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Startup City: A year of Tampa Bay growth

Michelle Waite



Shama Rathi MD (left) and Sipra Ladhha MD created Luna Joy, a platform providing multiple levels of mental health care for women during key transition times in their life. Photo provided.

As we bring the Startup City series in the St. Pete Catalyst to a close for this year, it’s worth reflecting on the progress that Tampa Bay has made towards building a world-class startup ecosystem. When the series launched in 2021, the goal was to engage the community in discussions about what it takes to make a thriving hub for startups.

Throughout this past year, we explored topics such as the importance of a growth mindset, leveraging the unique strengths of the region (such as creativity), and the ethical use of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. We also emphasized and highlighted the importance of building a welcoming and inclusive startup community in several articles.

Despite the challenges of the current economic climate, Tampa Bay continues to make significant progress as a thriving startup ecosystem. The region is home to a range of resources designed to support startups, including incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, venture capitalists, angel investor groups and educational support. Moving forward as we grow, it will be important to find ways to foster a spirit of continued collaboration among these groups working towards the shared goal of helping our startups succeed.

Throughout 2022, we have seen many Tampa Bay-based startups, such as Luna Joy (which is featured in this article), launching and thriving as they tackle important problems and issues in our community and world. 

A platform addressing mental health for women

Mental health has long been a concern, but in recent years and particularly during the pandemic, it has received increased attention in various areas such as work, professional sports, school, home and the startup world. Importantly, with greater mental health literacy and more openness by people who have mental health conditions, the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased.

Sipra Laddha and Shama Rathi, two sisters-in-law with medical degrees in psychiatry and their own specialized practices, joined forces in 2021 to further destigmatize mental health and prioritize emotional well-being, especially for women. The founders saw how challenging it was for women to access important mental health care in critical times and decided to create a more sustainable solution. In October 2021, they launched Luna Joy, an online platform for women’s mental health that was accelerated after participating in a YCombinator cohort in early 2022.

“Luna Joy is a digital and mental health clinic focused on women throughout their lifespan,” Laddha explains. There are many vulnerable transition periods in a woman’s life, such as puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause. Laddha continues, “Most solutions are generalist, offering the same therapy and interventions for a 55-year-old man, a 32-year-old woman and an 18-year-old emerging female adult.”

To address this, Luna Joy has implemented a voluntary screening program in OB/GYN waiting rooms. Women who take the screening and have a positive result receive education resources, support and an appointment on the Luna Joy platform within a few hours. In addition, the clinic also accepts referrals from other mental health systems that may be overwhelmed and unable to meet the demand for care.

Both mothers themselves, Laddha and Rathi experienced firsthand the lack of resources and access to mental health care when needed. Rathi shares, “I delivered my children in top hospitals in the region.” On both occasions, she took the mandatory ACOG screening for perinatal depression. She continues, “The nurse told me that If my test had come back positive, she wouldn’t even know where to send me. In fact, knowing that I was a psychiatrist, she even asked me for my card! The care gap is glaring.”

In addition to providing specialized care, Luna Joy also aims to increase access to care. They work with payers such as Optum, Blue Cross, Aetna, Cigna and Medicare to provide care to as many women as possible. Laddha notes, “Health insurance companies now have data that shows that the mother-child dyad ends up costing them $30K more over the first couple of years if they don’t pay attention to mental health.” She adds, “The CDC just released a report where maternal mental health was the number one preventable cause of maternal mortality, especially in Black and Brown women.” By collaborating with these insurance providers, Luna Joy hopes to reach a wider range of women and provide them with the specialized care they need.

When asked about what makes Tampa Bay special for building a startup, Rathi is enthusiastic: “The community is immediately inviting, really warm, welcoming, and everyone is really trying to connect. I think this is different from major cities where people are working in silos.” She also highlights the impact of local accelerator Tampa Bay Wave: “We’ve made huge inroads to hospital systems because of it. It would be very different in Manhattan or San Francisco.”

Thank you to the founders of Luna Joy and other new innovators, as well as the leaders who have been around for a long time, and everyone who has helped to build the Tampa Bay startup community. I look forward to a 2023 filled with new ideas, innovation, and more flourishing startups. We have only just begun!

Startup City explores topics on what it takes to have a thriving startup ecosystem through stories and thoughts of local residents and startups. 

Michelle Waite is the VP of Marketing at Florida Funders, a locally-based venture capital firm and angel investor network who enables tech startups to thrive through monetary and business-intellectual capital. She has invested in, co-founded and worked for tech startups for the last 10 years. She counts herself lucky everyday to work for and alongside some pretty amazing entrepreneurs. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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