believe that healthy and authentic relationships are essential components to support mind-training and contribute to a fulfilled life. We support community building so people can find each other and explore deeper connection. Deeper connection with yourself first, and then with others leads to a happier life. Well-Being is a combination of heathy living (calm mind, healthy food, exercise, good sleep) and healthy relationships (self-love, extending love, compassion for other beings).

There are many targeted dating sites out there: for Christian Singles, for Farmers, for the Jewish Community. MeetMindful is a targeted dating site in a segment that is growing rapidly and can be a good investment with a healthy return. What if there’s other ways to foster contact with people wanting more authenticity and connection? This is an interesting question, which I’m sure this team will focus on down the road. The business will become even more interesting as they use their passion, skill, and commitment to consider that question.

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All of this, leads me to more questions. Do you have fulfilling relationships in your life? I’m not talking about just dating relationships. Do you have people who love you unconditionally, see you for who you are, and are willing to be vulnerable with you? Are you willing to love others unconditionally and be vulnerable with them? Do you love yourself, and what could you do to deepen that self-love? What would you need to do to find these types of relationships in your life? Is there anything that you are doing to prevent them? What would you be willing to change in order to find true connection?

I want to honor the sacred union I experience with my wife, Maureen. I feel blessed, beyond measure, to share our lives together. We are partners committed to each other and our children and share the desire to co-create a more conscious planet, together. We experience honesty, vulnerability, laughter (sometimes belly-aching laughter), playfulness, and the joy of connecting together with a deeper Universal Source. I wish for everyone the opportunity to experience the love that we share.

I hope that Bridge Builders Collaborative experiences great abundance through our investment in MeetMindful. The abundance can come in the form of a significant return on our investment as millions will find each other because of the platform. It is joyful to add value to amazing teams with great leaders and help companies like MeetMindful to grow.

If you know someone who is single and seeking partnership and is interested in a mindful and authentic life, please share this post with them or recommend MeetMindful.I’d love to hear any experiences they have with the app.

Can Mindfulness Have a Greater Impact?


Recent articles are reinforcing that there is an increasing interest in the mind-training industry, from venture capitalists to consumers.

First, confirming earlier rumors, Calm announced that they raised $27 M on a $250 M valuation led by Insight Venture Partners. The round included investors such as Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, and Harry Styles, formerly a singer with One Direction. Calmreports that they are at an Annual Run Rate of $75 M, and profitable.

Then, the Wall Street Journal came out with an article entitled “Inner Peace and Profits are Venture Capitalists latest Quest.”It outlines some of the recent equity raises by companies like Headspace10% HappierOak, Calm, and Simple Habit.

I’m guessing there will be more news about the growing interest from investors in addressing mental health with mind-training apps. In fact, my belief is that we are still in the early stages of a dramatic push to use technological innovation to address the growing crisis of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and addiction in our society. At Bridge Builders Collaborative, we have been supporting this developing movement and industry for the past seven years. We have seen increasing signs that the industry is going to scale. For some time, people have been asking whether things like mindfulness were a passing fad. Increasingly, we’re finding the answer to that question is, no.

Let’s assume that we and the Wall Street Journal article are right, that mindfulness is going to continue to grow. It seems obvious that many people are going to make a lot of money because of that. While I’m convinced Bridge Builders Collaborative and others, who have taken financial risk investing in successful enterprises, are going to be financially rewarded, my question is, “So what?”

People are going to meditate, they already are. Many are in pain, have trouble sleeping, have high levels of anxiety. But a question that I ask is, “What is going to happen after people start to calm their minds?” Is our society going to use these apps just to become more productive, sleep a little better, manage their stress, or are we going to go deeper into exploring the beliefs and narratives that are contributing to our suffering? Are we going to look at our negative unconscious patterns and change them? And once we’ve tapped into our better selves, what changes are we going to make to become better human beings?

Finally, what are we going to do to make the world a better place?

It’s interesting that these articles came during a week when in America, we focused a lot of attention on a policy that created separation of immigrant children from their parents. And, when we removed ourselves from the UN Human Rights Council. We had a week of witnessing our President bullying, gas-lighting, blaming other people for a policy he enacted. How do we take mindful action to offset the mindless behavior and policies?

It appears that tens of millions of people are now developing mindfulness practices. They’re doing that with mindfulness apps, in mindfulness studios, through corporate mindfulness programs. Likely, these apps are one day going to be FDA approved, reimbursed by insurers, prescribed by doctors. But the important question of our time is not whether venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are going to make hundreds of millions of dollars capitalizing on these growing trends. It is, what are you and I doing when we get off the mat, off the cushion, off the app? Isn’t mindful action more important than mindful practice?

Where do we go from here? What is your passion? What do you want to change in this world? How will you show up as an authentic human being, connect to your purpose, and be the change you want to see on the planet?

And, to quote Mary Oliver “Tell me, what is it youplan to dowith your one wild and precious life?”

Investing in Insight Timer


Last December, Bridge Builders Collaborative led a financing round for Insight Timer, an Australian based company. They recently launched a new product — short and mobile courses. This launch represents a new chapter in the company’s history and a great opportunity to support teachers. We love supporting global platforms that can help people connect with themselves so they can lead healthier, happier lives. Insight Timer is such a platform. Here are some of the many reasons why we opted to support this innovative business.

1) Size and Growth of the Platform. There are more minutes of mindfulness practiced on Insight Timer than any other meditation app. Almost 4.5 million people have downloaded the app, and now over 1.2 million use it every month. On average, somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 new people join the community every day. I enjoy logging on in the morning and seeing that there have already been 300,000 to 400,000 meditations on the platform that day. It’s cool when I start my meditation knowing thousands of others are also using Insight Timer (the app shows how many people are meditating on the platform at any given moment). Sometimes when I meditate, I just try to connect into the energetic field of all of those meditating at the same time — it’s a powerful, positive force.

2) The Teachers. Insight Timer is all about the teachers — there are over 1,900 of them on the platform. These are teachers from multiple global spiritual traditions, from many different countries, teaching in over 20 languages. It is wonderful to have a space that serves so many teachers. Lots of our friends, like Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Sahdguru, Joan Halifax, Elisha Goldstein have content on Insight Timer. Many of the most well-known spiritual teachers and musicians are on Insight Timer, and the platform has many awesome less known teachers too. We love that teachers now have a place where they can share their content to a large, growing, and global audience — so their teachings have the opportunity to get more widely disseminated.

Unlike many apps or companies that interact with teachers, Insight Timer is flexible to their needs. There are no exclusivity clauses or contracts that teachers must sign, and whatever content they put on Insight Timer can be taken off at any time and be put elsewhere. Personally, I also like the musicians that are on Insight Timer. When I want to improve my focus at work, I will often find a 1/2 hour to 1 hour piece of music that can help me eliminate distractions.

3) The Insight Timer Community. When you finish a meditation on Insight Timer, you can see which of your “friends” have meditated with you as well as people in your local area who were meditating. Then if you want, you can see everyone else that meditated with you, although that would take some time because thousands of people are meditating at the same time from around the world.

Another great feature is that there are 5,000+ self-formed groups on the app, created around spiritual traditions, language groups, special interest areas (the environment, women), or any relevant topic that is of interest. I enjoy checking my gratitude group every once in awhile, just to see what people are grateful for on a given day.

4) Global Scale. Most mindfulness or spiritual apps start in one language that is then translated into other languages. Teachers voices get lost to translation. With Insight Timer, all teachers teach in their own language. As an example, Brazil has a large number of users because there are many Portugese teachers on the platform. In fact, the city with the most amount of Insight Timer users on Android is not New York, SF, London, or Toronto; it is Sao Paolo, Brazil.

