The news: Seattle-area healthcare startup Aiberry raised $8 million for its AI-powered software that analyzes audio, visual, and language from a short conversation to screen for mental health conditions.
How it works: Aiberry’s tool can be used on any digital device with a microphone and camera. It prompts the user over a three- to five-minute conversation with questions such as “how have you been feeling lately?” The tool adapts to a user’s speaking style.
“You can talk to her as you would with a trusted friend or a therapist,” co-CEO Linda Chung told Startup.
Aiberry gathers the information and presents it in a dashboard that provides a risk score for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. It also provides insights into mood, concentration and energy levels.
The idea is to give healthcare providers an alternative to conventional clinical screening questionnaires that can require patients to answer the same questions repeatedly and rate their own symptoms. Patients can also track their own symptoms.
Aiberry’s platform is compliant with federal health privacy regulations, according to the company.
AI and healthcare: AI is leveraged by other mental health startups such as Seattle-area Lyssn, which evaluates conversations between providers and patients. Eugene-Ore.-based Ksana Health markets an AI-supported app that measures mental health from smartphone and wearable data.
Academic researchers have also studied how the content of text messages can potentially indicate worsening mental health. Some have developed experimental AI-powered programs to assess mental health through voice patterns and key words, and others have incorporated video.
The proliferation of Generative AI is sparking debate over the benefits and drawbacks of using technology such as ChatGPT for mental health, Axios reported Wednesday.
There are also startups beyond healthcare using AI to analyze conversations, such as Seattle startup Read, which measures engagement and sentiment of participants on video meetings.
Digital health companies generally use standard screening tools to assess mental health status, said co-CEO Johan Bjorkland. Aiberry is meant to be used with a therapist, he added.
“We are giving a risk assessment,” said Bjorklund. “But any real clinical judgment, any diagnosis is not set by an AI, it’s set by a trained professional, a human.”
The people: Aiberry (pronounced “I-berry”) leverages research by co-founder Newton Howard and his colleagues. Howard, a neuroscientist and computer scientist at Oxford University, explores how to use computational methods to assess mental health through analyzing facial expressions and speech content and tone.
Other co-founders include Chung, a former speech language pathologist, and Bjorklund, an electrical engineer and former executive with communications giant Ericsson who also serves as CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based telecommunications company Betacom. The co-founding team is rounded out by former Ericsson executive Lior Auslander, the startup’s executive vice president of product and technology.
What’s ahead: Aiberry launched a clinical study in September at sites including Georgetown University and the University of Arizona. The study will evaluate its ability to predict self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety in 800 patients and compare the data to that from standard checklists.
Though the company is currently selling to clinicians, it sees future marketing opportunities in corporate wellness, said Bjorklund. He could also see partnering with other mental health companies such as Talkspace, Headspace Health and Teledoc Health.
“If you’re able to screen people regularly — and this can be at schools, doctor’s offices and workplaces — then we’re helping with early identification, and that leads to early intervention and better outcomes,” said Chung.
Investment: Confluence Capital Group led the seed round with participation from Ascension AI. Aiberry built a prototype tool after launching in 2019 and raised a pre-seed round of $2 million in 2021, riding a wave of funding for mental health startups that reached $5.5 billion globally that year.