Ariana Alejandra Gibson
Investment Opportunity: Seed Funding Stage
At a Glance
Year Created: 2021
Mission: To normalize conversations about mental health so that asking for help becomes easier.
Target Markets/Audience: 60-80% of people with treatable mental illness who don’t seek treatment.
What Makes Ariana Unique
Ariana has a deep passion for writing, photography, visual arts and storytelling, and she uses these creative talents to help capture and distribute stories that help shift the established perspective on mental illness. She knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle with mental illness and to live with someone who struggles with it: Her father has schizophrenia and she suffers from anxiety disorder and panic attacks. She is acutely aware of the injustice that accompanies the feeling of being judged for something you cannot control.
“My friends who work in social justice say, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,” Ariana says. “This deeply resonated with me and drives my motivation today. Since I can see the vision, I am able to bring it to life.”
“If you aren’t super passionate about solving the problem that your startup is aiming to solve, don’t do it. For me, the sacrifices I’ve made to date have helped build a compassionate world for my son to grow up in. But on the days when it’s really hard and you think, ‘I’m not sure I can do this’ or ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ I remember that someone has to keep doing this work. It makes me know that I can’t stop and I won’t stop unless I’m somehow forced to.”
What Ariana Is Trying To Solve
STIGMA is an online mental health community that uses asynchronous messaging to connect individuals struggling with mental illness to others who share their experience. Members of the STIGMA community don’t have public profiles and don’t use the platform for traditional networking. Rather, STIGMA offers a safe space for people to talk about mental health – without the stigma that usually accompanies that topic.
We sat down with Ariana to talk with her about how she got her start as a founder, what her seed funding stage has been like, and how GET Cities has helped.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
Writing my senior thesis project about a family whose son had schizophrenia was an extremely cathartic experience and one that helped me understand my own journey and familial history. After that moment of contributing to the public conversation around mental health, I developed the idea to create a docuseries called Stigma in 2011.
After showcasing other people’s experiences and lives, I realized the healing potential of this medium. I decided I wanted to create a space for people to seek out connections more easily. One of the most powerful ways to combat loneliness is through reciprocal social connection. I want people to understand it’s acceptable and healing to talk about mental health and to give people a space to do that. Now, it feels like I am finally living my purpose.
What is unique or significant about being at the seed stage?
I consider myself at the pre-seed stage! I am still making decisions about who our ideal customer is, what the revenue model should be, what our product market fit is and more.
What’s unique about what I’m doing is there’s no example to point to before me. I am truly stepping into a space where no one has been before. The challenge for my company in particular is having no market equivalent for STIGMA. Usually, the easiest way for someone to understand a company or product offering is to compare it to a business or market that already exists. In my case, I am taking the societal problem of mental health and attempting to use technology and storytelling to step into a space that’s almost completely unknown.
What do you wish you’d known or done to prepare for the seed stage?
Mental illness is a significant, widespread medical problem that requires a social solution. While everyone agrees that it is an important issue, no one really knows what to do about it. This means that STIGMA is constantly evolving to meet the needs of its customer base, which oftentimes can make it difficult to describe the company’s unique offering to investors. Most of the resources that are readily available to me relate to the educational aspect of how to become a successful entrepreneur and not so much on how to pivot with changes to the market.
I’ve learned to rely on the human connection and bonding with other founders, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in entrepreneurial spaces, who have had similar experiences.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage more women, trans, non-binary, POC to become entrepreneurs?
There is undeniable power in seeing yourself represented in the entrepreneurial world, but you can’t be what you can’t see. Seeing someone with your own identity being successful on the tech front creates a huge impact for younger people starting out.
My strength undeniably lies in my willingness to live the principles that I promote. I have unapologetically cried in nearly every pitch I’ve done, and as a result I have raised half a million dollars and counting. I look forward to dispelling the myth that being emotional makes you weak or means that you will be unsuccessful in professional spaces. Watch me cry and not say sorry. I want to be the vulnerable founder. I want to be the one that slays and builds something that saves lives and hopefully makes a ton of money – and cries the whole way!
What made you want to participate in this cohort?
The biggest factor that convinced me to join the cohort was the collaborative aspect. I welcome the notion of community and support. As a first-time founder, there is so much I didn’t know. From the very beginning, I have been able to state exactly what I need, and the feedback has helped shape the program's goals and projected outcomes. I witnessed my voice being incorporated into it all.
What would you say is the most valuable tool, connection point, piece of wisdom, etc. that you’ve gained from working with GET Cities thus far?
One of the best aspects of being part of this cohort is the relationships and connections I have forged with the fellow founders. The opportunity to have a travel stipend in order to make connections with venture capitalists in other cities as a result of the Tech Equity Working Group’s involvement has been invaluable.
The average number of years from first experiencing a symptom
of mental illness to first seeking treatment. We are working to get people on the path to healing sooner.