5) Mindfulness Free for Everyone. Headspace (we are investors in Headspace) provides 10 free meditations and then the paywall goes up. Other mindfulness apps give you only 2–10 days before your free content ends; then you’re invited to pay either monthly, annually, or for a lifetime subscription. Actually, some apps require you to input a credit card to even access the whole platform for a free trial. Insight Timer is different. They believe that meditation by nature is meant to be freely accessible to all. Their model has over 9,500+ free meditations and talks on the platform and free content is added every day.

Why would you pay for an app with a few teachers when you can get 2,000 teachers for free?

They have added paid content for those who want special features or who want to take courses. Soon, users who want to express gratitude to teachers will be able to donate to them. The app will always have a free Meditation Timer and thousands upon thousands of free pieces of content.

6) Going deeper. Many meditation apps can be described as “gateway drugs.” They have wonderful content that is available for many people to be introduced to mindfulness. They help people become calm, maybe sleep better, and learn meditation. On Insight Timer, you can do all of that and you can go much deeper — into many spiritual traditions or into consciousness itself. There is no one path — only one’s individual path to growth on the platform.

As I have been talking to people from multiple communities, I find repeatedly that while meditation users start on places like Calm or Headspace, many graduate to Insight Timer. And they enjoy being part of a deeper global community. While writing this, I was speaking to a banker in San Francisco who has been on the Insight Timer platform for a year. He shared his gratitude about his use of and commitment to the community.

7) Building a Revenue Stream. As investors, it’s important for a company to create a path to meaningful revenue growth and to become profitable. We believe Insight Timer can be successful in generating revenue. What we like is that this platform is great for teachers, so we will only do as well as the teachers on the platform are doing. Our success as investors is determined by the platform’s ability to support and create revenue opportunities for the teacher community. To quote the company’s app in discussing the new courses, “Many publishing companies take up to 80% of the course fee, leaving teachers with as little as 20%. Our teachers receive 70% of the course fee (after app store commissions), ensuring they earn far more with Insight Courses.” We can see a day when teachers won’t need the expense of their own web sites because they can put their content and courses onto Insight Timer. This allows teachers to focus on what they do best, which is to inspire and help people along their paths of spiritual growth.

8) Something for Everyone. There is a wealth of diversity of content on the platform. There’s content from teachers from multiple spiritual and faith communities, including Islam, Mysticism, Buddhism, Shinto, Yogic Traditions, Christianity, Judiasm, Consciousness, and others. There’s content that addresses many different potential benefits for ones life — like sleep, clarity, body image, creativity, forgiveness, flow, gratitude, intuition, mindful parenting, and many others. For music lovers, there’s music with nature sounds, binural beats, classical music, drumming, ambient music, chanting, sound healing, and others.

So there’s something for anyone who wants to connect more deeply to themselves. There’s no doctrine or set path for personal and spiritual growth on Insight Timer — it’s your journey.

9) The CEO and the Team: We enjoy working with Christopher Plowman, CEO & Co-Founder, and his brother Nicho, Co-Founder and also a Vedic teacher. They purchased and expanded the business together and have assembled a passionate team in Sydney, committed to expanding global consciousness and dedicated to supporting teachers. As investors, we appreciate they are seasoned leaders who know how to grow a business and create value for shareholders. We like to work with leaders who are collaborative and willing to listen. As well, we enjoy adding value to the investments we make, which takes a receptive team. We’ve experienced this group to be open, active listeners, and collaborative.

The Many Reasons Organizations are Buying Mind-Training

Last week, I read the announcementthat Happify Health, one of our portfolio companies, is partnering with Progyny, a leading fertility benefits provider. Happify Health is creating proprietary digital tools aimed at giving Progyny members some resources to manage stress, anxiety, and negative emotions associated with infertility and fertility treatments.

Then, I read an article about SAP’semployee mindfulness program, which is part of a broader push by the company to tackle stress and improve employee health. The article says SAPis getting a 200% ROI on their mindfulness program.

These are reminders of why various organizations are incorporating mind-training solutions. For entrepreneurs, if you have a great, engaging platform in this space and a good sales force, as well as the ability to customize for the needs of the customer, you have the opportunity to create a good business. There are so many ways in which people are using mind-training. Below, I’ve outlined some of the reasons organizations are buying these solutions.

  1. Sleep Likely, one of the greatest needs organizations want to solve is sleep. Their employees are not getting enough of it and are not getting deep REM sleep that is so important for the brain’s functioning. Mindful Magazine reports that 80 million Americans have trouble falling asleep.Multiple mind-training companies are focusing on sleep solutions as lead products. A good example of this is Sleepio , which provides solutions to help employees sleep better. Other companies that provide mind-training put sleep solutions as part of a larger platform. Arianna Huffington’sThrive Globalputs a major focus on selling sleep products and solutions to employers. She even wrote a book called The Sleep Revolution.The companies buying these solutions want their employees to sleep better, enabling better focus at work and maintaining higher energy levels throughout the day.

  2. Stress — One of the biggest reasons why organizations are adopting mind-training is to reduce stress. We live in stressful world. About 70% of doctors’ visits are related to stress. As the work world gets more stressful, with more distractions, employees are needing to find ways to better cope with higher levels of stress. Stress leads to burnout, poor performance, in some cases, anxiety or depression, and can also effect sleep.

  3. Improved performance — An obviousreason that organizations are buying mind-training solutions is to improve performance. And it’s not just for corporations. The NBA has partnered with Headspace. Organizations like the Oakland A’s, Manchester United, and the Atlanta Falcons, use a product called NeuroTracker,created by Cognisens. Musehas been used by several Olympians, golfers, and in football. Professional athletes are using brain-training platforms and mindfulness to increase focus, improve reaction times, and even work better as a unit.

  4. Health — Another reason organizations are buying mind-training solutions is to actually treat illnesses and conditions.Akili Labs just raised $55 millionto help take their Project Evo game through the FDA for ADHD, and reports having a pipeline of indications for things like depression, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. Pear Therapeuticshas a host of mind-training programs used in combination with medications in the pipeline for FDA approval. There are companies like MedRthymsthat pursuing FDA approval for a combination of music therapy and a wearable device to help people recovering from stroke, Traumatic Brain Injuries or Parkinson’s disease. These types of mind-training products will likely be offered by hospitals and insurance companies. For example, Magellan Health is piloting a program with Peardesigned to measure clinical outcomes in patients with Substance Use Disorder, utilzing Pear’s reSET®, the first ever FDA cleared prescription digital therapeutic.

  5. Various Others — Some companies are using mind-training tools to improve safety, or to improve driver vigilance.Other organizations use mind-training platforms to help with patient experience, a reason Highmark brought in Cansurround. CanSurroundis an online network that envelops cancer patients with a wealth of emotional support and encouragement as they confront the disease. Better listening, more empathy and compassionfor fellow teammates, higher productivity, increased happiness, employee retention. Some use these types of programs to develop better emotional intelligencefor customer support people, who become better abled to empathize with their callers. And then there’s TimeShifter, which is using mind-training to help travelers with jet lag. The list of use cases seems endless.

At the end of the day, most organizations are looking for a return on investment regardless of the reason why they bring in mind-training programs. I’ll never forget listening to Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, speak at Wisdom 2.0 NYCmany years ago when he put up a slide saying they used eMindfulto provide a course for their employees that saved $3,000 per employee per year who had taken the program. I took a picture of the slide he showed, went home and found the company, and did the due diligence that led to Bridge Builders Collaborativeleading its Series A financing round for eMindful.

