A Conversation With An Accelerator Team
In 2019, Ryan Murtaugh and Nathan Brickman, now graduates of biology and agricultural communications respectively, set out to tackle a problem in the mental health industry: it’s outdated communication tactics. What began then as a class project has now developed, through several CIE programs, into incubator company Bridge.
Q: At its core, Bridge is a software platform designed for mental health professionals to communicate more efficiently. Why create this?
Ryan Murtaugh: Right now, mental health professionals are utilizing all kinds of different software, even Facebook, to do things pretty inefficiently. Our collaboration software will strengthen the mental health industry’s infrastructure, enabling professionals to connect with each other, refer clients and grow their practices on a modern platform that’s designed for them.
Q: How did this idea come about?
RM: Nathan and I met in John Townsend’s “Intro to Entrepreneurship” class where we decided to look at the mental health industry, figure out what problems existed in that space and utilize technologies to mitigate some of those problems. Everyone has been personally affected by mental health in some capacity, so we felt that it was really fitting to look at that space.
Q: So, you devised this new business concept for class. Then what?
RM: After the class, we joined the Hatchery, then applied for the 2019 accelerator — and didn’t get in! That was actually great for us, though. Rather than going into the accelerator with a half-baked idea, we were able to really dive deep into the industry’s problems in a HotHouse MedTech program that summer.
Q: Then you reapplied to the HotHouse Accelerator in 2020?
RM: Yes! We got into the accelerator the next summer. When we first came into the program we had some more hypotheses to test and unfinished development, but by the end of it we had a software with mental healthcare professionals using it daily. The program really gave us the time and resources to strategize and develop the software.
Q: When it comes to resources, accelerator teams are given $10,000 in funding. How did that help Bridge?
RM: The $10,000 was so helpful. Software sometimes seems as though it isn’t that costly, but it can add up. The money helped with simple things like keeping our servers running or paying for APIs, but it also allowed us to really test things and get crucial data points that helped us move forward a lot faster.
Q: What does it mean for students like yourself to have CIE resources?
RM: It’s incredible. The CIE is the best thing you could possibly have as an entrepreneurial student because you have access to this network of people who have done it before and are happy to guide you. Thinking back to freshman me, I always knew I wanted to go into entrepreneurship and start my own venture. Just knowing that CIE resources were on campus really motivated me to go for it.
Q: It’s hard to imagine students not having a resource like that to support them.
RM: Exactly. It’s such a huge endeavor to even try entrepreneurship in general. Without experienced people to help you through it, it must be exponentially harder.
Q: And you can’t learn everything on YouTube, right?
RM: Nope. And I tried, trust me! I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true about Learn by Doing at Cal Poly. I’ve learned more in the past two years working on Bridge than I have my whole life, in almost every regard — personal development, professional development, business knowledge. Everything.
Q: That’s huge. So, what about the challenges of entrepreneurship? I imagine it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Bridge team.
RM: The CIE makes it really clear that pivots and iterations are extremely common and there’s no point in fearing the inevitable. For us, there wasn’t a whole lot of pivoting, but rather more understanding of the true complexity of the mental health market. While we’re still on the path of focusing on private practices first, our product roadmap has evolved to include strategic developments for other entities to make Bridge a fully integrated, collaborative experience.
Q: Did COVID-19 change anything?
RM: COVID-19 has been really interesting. With mental healthcare, it’s been fascinating. The switch to telehealth set a new precedent that many mental health professionals do not need to be in a certain place to do their work. And the methods practitioners were using before were so outdated, like sending letters or using a Rolodex to call your colleagues. It’s crazy. Of course, COVID-19 isn’t good, but for Bridge, it’s really been a push in the right direction and kind of forced this industry to adopt new technologies.
Q: Now that you’ve graduated from the accelerator, what’s next for Bridge?
RM: Well, we just moved into the HotHouse Incubator which has already been extremely helpful in getting our advisory board together and working toward incorporation. Right now, we’re doing closed beta testing and are working to hit about 300 to 600 practitioners [on Bridge] by December. Then, by June of 2021, we hope to have around 10,000 users and start really turning on the revenue streams. At this point, it’s just total focus and execution on that pathway.