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Barcelona-based start-up Psious, which uses virtual reality technology for mental health, closed its first round of funding with €1 million, led by Silicon Valley venture capital fund Rothenberg Venture along with an investor from Singapore and Caixa Capital Risc. This round was launched last May when the company contacted the Rothenberg Venture River accelerator.

Thanks to this investment, Psious will now start laying the groundwork for growth to attract clients in Spain and the US now that the development phase is complete. “Our mission is to democratize virtual reality for health treatments,” says co-founder and head of business development Daniel Roig of the Psious strategy.  

The Catalan company, founded by physicists Daniel Roig and Xavier Palomer, is working with technology to offer 3D simulations to treat phobias and anxiety disorders, like fear of flying, agoraphobia, fear of heights and post-traumatic stress. During treatment, the patient sees these situations using 3D glasses connected to a smartphone (the hardware), and the doctor monitors the patient’s reaction with a biofeedback sensor incorporated into the tool.

“We’ve chosen to work with a smartphone because it is affordable technology and that makes our product more accessible. Previously, virtual reality for mental health was very focused on the laboratory and not at all commercial,” explains Daniel Roig. The project is being used by private psychologists in various countries and Roig says it is getting an even warmer reception than they expected.


Alternative and complementary therapy

One of the most common therapies used by psychologists to help patients overcome a phobia or anxiety is gradual exposure (exposing them to the anxiety-producing situation little by little over time). This method starts with the patient’s imagination, but not all patients can successfully imagine the situation that makes them anxious, which leads to frustration.

Virtual reality replaces the imagination and studies have shown that it is a more effective technique. It has also been proven more effective than direct exposure because it is real enough to scare the patient but not enough to make them lose control. 

The company’s product, however, isn't only geared towards psychology. Virtual reality can also be used as a relaxation technique, with mindfulness, for oncology patients. “People undergoing chemotherapy tend to become anxious. We use virtual reality to reduce their stress in these sessions and to distract them,” explains Daniel Roig. And the results prove it: the treatment is more effective and patient quality of life is better.

The innovative formula being applied at Psious explains why the company has seen interest from San Francisco. “We’ve tried to raise private capital in Spain, but it was impossible. We’re a very innovative company, one of the first on the market to do this, and investment funds here don’t have experience in this and see it as highly uncertain and risky. In San Francisco it’s the other way around, they like innovative, original things,” says Roig.

Over the past three years, since Psious was created, the tool has been tested and tried by early adopters, mainly in private psychology practices. Now the company has started to work with large institutions like Stanford University, Hospital del Mar and Servicio Murciano de Salud (which is a consortium of hospitals in Murcia) and has launched a marketing campaign to attract clients. The company hopes to turn a profit in 2016 and expects to see turnover of €10 millions three years from now. 

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