The Increasing Value of a Company's Mission


Having received inquiries about our slightly negavtive view on the structure of B Corps as investments, which I wrote in a recent blog, I wanted to share some thoughts.

I was in Toronto recently at the same time as Alan Murray of Fortune and in his conversations with Canadian business leaders, he wrote this:

“How to meld profit with purpose. The Council was hosted at a learning center run by two extraordinary young Canadians, Craig and Marc Kielburger, who created a group of organizations — WE Day, WE Charity, ME to WE — designed to help young people who want to become social entrepreneurs. In their book WEconomy, written with Richard Branson’s daughter Holly, the three say that in today’s economy: if brands can’t finish the sentence: I am making the world better because ______, they can’t and won’t compete. In a matter of decades, companies that disregard the health of the people and the planet will be obsolete. Let’s hope they are right; but in any event, it is encouraging to see their elders paying such close attention.”

This addressed my position on why we view B Corp as unnecessary for companies in mind-training. They are already mission based. If they deviate from the mission, they’re putting all stakeholders of their company at risk.

Last week, someone asked me how Bridge Builders Collaborative tracks the social impact of our companies. First, we have a social screen for investments and look for scientific validity of their concepts. If we get that right, then tracking distribution and sales informs us of their impact. If the companies have engaging and growing platforms, they’re having an impact. Also, many of our companies are researching the engagement and actual impact of their products with science. So in one sense, sales are our social tracking mechanism.

All of this reinforces my thinking that companies are going to have strong missions and live by core values in order to succeed in business. Maybe this is just wishful thinking. Are we entering a new level of business consciousness, or is technology just creating transparency? I’m not sure. As a leader, I’ve never been able to function successfully when I’m not supporting a vision that strongly resonates.

Our friend Bill George recently wrote this piece on leading in crisis, comparing Starbuck’s CEO Kevin Johnson’s response to the eviction of African American men in Philadelphia to Mark Zuckerberg’s response to the Cambridge Analytica problem. One lived in honesty and integrity and to core values, the other did not. In today’s world, transparency is increasing and young people are reacting quickly through social media. When a company does not live ethically or to its core values, the world knows and uses social media to swiftly punish unacceptable behavior, often impacting the company’s market valuation or sales.

I believe it is possible that boards will begin to consider the conscious leadership skills of the women and men they interview for CEO positions, because not only are they responsbile for creating and living the mission, but also the company’s brand depends on them to do so. Reactivity doesn’t work in today’s marketplace. Accountability does. Living to values does.

If you lead a company, define your mission; make sure your team knows exactly what it is; tell it to anyone who will listen; and, be damn sure you live by it. It’s no longer a fluffy thing — it’s crucial to the success of businesses in the modern world. Faking this through advertising no longer works.

Ten Suggestions for Better Board Meetings

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Many start-up founders do not have much experience working with Boards of Directors. This can lead to frustration for both the CEOs and the board members since both invest time and energy preparing for and attending meetings. A good Board of Directors partners with the CEO of the company, providing governance, experience, connections, and insight that can be invaluable.

Boards of Directors have a fiduciary responsibility, which they must take seriously, to the shareholders of the company. However, their engagement and support of a CEO and her/his team can be invaluable far past their governance obligations. They can be instrumental in supporting growth of the company.

There is no one right way to run a board meeting. Companies in very early stage will operate meetings differently than later stage companies. A typical pattern is for these meeting to become more formal as the company progresses from Seed Stage to Series A, B, or C and beyond. In my experience both as a CEO leading board meetings, and as a board member and board observer, I’ve gained insight as to how to conduct more productive board meetings. Here’s some recommendations.

  1. Send board materials to your board 4–5 days in advance (or even better, one week). This allows the board members time to review the updates. Don’t use your precious time with the board going through those decks. Addressing a few of the key pages of the board deck is fine. It is best if the board can come with an understanding of the business and spend time asking questions of what they reviewed. Too many times, I’ve witnessed frustration of board members who have sat through meetings getting new information presented to them that they didn’t have a chance to review beforehand.
  2. Consider starting the meeting with a brief mindfulness practice. You can do this in as little as 1–2 minutes. If the board members have the willingness to participate, people feel a deeper level of connection and are more present to the board business. Likely, your meeting will run more smoothly.
  3. Have as many meetings as possible in person. I find when people are on the phone for meetings, there can be more distractions. With smaller boards, phone or video conferences can be useful at times. However, if you’re including team members in the meeting and have board observers, it’s smart to be in person as often as feasible. Also, it gives board members time in your office, which helps them meet and interact with the team and experience the culture.
  4. Ask your board members at the beginning of the meeting if there’s anything they want to cover that is not on the agenda. This will allow you to see if there’s any issues or opportunities important to them that may need further information or discussion. Including and allowing your board this voice at the start of the meeting is a good idea. Set aside enough time in the meeting to cover their requests and make sure you listen.
  5. Don’t just view board meetings as a time to update the board, consider them as an opportunity to ask for help. Good boards help to add value to your enterprise. Most of us want to support your team. Come with a list of ways that the board can help you — strategy, contacts, unanswered questions about the business. Ask specifically who can help with what issue and schedule a follow up on requested items.
  6. In my experience, it is helpful for board members to spend time getting to know each other socially. I don’t find every board to be cohesive, and sometimes it’s because the members haven’t really gotten to know each other. This can be challenging for start-ups because board members tend to change every time there’s a new financing. Having board dinners the night before a meeting is one way to spend time socially. Board meetings normally operate more smoothly the better people know each other.
  7. Your boards can change frequently, especially if you’re fundraising every 12–18 months. Continue to engage investors as they leave your board. Be specific in things they can do to help you. The more engaged and supportive your investors are, even if they are not at a board meeting, the more likely they are to add value. Don’t spend much time with those who are not adding value. Most investors want to be updated and included. So, be specific in asking them to support you in ways they can add value and hold them to their commitments.
  8. There are different ebbs and flows to the time between board meetings. Some companies have monthly board calls with quarterly in-person meetings and some may only have meetings quarterly. Regardless of your individual circumstance, a monthly update letter showing highlights and challenges as well as financials and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is essential to keep your board up to speed.
  9. Make sure you have enough time allotted for your Board meetings. It can be annoying if you set aside 2 hours when there is actually 3 hours of business. What sometimes happens is that a board gets sidetracked on an issue that’s important to them that may not have been foreseen by the CEO. Then, they rush through material that is worth greater attention and focus. Typically, I find there isn’t enough time allocated for many board meetings.
  10. As you get into later stages, make sure to allot time for “in-camera” sessions, which is when board members meet without the CEO. This allows the investors time to discuss any issues without the CEO being present. It allows for good feedback for the CEO. Schedule this every time, because if it’s done only periodically, a CEO may feel they’ve done something wrong.

Board meetings can either drain or energize a CEO and can be a source of engagement or frustration for board members. My attitude is always that the more I know and feel updated, the more Bridge Builders Collaborativepartners can add value to the investment.

My Top 10 Spiritual Growth Experiences

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In my work as an investor focused on the mind-training space, I have the opportunity to experiment with many different tools, products, and services. As a human, I’m committed to transformation, to living authentically, and to expanding my own consciousness. There are many paths for the journey, and not one that’s right for everyone. As an investor, I look to find leaders who are open and committed to their own paths. I don’t need anyone to follow my way, but I look for a willingness for them to explore their own paths.

