The state of children’s mental health was a major public health issue prior to COVID-19, and research indicates that the pandemic-fuelled shift to remote learning and associated social isolation only intensified the problem.
For Moozoom founder and CEO Jean-Philippe (JP) Turgeon, a longtime lawyer-turned-tech entrepreneur, the topic is a personal one. Prior to launching Moozoom, Turgeon had been working as a corporate lawyer for nearly 20 years when his daughter attempted suicide in the midst of a mental health crisis.
“I saw the problem [and] I saw a business opportunity that would meet my need [to] do something bigger than myself, and help millions of kids.”
-JP Turgeon, Moozoom
“I was pretty successful in what I was doing and the price to pay for that is not being aware of what’s happening around you,” Turgeon told BetaKit in an interview. “That kind of hit me in the face, not being able to be there for my kid, and I felt guilty about what had happened to her.”
For Turgeon, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and was dealing with his own anxiety, these circumstances woke him up to a larger issue.
“It all comes [down] to, okay, how do we get kids to learn basic socio-emotional skills when they’re six years old—not wait until they’re 18 years old, and everything goes sideways?”
Turgeon left a lucrative partner role at law firm Lavery Avocats in late 2019 to build Montréal-based Moozoom and address this problem. Through its socio-emotional learning (SEL) software and interactive, live-action videos focused on topics ranging from rejection to bullying, Moozoom aims to help elementary school students build life skills and learn to handle everyday challenges.
“I saw the problem [and] I saw a business opportunity that would meet my need [to] do something bigger than myself, and help millions of kids,” said Turgeon. During its first year following its launch in May 2020, the startup onboarded around 500 schools. Today, Moozoom serves over 200,000 active students across nearly 1,000 schools in Canada and the United States (US), generating $1.2 million in annual recurring revenue.
This early traction helped Moozoom secure $5 million CAD in seed funding led by Toronto-based Amplify Capital, with support from Telus’ corporate impact fund, the Telus Pollinator Fund for Good, to ramp up its US expansion efforts.
“With Moozoom, we saw a world-class product that enables teachers to transform their [SEL] curriculum and students to become more engaged, less isolated, and improve their mental health,” Telus Pollinator Fund managing partner Blair Miller told BetaKit.
Moozoom’s convertible note seed financing, which closed at the end of May, also saw support from Montréal-based Fondaction and Formentera Capital. The round brings Moozoom’s total funding to $5.75 million.
Turgeon believes having investors “that really understand” businesses in the impact space on Moozoom’s cap table, like Amplify and Telus, will help the startup as it grows.
“JP’s lived experience ensures that the Moozoom’s product is informed by those who will benefit including the students, parents, and teachers,” said Miller.
Amplify was also attracted to Turgeon’s backstory. “To leave such a coveted position to build a scalable and accessible solution so that no parent or family member would ever have to experience what he went through, speaks volumes of [Turgeon’s] conviction and relentless pursuit of materializing Moozoom’s bold vision,” Amplify principal Daniel Armali told BetaKit.
Armali added that Amplify was drawn to the startup given “the urgency of the problem and early results from Moozoom students,” noting that the company’s software has the potential to have “a significant positive impact on children’s mental health and academics.”
Through its second fund—for which the firm has since raised an additional $5.3 million—MaRS Discovery District spinout Amplify backs early-stage Canadian healthtech, EdTech, and cleantech startups. Amplify’s investment in Montréal-based Moozoom marks the latest step in the firm’s push to increase its presence in Québec through Fund II.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that prior to the pandemic, one in five teenagers in the US had, at some point, experienced an episode of major depression, and of those cases, only 20 percent received referrals to counseling or other forms of mental health support.
When COVID-19 hit, mental health-related emergency room visits for children spiked, as students contended with a barrage of difficult circumstances, from heightened stress, anxiety, and isolation stemming from the shift to studying from home, to family health issues resulting from the pandemic.
“Student mental health has been an issue bordering on a crisis for years,” said Turgeon. “But the pandemic exacerbated the issues, especially in under-represented communities, where [COVID-19] hit families the hardest.”
Amid these conditions, Turgeon claimed that schools have embraced Moozoom as a “super-engaging, pedagogically aligned and easy-to-adopt solution to foster positive behavior, self-esteem and self-confidence in students as they rebound from COVID-19.”
Moozoom currently serves kids in grades one to six. This year, the startup is launching for pre-school-aged children. While its educational content is principally consumed as a group exercise, Turgeon noted that it can also be absorbed as part of smaller groups or individually. Students complete Moozoom videos, selecting a path based on consensus, have a discussion about them, and then write a quiz and journal exercise in relation to the situation and topic they just explored. Turgeon claims the startup’s “superpower” is the realistic, live-action, choose-your-own-adventure videos it produces, which he says help keep kids engaged.
“JP’s lived experience ensures that the Moozoom’s product is informed by those who will benefit including the students, parents, and teachers.”
-Blair Miller, Telus Pollinator Fund
As Armali puts it, Moozoom’s content differs from some other traditional learning exercises in that it enables users to learn social and emotional competencies while having fun.
On the teacher side of the equation, the startup’s platform serves as a plug-and-play solution that sparks important conversations and discussions among classmates that they might not otherwise have. “The last thing you want to do is bring teachers another thing to learn,” said Turgeon, who noted that in the US in particular, teachers are already overburdened.
Moozoom began its US expansion early this year, and the startup has already inked state and regional partnerships in Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts, and New York. To support its growth strategy south of the border, Moozoom plans to add another 20 to 30 employees to its 34-person team over the next year.
Armali and Amplify believe the total addressable market for Moozoom is $5 billion in the next five years, and see “a global opportunity” for the startup to introduce more languages beyond English and French given that youth mental health challenges are not limited to North America.
Feature image courtesy Moozoom.