Kiwi startup Komodo raises $1.7 million to improve mental wellbeing in schools

Komodo co-founders Jack Wood and Chris Bacon. Source: supplied.

Kiwi student wellbeing startup Komodo has secured NZ$1.8 million ($1.73 million) in seed funding, as founders Chris Bacon and Jack Wood gear up to scale across Australia and New Zealand and beyond.

SmartCompany caught up with the Christchurch-based Brits to talk about audacious dreams, strategic investors and the effect of COVID-19 on schools all over the world.

What is Komodo?

The startup provides a software solution using student data, along with surveys developed by psychologists, to identify individuals who may be at risk, and help them tackle common issues such as cyber bullying, harassment, anxiety and depression, as early as possible.

Headed up by two Brits who met at Canterbury University in Christchurch, the startup is designed to give students the opportunity and the language to talk about their own mental health and wellbeing at a young age.

It’s proactive and preventative, helping both teachers and students get ahead of any wellbeing issues before they spiral out of control.

“When we do have those hard moments around emotions and feelings, the ability to open up and have the right words is very tough, especially when we’re younger,” co-founder Chris Bacon tells SmartCompany.

Bacon and co-founder Jack Wood launched Komodo in March 2018, and have since participated in Startmate’s Summer 2021 cohort.

The founders decline to share any information on revenue growth, or the exact number of schools on the platform so far, but they say the startup is working with ‘a number’ of schools across New Zealand, Australia and beyond, with international interest starting to trickle in.

Who are the investors?

The round was led by Aussie VC Folklore Ventures, and also included Kylie Frazer and Rachael Neumann’s angel syndicate Flying Fox and Kiwi VC Icehouse Ventures.

Culture Amp co-founder Rod Hamilton and director of people science Chloe Hamman also took part in the round.

For Bacon and Wood, the round is less about the cash and more about the expertise they’re bringing on board. In fact, several of the investors were mentors for the co-founders during their Startmate journey.

“Money is great, but we’ve got to get the experience and exposure around us,” Bacon says.

“We’ve tried to be really strategic. We know we want to scale, we want to have a huge impact globally. To do that we have to set the foundations right.”

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the mass move to online learning, has shone a spotlight on the importance of mental health and wellbeing among school children.

While Wood believes schools were moving in that direction anyway, the pandemic has accelerated Komodo’s growth. This is because lockdowns and isolations have meant many students and vulnerable people have found themselves without their usual support channels, whether that’s friends, teachers or school support staff.

“When you remove any of that for anyone really, it’s going to have an effect,” Wood says.

The pandemic has also affected almost every school and every student in the world. The issues the startup is tackling are not unique to Australian or Kiwi kids; the founders are already in conversations with a school in Armenia, for example.

Suddenly, the scalability of this product is abundantly clear.

The shift to remote learning also saw the swift adoption of more technology in schools, and kids are teachers alike are becoming more comfortable interacting online.

“This digital transformation within schools has allowed this opportunity for us to go fast at it,” Bacon adds.

What’s next?

The founders plan to use the funding to invest in recruitment. They expect to see the team triple over the next four to six months, building out both their development team and their team of psychologists.

“It’s all very well embedding psychology and science into our product, but we also want to make sure it’s there in every aspect of the company,” Wood explains.

That includes how the startup interacts with customers, supports schools and develops new features and products.

The founders will also focus on product development, solving additional problems, and working on improving the impact the business will have.

And beyond?

When asked to outline the grand, audacious goal for Komodo, Bacon and Wood don’t hold back.

On the one hand, Bacon says if the business has a positive impact on the mental health of one student, that will have been worth it.

On the other, he wants Komodo to be able to support any student, anywhere in the world and within any learning environment.

“My big dream is that every single school utilises Komodo, and that we are impacting on every single student’s ability to thrive.”

Wood agrees that schools should be a place where every student has the ability to be at their best.

But equally, he wants to get to a point whereby parents consider wellbeing practices in their school selection process, in the same way they might select a school for its academic results or sports program.

“It’s putting wellbeing up there,” he says.

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