On my journey, I have created a top 10 list. They are in no particular order of importance. They are meant to open up a dialog about what works for others. There are many people I advise, such as Consciousness Hacking, Instittute of Noetic Sciences, the Transformative Technology Lab and others who are innovating new paths to support personal growth. And while many great new technologies are being created, there are many old technologies that have worked really well for me.

Here’s my top 10 list for spiritual awakening & transformation:

  1. Spiritual Reteats and Pilgrimages: One of the most transformative times of my life was a spiritual pilgrimage to Peru led by my friend, Maureen Pelton, whom years later would become my wife. The intention held for this experience was to support transformation. Facilitated by Maureen’s widsom, leadership, intuition, gifts, and also by the spiritual energies of Peru, the two week experience was profound, magical and powerful. I came back a different man, much more in tune with my own spiritual nature. It is not my intention to describe the experience here. If interested in hearing the music I wrote about my expereinces in Peru, you can purchase my album, Pilgrimage, in the iTunes Store. I encourage anyone who feels an urge to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to do so.
  2. Insight Timer: There is no other mindfulness app that I have used as long and consistently as Insight Timer. I first used the product years ago after briefly meeting the owners, Chriistopher and Nicho Plowman, at Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco. Last year, Soren Gordhammer, founder of Wisdom 2.0 and Tim Chang of The Mayfield Fund recommended that I reconnect with the company, which was considering raising capital. I began to explore the app and now use it almost every day. Bridge Builders Collaborative recently invested in the company to help it grow. I love the timer, the music, and the breadth of teachers on the platform. As I got to know the company better, I began to understand the intentions behind the platform, which only made me want to engage further.
  3. Questions: Good questions are a huge service to mindful and conscious living. In my case, I appreciate and acknowledge my wife, Maureen, who asks the most penetrating and timely questions of anyone I’ve met. Her questions pierce through my resistance and bullshit. They are asked from a place of unconditional love — she will not accept me being less than I am. Sometimes, I don’t like her questions. After an initial reaction, I normally pause and reflect, allowing the question to penetrate to a deeper truth and an opportunity to shift by beliefs, stories, or conditioning. My hope is that everyone can find friends and loved ones who will ask penetrating questions in support of their personal growth.
  4. BodySound Technologies: In our house, we call this “The Chair.” BodySound was one of the first companies Bridge Builders considered seven years ago. The premise behind what the founder describes as a “spiritual technology” is simple. The product is a sleek reclined chair, which has both speakers and a “transducer” that infuses sound into your body. As you sit in the chair and close your eyes, you begin to shut down the visual cortex of your brain. After a few minutes of listening to “layered” music that the company produced, your brain can’t make sense of it and your auditory cortex begins to shut down. Finally, because of the transducer that is made of a pound of aluminum that vibrates to the music, your body’s tactile cortex begins to shut down. The vibrating aluminum acts to ground people in their bodies. The experience is driven by intention, and many who have tried the product have remarkable spiritual experiences. We didn’t end up investing in the company, but I still use the technology periodically. By the way, “The Chair” experience got even more interesting when I used Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s CDs of the recordings from NASA of the sounds of planets recorded by the Voyager Spacecraft. Dr. Thompson is a sound specialist and founder of the Center of Neuroacoustic Research
  5. Silent Retreat: Two years ago, I decided to take a nine day solo silent meditation retreat. While I had been to weekend retreats with hours of silence, and try to meditate 10 -20 minutes most days, I had never been on a silent (or a solo) retreat. Before starting, I experienced trepidation of being in silence for a week — with no phone, no internet, no screen time, no people, nothing. My fear went away within hours of the first day. I loved the silence, meditating daily for 6–7 hours. I loved the walks — appreciating with joy my dog’s experiences on walks — and also feeling gratitude for the trees, flowers, birds, and sky. In general, I loved this experience, which was one of profound joy. My goal is to make this an annual event.
  6. Smith Lowdown Focus mPowered by Muse: Last fall, Smith (the Optics company known for making sport performance sunglasses), launched the Lowdown Focus, mPowered by Muse. This was an interesting collaboration for the industry and I really like the sunglasses. Muse is Interaxon’s “brain sensing headband,” a consumer EEG that is used to help people track their meditation experience. The Muse was launched several years ago, and is now sold on Amazon, in places like Best Buy Canada, and online. The Muse is a great experience, with the drawback being that the headband was not wearable throughout the day. When Interaxon and Smith launched the Lowdown Focus glasses, it meant anyone could wear a pair of sunglasses all day, and just press a button to start an EEG session.
  7. Flotation Chambers: I recently tried a flotation chamber and loved it. As I entered a “pod” filled with water and 1,300 pounds of Epsom Salts, I began to float in utter darkness with no sound. I imagine the experience is akin to floating in the universe. It was easy to just stop thinking and just start being. After awhile, I realzed that I was still holding on with some of my muscles and didn’t need to — another opportunity to let go. The hour of no sound, light, and floating effortlessly went by in no time. I found it a profound way to relax.
  8. iTunes playlists. Sometimes, I open my iTunes playlist and ask the Universe a question. Or, I request a song for the day. Over the years, I’ve been blown away (sometimes to tears, sometimes to laughter), by the answers I receive through songs that are already on my playlist. The Universe is incredibly creative, and I have found it has multiple ways of communicating with us if we’re open to listening. I can be stubborn when it comes to listening. Sometimes, a higher power just needs to kick my ass.
  9. Nature: A few months ago, I wrote a blog called “Nature: My Mindfulness App.” That explains my love of nature. Nature has been a partner in many of my most profound spiritual experiences, and also has been a co-author of some of my music.
  10. Whale Song: One of the most intense spiritual experiences I have encountered was floating 20 feet above a singing Humpback Whale. My wife knew of an animal communicator, Theresa Wagner, who organizes a whale trip for a small group in the Domincan Republic. We spent several days on a boat, one of the few that is authorized by the DR government to operate out of Silver Bank — roughly 100 miles offshore. Every day, we would go out in small boats and respectuflly approach humpbacks or they would approach us. One day we were guided to a stationary whale who was singing. As we neared the whale, we got out of the boat with snorkels and began to slowly swim closer. The whale was massive and 20 feet below us as it began singing. The song instantly reverberated in my heart. It was so beautiful and penetrating that my eyes began to add more salt water to the ocean. The love that I experienced in that song isn’t something that words can communicate.

My intention in sharing these expereinces is to encourage others to pursue whatever growth in whatever way best suits them. I’m interested, what’s worked for you?

Leading the Way in Behavioral Health

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This week, I am moderating a panel with four highly innovative companies at NatCon18 — the annual conference of the National Council of Behavioral Health in Washington DC. I have the privilege of serving as an advisor to several efforts advancing innovative approaches in the mental and behavioral health fields, such as The Kennedy ForumBrain Futures, and SharpBrains.

In a future blog, I’ll be covering what’s happening in the behavioral and mental health care arena. Today, I’ll highlight four innovative companies on the panel. My panelists are just a sampling of the many great entrepreneurs who are tackling the challenge of improving access and engagement with our mental health system. They are trying to decrease the stigma of mental health and to create lower cost solutions that may reduce our high use of pharmaceutical interventions. In the end, we need a system that values mental health equally to how we value physical health.

Here are four great examples of innovative companies and leaders in the field, joining me on the panel.

Edovo: How do you scale Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the US prison system? You buy a phone company. Edovo’s mission is to provide meaningful access to education, communication, and self-improvement tools that can unlock the potential of every person affected by incarceration. Every year, 12 million people in the US will see the inside of a jail or prison cell. Edovo bought a phone company so they could gain access to the system and provide SEL content on a communication device prisoners consistently use. Edovo’s secure digital technology is a platform that provides prison and jail facilities with a safer environment and unlimited access to self-improvement tools while behind bars. Brian Hill is the Founder and CEO. I’m sure he will talk about high levels of engagement by their users!

Happify Health is an engagement platform taking the science of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy and gamifying it. Their vision is to provide improved access to effective and appealing behavioral care. The company’s platform provides highly engaging, individualized, and evidence-based pathways to improved emotional health. Happify provides solutions for conditions using 60+ digital programs and tools designed specifically to motivate individuals to address the full range of their emotional needs. The app addresses general well-being to chronic health conditions, ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain and insomnia. I’m excited that Laurie Zaugg, COO of Happify Health and a very seasoned health care executive, will join our panel. She helps lead a team that works with clients ranging from large corporations, to insurance companies, to health care systems, as well as other large organizations.

Interaxon is the company that makes the Muse™ brain sensing headband. Interaxon sells a four channel EEG headband, which is sold online, at, in Best Buy Canada, and at other retailers around the world. A couple years ago, psychotherapists began contacting the company telling stories of how they were using the Muse™ to support their patients growth. The therapists were able to recommend the brain sensing headband to their clients not only as a way of helping them reduce their stress through meditation, but also as a way to track whether they were adhering to the recommendations of the therapist. As well, the Muse™ became a tool that would allow the psychotherapist to track the progress of their patients. Interaxon has developed the largest EEG brain database in the world and has been used in several research studies by leading institutions. Graeme Moffat, Interaxon’s Chief Science Officer, will add the voice of the science community to our discussion.

myStrength is a company that arose from a deep passion to help those challenged with behavioral health disorders and from personal stories of those who experienced the impact of disorders on people they loved. Their intention is to help reduce suffering. myStrength has a digital platform combining a large range of efficacy-based models with great design to offer the end users a impactful experience. Their digital behavioral health solutions empower individuals with engaging, clinically-proven resources. Their platform helps address issues like stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and substance abuse. They work with some of the largest health plans, integrative health systems, and community behavioral health systems in the countryScott Cousineau, the CEO of myStrength, will be sharing his experience.

I love getting to know and working with entrepreneurs and leaders who have such passion for their missions, their teams, and helping to bring innovation into the world of mental and behavioral health.

Ten Tips for Entrepreneurs Seeking Financing


A myriad of entrepreneurs, who have amazing personal stories fueling their innovative mind-training enterprises, approach me seeking investment and counsel. Bridge Builders Collaborative loves the entrepreneurial spirit. We are impassioned by supporting great ideas and entrepreneurs in scaling innovation for a healthier, happier world. I have a lot of respect and compassion for entrepreneurs seeking investment. It’s not easy.

After seven years of intereacting with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’ve compiled ten tips on how to approach our Collaborative. Maybe it will be helpful for other investor pitches. I’m hoping this makes fundraising more productive for entrepreneurs.

  1. I like to start conversations with entrepreneurs by asking a question about their personal journey. I want to learn more about them and what drives them. The more they are willing to be vulnerable and authentic, the more I’m interested in learning about their endeavor. I am seeking to build a relationship. Many people think we invest in businesses — but that is only part of the story. We invest in great people whom we believe have the capacity to scale a mind-training company.
  2. I’ve had several experiences where CEOs have spent 40 minutes talking about their business, without a pause or checking in with me. Since I’m looking for a relationship, this approach doesn’t work. I can “Shark Tank” a business model in a few minutes to determine preliminary interest. What I want is to get to know the leader and have them get to know us. Ask us questions. Engage us. Pause, and include us. We are looking for partners.
  3. Many CEOs believe they need to have all of the answers and need to be right. I appreciate when people have experience they bring to their business and also know they don’t have all the answers. I want to discern their ability to be curious, their willingness to not be right, and their openness to others opinions.
  4. Come with some knowledge about us. We are passionate about this space. If you don’t have questions about us, then I assume you’re just wanting our capital. We view capital as our least valuable resource.
  5. Please don’t presume I’ve read the deck you sent. Usually I have, but I’m interested in hearing you tell your story anyway. Leave plenty of time for questions.
  6. Once, a company sent me a pitch deck that predicted they’d achieve $2 billion in sales in just 3 years (for a hardware product). Six years later, I think they’re generating $3 million. I’m all for optimistic approaches. However if the approaches are not defendable, there’s little chance we’ll pursue.
  7. I want to know how much you and your team are experienced in the business model you’re trying to pursue. For instance, I have not yet met an entrepreneur who has accurately predicted how long it takes to get a product into a health insurance company or a health care system. I want to know if you have a general understanding of how those systems work if you’re going to sell to them.
  8. We are not fond of B-Corps. We believe if a company has a powerful mission statement and strong core values, a B corp structure is unnecessary. Typically, a B-Corp is meant to enable board member to make decisions that reflect social and shareholder considerations. Given today’s marketplace, we increasingly see customers buying products and services because of a mission. So if your board makes decisions that deviate from your mission, the marketplace will react promptly and harshly.
  9. When I see start-up CEOs with a fantastic mission and a goal of starting a non-profit arm or giving a bunch of money away to non-profits, I take a deep breath. And then I take another deep breath. Then, I share my perspective. If you have an incredible mission, you don’t need to give money away to non-profits, or ask your investors to give up their return so that you can give money away. You’re already changing the world. I love strategies that give away the brand experience to people who can’t access or afford it — Toms is a great example. However, giving money to other non-profits is a red light for me.
  10. Back to relationships. The chance of success with an investment pitch is pretty low. I’ve reviewed several hundred plans and we’ve made 10 investments. However, I’ve built collaborative relationships with many people in the space. As this space grows and as innovators merge and consolidate or partner, the value of having a good relationship is beneficial for both of us. I’m happy to get to know you without attachment to an outcome. Opportunities naturally emerge over time.

Regardless if we invest, we are supporters of the entire field. We love to collaborate, and we wish you great success even if you’re not a fit for us.

Is There a Market for Happiness Apps?

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Flying on Delta Airlines this month, you’ll find me in the seat pocket in front of you. Buckle your seatbelt, grab a Delta Sky Magazine, and turn to an article entitled “Who says you can’t buy Happiness?” You’ll find me there as the author discusses the Happiness market, the size of the addressable market, how an investor might look at it, and then speaks about some of the companies in the marketplace.

The marketplace for well-being is hard to estimate, but on all accounts it appears massive. Ofer Leidner, the President of Happify (one of our portfolio companies), says in the article that the market is worth $750 billion dollars. As I read this, my first response was one of sadness, because a market that large means billions are suffering. However, as a conscious investor with a mission to help people connect more deeply with themselves so they can live healthier, happier lives, I see opportunities to support change and create meaningful investment returns.

According to the the American Psychological Association (APA), only 33% of Americans are happy. Fifty-two percent are completely dissatisfied with their jobs. Stress is reported to be on the rise, fueled currently by concern over our nation’s future. This has numerous consequences for individuals, families, companies, our health care system, our military, our schools, etc.

We’ve been supporting many companies who are trying to address this problem. But after reading the article, I came away with more questions:

  1. How big do you think the Happiness market could be?
  2. What is larger, the Happiness market or the Unhappiness market?
  3. Do all people want to be happy?
  4. What is the best way to quickly scale enterprises that can help people become more happy?
  5. What are the things in your life that make you the most happy?
  6. If we were all happier, where would we shift our focus of attention?
  7. If we shifted our focus of attention, what industries would be threatened?

While we are passionate about our mission at Bridge Builders Collaborative, we also believe there is a lot of wealth to be created in helping solve the great problem of unhappiness. Some of that is financial wealth that will accrue to investors, some of that is wealth that will support employees, and some of it is spiritual wealth that will benefit our collective consciousness.

I want humanity to fly (I love to fly Delta, but that’s not the kind of flying I’m talking about). I want people to connect to their purpose, have healthy and authentic relationships, and enjoy the time they are given on this beautiful planet. As you read this article, I’m wondering what you think.

So let’s come together, put our seat backs and our tray tables up as we get ready for landing. We are not going to solve these problems in the air. We must be grounded, practical, willing to take some risk, utilize practices that support our well-being, and change our behaviors — all to create a happier planet.

Proliferation of Mindfulness Apps

Who would have thought that a meditation app would be worth a quarter of a billion dollars? Now, there are two.

This week, we learned that Calm is raising $25 million at a valuation of $250 millionHeadspace has already raised several rounds of financing, securing over $75 million with a valuation estimated at around the same level as Calm.

As I learned of this news, I had many conversations this week with other entrepreneurs who are wanting to launch their own mindfulness apps. There are now hundreds, if not thousands of these apps. It leads me to a wonder, how many mindfulness apps do we need and how does the future look for them?

Many of the investor decks I review for meditation apps have similar premises. They show a growing need to confront societal stress or other health issues, have interest in spreading mindfulness, and possess research that seems to indicate that mindfulness can be helpful in many ways. After I glance over these slides in company investor presentations, I’m interested to learn what these entrepreneurs see as their company’s unique point of difference.

I was struck by two conversations I had this week after viewing presentations. The entrepreneurs asked me what I thought their point of difference was. It’s a good question. However if an entrepreneur is asking that question without conviction of what is wholly different and unique and setting them apart in the marketplace, they are not likely to be successful in a saturated field.

The trends on which I see apps focussing include: specific teachers, targeting health conditions, adding new features that others don’t currently have, and segmenting target audiences. And, some think their scientific credentials might be better than others.

One of my concerns is the number of entrepreneurs who have gone on a meditation retreat or had a recent transformative experience and are now attempting to change the world with another new mindfulness app. I’m much more interested when an entrepreneur has had a deeper and longer experience with the practice. And, I am listening for how these entrepreneurs have actually integrated the practice into their lives.

While I wonder what the future of mindfulness apps may be, I increasingly tell people:

  1. If you’re launching a mindfulness app around a teacher, use a platform instead. We like Insight Timer (and we are investors in the company) . It’s a great place for teachers to be able to share their wisdom and insights.
  2. If you are an entrepreneur who believes you can launch a mindfulness app to compete with well-funded brands, I wish you luck. And, I believe it will be very difficult to succeed.
  3. If you’re an entrepreneur that wants to create an app that’s targeted and build a smaller business where you don’t need to raise a lot of investment capital, there are opportunities to do that. It could be that there are several smaller apps in the future that generate $300,000 to $500,000 per year without needing to raise millions in outside capital while providing good wages and payouts for the owners.
  4. The science of meditation does not prove the science of your app.

Althought I continue to speak with entrepreneurs about these apps, I am more and more skeptical that new entrants can be successful. I still believe it’s possible a new and fresh approach could either succeed or could be added to a larger platform.

Congratulations to Alex Tew and the team at Calm on the fundraise (we are not investors in Calm but I’ve always liked their product — we are investors in Headspace). In the end, it appears as if there is still a lot of excitement in the investment markets to support unique and differentiated mindfulness apps.

Living in the Questions

When Bridge Builders Collaborative started investing in mind-training, we were questioning whether the science of brain fitness had reached a point where innovative applications could be scaled through investment. Seven years later, that question has been answered. However, as we deepen are understanding of this movement and as more opportunitites evolve in the field, many more questions arise. Here are some questions for consideration. I hope these questions will ignite other questions — please feel free to post yours, or send them to me.

1. Is mindfulness just a passing fad?

2. The physical fitness industry exploded 30 years ago, and yet our country is seemingly less physically healthy than it was then. Will the same thing happen in the mind-training space?

3. Will the U.S. ever value mental health as we appear to value physical health?

4. Will mindfulness be reimbursed by insurance companies? When will that happen (or is it already in some cases)?

5. What role does the wearables segment have to play in the emergence of mind-training?

6. Will software ever be proven to be more effective than pharmaceuticals for mental or behavioral health conditions?

7. Will caring ever become a valued currency?

8. Will our species consciousness evolve faster than technology, and if not, will we be able to survive as a species?

9. How will Artificial Intelligence contribute or play a role in the burgeoning mind-training space.

10. What role will Virtual Reality play in the evolution of the mind-training field?

11. How can emotional intelligence become a standard part of curriculum for youth? Could it become more important than grades and test scores?

12. How will spiritual teachers be included and valued as interest in this sector grows (this is a topic for a future blog)?

13. Who will be the first mind-training unicorn? Does it matter?

14. Will there be a “roll-up” play or consolidation in the industry and if so, when will market conditions be right for that to happen?

15. What roles in mind-training can be replaced by robots? Perhaps, psychotherapists, doctors, mindfulness teachers? Others?

16. Will meditation studios become as ubiquitous as yoga studios?

17. How can we more effectively heal trauma?

18. Since almost all of our spiritual traditions are patriarchies, will we ever consider changing them?

19. How can we ensure we include diversity in the movement?

20. Is there a tipping point to any of this and have we reached that tipping point?

Along my journey, I increasing learn more and realize how much I don’t know. I have questions, more than answers. And I’m interested in yours.

Investing in Mind-Training


Entrepreneurs continuously ask me, “What is Bridge Builders Collaborative looking for in investments?” Having made ten investments over the past several years, I can offer the following considerations as part of our decision making process:

1. We are investors in mind-training. We look for companies whose product or service helps people connect more deeply to themselves, so they can live happier, healthier lives. We look for enterprises with a social mission that we believe can impact a large number of people. Some examples of our investments include: companies improving mind-training through mindfulness practices, platforms offering access to wisdom, innovations addressing mental and behavioral health, technology increasing training outcomes through a better learning platform and assessments, and a platform to support finding relationships and connection.

2. We typically invest in Series A or Series B offerings. Our capital is provided to entrepreneurs who have a clear strategy to high growth and have tested their business model to the point we can help the enterprise to scale. Typically we look for companies that have at least $1 M in revenue.

3. We invest in collaborative, authentic leaders who are passionate about their missions. We work best with entrepreneurs who are willing to listen to our counsel and have managed egos. Our goal is to be partners with our companies.

4. Companies of interest have significant sustainable points of difference from others in the marketplace. Those points of difference can vary from intellectual property, to differentiated approaches, to proven scientific validity, to strong brand recognition, to comprehensive data sets.

5. Scientific validity is very important. Our intention is to back companies that have great science that underpins their products or services.

6. While we are focused on high growth businesess, we also focus on cash flow. We look for credible pathways to positive cash flow.

7. Finally, we consider the distribution channels the company is pursuing along with their expertise in areas in which they want their products to sell. We have invested in both B2C, B2B, and B2B2C companies. We have companies that sell into retail channels, through the app store, into large corporations, into insurance companies, and into the medical system. Each of these channels acts differently, and we want to ensure the companies are experienced in selling into those channels or have the capacity to pivot.

As a group of experienced, collaborative, and compassionate investors, we believe we add four things to our investments:

  1. Counsel — Bridge Builders Collaborative partners have deep business experience and can help entrepreneurs by sharing their wisdom and practical experience.
  2. Connections — We have access to a wide range of connections that can support entrepreneurs.
  3. Credibility — We are well known as a value added investor in the mind-training ecosystem.
  4. Cash — While entrepreneurs might believe this is our most valuable contribution, we belive it is our least.

To learn more, check out our portfolio companies.

Mind-Training Goes to School

Many innovative efforts having been bringing mindfulness, yoga, and compassion into school systems and into the lives of young people. The majority of programs are gaining momentum and expanding because of significant positive results. Parents, teachers, coaches, and others working with youth are seeing a multitiude of changes in children and teenagers. They report witnessing kids with a greater ability to focus, with more resilience to stress and anxiety, and with more problem solving skills. School systems see results in less detentions, better classroom environments, more focused students, and greater teacher resilience. And some students are coming home and teaching their parents how to practice mindfulness.

This week, I intend to highlight three amazing organizations that are creating real changes for kids, teachers, parents, and educational systems. There are many other organizations doing great work in this field as well.

MindUP™ is a program of the Hawn Foundation, founded in 2003 by Goldie Hawn. Goldie wanted to support educators in improving student focus and engagement. One of her aims was to bring joy back into the classroom. MindUP™ is designed to help reduce stress and anxiety so kids can both enjoy and improve engagement in their learning. MindUP™ is now taught on 5 continents and in over 12 countries. It has reached 6 million school kids.

Goldie has told me that her intention is not just about helping teachers and kids to improve learning, but also about supporting people to live with open hearts.


Holistic Life Foundation was founded in the inner-city schools of Baltimore, MD, by three incredible men, who embody unconditional love. Brothers Ali & Atman Smith and Andy Gonzales founded the organization to help students cope with the anxieties and stresses in their lives. As schools began to adopt the program, they found incredible results. In some schools, detention was eliminated because students where sent to Mindful rooms instead of the Principal’s office. Schools use a Mindful Moment 15 minute meditation to help kids get into focus at the beginning of their school day. The program provides meditation and yoga practices and is now in 22 Baltimore schools and growing.

The non-profit has expanded by teaching other people from across the world how to bring these programs into their schools and by providing teacher trainings for their approach and curriculum. In addition, they employ students, who had participated in their program and have graduated, creating new jobs in the inner-city.

Recently, my wife and I had an opportunity to enjoy a desert adventure with their joyful presence.

IBme, Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, was founded by Jessica Morey as a way to help take students deeper: into themselves, into community and relationships, and into vulnerability & authenticity. iBme’s programs introduce young people to transformative practices and activities that foster self-awareness, compassion, focus, and better communication. They have a variety of programs and retreats, including a one week wilderness experience that provides students with mindfulness practices within the context of Mother Nature.

Having recently attended an event with Jessica and some students who had attended iBme’s programs, I was impressed by the presence, self-awareness, and composure of these teens. Here are some comments made by the participants of iBme:

“My experience was life-changing.”

“What you experience is a deep familiarity with yourself.”

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

“It gives us time when you are really just allowed to be silent, and it’s ok.”

“Surrounded by people who appreciate and don’t judge you.”

I have briefly mentioned three examples of innovative efforts that are providing mind-training to our youth. Currently, the most comprehensive study of integrating mental fitness, wellness, and compassionate character into K-12 education is The Compassionate Schools Project in Louisville, KY. I intend to highlight their efforts in the future.

The Intersection of Wisdom & Technology

Wisdom 2.0 has been a leading force in coalescing the mind-training field. As the vision of Soren Gordhamer, Wisdom 2.0 has become a community that facilitates discussions focused on exploring the intersectionality of wisdom traditions and the world of technology. Started as an annual event in San Francisco several years ago, the conference has expanded into several events in New York, Singapore, Hawaii, and other venues such as community meet-ups. The intention is to bring together wisdom teachers, business leaders, spiritual seekers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and others, who are interested in incorporating wisdom traditions with technology movements.

Having recently attended my sixth Wisdom 2.0, I was reminded by thousands of people from more than 30 countries how transformative the mind-traing field has become. I have thoroughly enjoyed attending the conferences. At the same time over the years, I have observed a lack of diversity in both participants and speakers as well as a focus on mindful meditation at the expense of mindful action. In addition, many participants have commented on a a club-like atmosphere developing, as happens with many annual conferences.

However, the energy of this year’s conference shifted, both in increasing the diversity of speakers and audience participants and also in the encouragement of taking action. I witnessed an emerging shift with a powerful force of strong female leaders, a diverse group of speakers, and a focus on action. The feminine experience had a stronger presence.

A highlight of the conference for me was hearing Tarana Burke, Founder of the #MeToo Movement, tell the story of how her work, which started in 2005, was ignited and launched into a global movement this past year. I heard her concern that once this happened she’d be forgotten because so many black women, who have done remarkable things, have seen their work erased in our culture.

Roshi Joan Halifax and Sharon Salzberg were interviewed by Karen May of Google. When asked what was present to her at this moment, Roshi Joan commented on the courage of the Parkland students.

I was inspired by Ivy Ross of Google. She spoke about how she leads a large team by consciously using both her feminine and masculine qualities in encouraging and empowering others.

I heard my partner Bo Shao, Founder of the Evolve Foundation and a Bridge Builders Collaborative Partner, talk deeply from the heart about his life story, which inspired the launching of a $100 M fund to support entrepreneurs in the consciousness and spirituality space.

There was much more diversity in the people passing by in the hallways. I had more conversations about deeper levels of conscious awareness, and less discussions about mindfulness itself. There were more entrepreneurs focused on deeper levels of consciousness that approached me.

It was heartwarming to see the shift of energy and consciousness, and I applaud Soren and his team for facilitating a dialogue that has encouraged wisdom practices to evolve into mindful activism. My sense is there is still more work to be done to increase diversity, to facilitate group action, and to improve access to other communities.

Mindfulness isn’t just about meditation, being in the moment, and practicing non-judgement. It’s about showing up as a human being, knowing your purpose, and taking action to improve not only your own condition, but also supporting others in improving theirs. It’s about speaking truth to power: honestly, forcefully, and with empathy and compassion.

Nature, My Mindfulness App

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A couple years ago, at a Mindful Leadership Conference, I was asked the question, “What is your favorite mindfulness app?”

The answer was simple: Mother Nature.

In my role at Bridge Builders Collaborative, I’ve had the opportunity to test, evaluate, and review opportunities to invest in many mindfulness and meditation apps. According to many sources, there are now more than 1,000 mindfulness apps in the iTunes and Android stores. There’s likely to be a whole lot more. The proliferation of mindfulness apps has been interesting to watch — and in future blogs, I’ll speak about some of the varieties and characteristics designed into different approaches and platforms.

As more people are benefiting from some mindfulness apps, I have a concern about using technology as the primary source of connection.

From my own practice, I find that nature is the best mindfulness app for a host of reasons. First, when in nature I feel connected to the Earth, connected to other beings. I feel a reverent awe for the creation of the universe and the beauty I can see, guiding me to connect more deeply to the beauty inside of myself. In nature, I find connection to the collective consciousness, to something that is greater than myself. I find joy in witnessing the beauty of a sunset, the flight of a hummingbird, and the elegance of a pink rose. The more present I am in nature, the more awestruck I become.

Over the past several years, science has been validating the relationship between nature connectedness and happiness as well as psychological well-being and mental health.

I encourage the use of mindfulness apps and the intention behind many of them. The apps offer an invitation to find opportunities during the day to become present, grounded, centered, focused. Clearly, they serve a purpose in our technology enmeshed lives, and it is important to remember that connecting with nature is a technology free path to presence and flourishing. I encourage everyone to spend more time outside, enjoying the beauty of Mother Nature.

Pushing the Boundaries of VR

Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium on March 5–6 at the Harvard Medical School, will provide an overview of how the coming wave of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology will impact medicine, clinical care, and personal health and wellness. Having been invited to speak on an investment panel, I’m excited and energized to hear the latest updates from the attendees and speakers — some of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs, doctors, and companies integrating VR into our culture. I have researched several investments in this area, and have observed how some of our portfolio companies are exploring how to integrate VR into their service offerings.

As a participant in several conferences, I’ve had interesting experiences with VR. I’ve tested VR applications supporting meditation and mindful practices, overcoming phobias, being taught by a VR teacher, and shifting focus as a way to reduce pain. One of our companies, Interaxon, has demoed a technology integrating electroencephalogram (EEG) so that you can partially control a VR experience using your mind. While I’m not considering buying VR hardware for my personal use, I am convinced it is becoming increasingly valuable as a tool used in various distribution systems — movie theaters, entertainment facilities, doctors offices, recovery centers, hospitals, and nursing homes.

One such effort is coming out of USC’s Innovation Lab, which assists people in becoming more empathetic and compassionate towards the suffering of others. Although entertainment, social connection, and gaming will drive the initial adoption of VR and AR technology, the deepest and most significant impact of the next generation of VR/AR technology will be to enhance clinical care and to improve personal health and wellness. VR and AR technology will also help facilitate the shift of medicine to direct personal care. While seeing practical benefits that keep me curious, we have not made a specific investment in this field yet.

As Bridge Builders Collaborative considers VR and how it can help in the mind-training field, I am observing:

1. Will VR become ubiquitous? As VR continues to envelop our culture, I see significant benefits of use in segments of the population with particular needs or conditions. Will VR be used as a mind-training tool to support treatment or healing within those populations?

2. What type of companies will be the long winners in the VR space? Will it be the hardware companies, content creators, or other companies that integrate VR into larger platforms.

3. What is an ownable investment thesis regarding VR? First, I wonder whether existing companies will just integrate content in their offerings or if whole content companies will form who dominate the ecosystem.

Dr. Walter Greenleaf of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab is an innovative leader in this field. According to Dr. Greenleaf, “We know from decades of clinical research that VR/AR technology can provide breakthrough solutions that address the most difficult problems in healthcare — ranging from mood disorders such as Anxiety and Depression to PTSD, Addictions, Autism, Cognitive Aging, Stroke Recovery and Physical Rehabilitation, to name just a few.” At the upcoming Symposium at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Greenleaf and his colleagues are assembling leaders pushing the boundaries of applied VR within healthcare to help fuel collaboration, exploration, and discussion.

I’m curious about others’ experience with VR and how you see it impacting physical or mental health. Please share your insights.

The Digiceutical Revolution

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Could you imagine your doctor prescribing a video game instead of a drug, or in combination with a drug, for a variety conditions? Believe it or not, it’s already happening, and there is a word for it — digiceuticals.

Last year was a significant time for the integration of mind-training innovations into mainstream approaches to human flourishing. Many meaningful breakthroughs, public announcements, and company financings led me to believe this global movement is gaining traction. Perhaps, the most significant news in the field was PEAR Therapeutics receiving Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for reSET® app, a software product to be used in conjunction with standard outpatient treatment for substance use disorder (SUD).

FDA approval of reSET® sent tidal waves across the mind-training landscape. It proved that a government regulated software product might actually have a pathway to insurance reimbursement. The implications are unlimited for a multitude of players in the health care system: consumers, providers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and clinics, health insurers, and other startups in the space.

Recently, I was encouraged by A new sort of health app can do the job of drugs,an article in The Economist, which provides interesting insights into what’s happening in the field, and the implications for current innovators in the space.

Pear Therapeutics, along with companies like Akili InteractiveClick TherapeuticsWellDoc, and more than a hundred others are pursuing strategies akin to drug manufacturers. However, instead of researching how molecules will impact a patient’s health, they are proving the benefits of how apps can impact conditions like addiction, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression, diabetes, and many other conditions. Akili Interactive describes itself as “a prescription digital medicine company combining scientific and clinical rigor with the ingenuity of the tech industry to reinvent medicine.” Doesn’t it sound like a revolution?

What these companies seem to be telling us is that in place of taking chemical molecules to treat adverse conditions, the power of our training our minds with apps may facilitate and support healing. Imagine having a solution that transforms and heals while eliminating all those adverse side effects listed at the end of pharmaceutical commercials.

As Bridge Builders Collaborative continues to consider the power of digital therapeutics, the following questions stand out:

  1. Will our society be willing to reduce dependence on prescription drugs?

2. Will mind-training solutions be a threat, a solution, or an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry?

3. While digital therapeutics will be prescribed, will patients engage with the products? And will their adherence to digiceuticals be greater or less than current drug regimens?

4. What will be the power of user experience vs. just the scientific evidence behind the solutions?

Looking ahead, PEAR Therapeutic’s Chief Executive, Corey McCann, and his experienced team are not resting on the success of their first FDA approval. They have begun applying for FDA approval of their software and pharmaceutical combination, reSET-O™ — which is reSET® in combination with opioid replacement therapies — and a whole product portfolio of potential FDA approved software and drug combinations.

It’s still early and there’s a lot of risk and unknowns as digiceuticals come to market. From where I sit, the tidal wave is gaining momentum and it could reshape the prescribing of pharmaceuticals. What are you seeing?

Check out Bridge Builders Collaborative partners and portfolio. Follow Charlie on LinkedIn and Twitter @ShiftIt_Inst.

Why Mind-Training?


From an Eastern perspective, mind-training is any method that implants a set of ideas, perspectives, and experiences that work to dismantle habituated patterns of behavior, emotionality, and perception. For those who want to explore how human conditioning and our subconscious minds impact our experiences, mind-training applications can be a guide through the weeds.

Similar to how the physical fitness industry compiled years of science that led to new approaches to improve physical health, the field of mind-training is offering innovative methods to enhance cognitive, mental, and emotional health. Some of the benefits include:

  1. Stress Reduction — decreased anxiety, improved sleep, less worry
  2. Productivity/Focus — increased focus & retention, more energy
  3. Self-Awareness — better self-care, less reactivity, enhanced relationships

With mind-training providing the cognitive exercises to become increasingly aware of how thoughts, emotions, and reactions impact how we engage with ourselves and others, we can practice and strengthen our capacity to transorm consciousness and to create conditions for well-being. Beyond the individual, I see corporations, health care providers, and the health insurance industry tracking the benefits for people and outcomes for orginizations. Some of the outcomes include:

  1. Health Care Cost Reductions
  2. Productivity Improvements
  3. Employee Recruitment & Retention
  4. Innovation, Creativity & Safety
  5. Enhanced Team Work
  6. Improved Customer Service

As the sciences accelerate, discoveries about the brain, mind-body connections, and consciousness will continue to create opportunities for further exploration. As a result, mind-training innovations that enhance our well-being and human potential will continue to expand into the emerging frontier.