“My whole life was built around football,” Ryan Mundy, Super Bowl champion and Alkeme founder, tells Entrepreneur, “and when you can’t do that anymore, you have to figure out, Well, who am I? And that’s a really, really big question to answer.”
Mundy didn’t have the answer right away.
Following a Super Bowl win with the Steelers his rookie season and eight additional years in the NFL, Mundy retired from the sport with an injury in 2016 — and found himself struggling with anxiety and depression. Mundy launched a second career as an angel investor, then started an eco-friendly straw company called SWYZL.
In the midst of it all, his family was battling a “laundry list” of chronic disease and illness, and Mundy didn’t see anyone in the startup ecosystem who was “principally focused on certain folks who look like [him].”
So, in 2020, the solution seemed clear: Mundy would establish a health platform for the Black community. “I saw a trend in the marketplace as it relates to verticalized care,” Mundy explains. “I was seeing platforms for men, platforms for women, platforms for the LGBTQ community, et cetera. But I didn’t see a platform that was explicitly focused on folks who looked like me.”
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Mundy wanted to “whittle away at” some of the chronic diseases affecting the Black community
From the outset, Mundy envisioned building a platform that would serve the Black community. Yet figuring out where to start proved challenging. “There’s a lot of inequity in healthcare,” Mundy says. “Our community is at an outsized risk for every chronic disease and illness in the book. So how do you take the first swing at that?”
Black Americans are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
With his background as a professional athlete, Mundy decided to focus on supplementation and nutrition, hoping it would help “whittle away at” some of the chronic diseases affecting the Black community.
But as 2020 went on, increasing social unrest and attention on the Black Lives Matter movement shifted the spotlight onto mental health — another challenge with which Mundy had firsthand experience. “Quite frankly, nobody was really saying, ‘Man, I really need a vitamin right now,'” Mundy says. “They were like, ‘I really need mental health and emotional support.'”
After some reflection, Mundy concluded that was where he should begin, and the version of Alkeme (pronounced like “Alchemy”) as it exists today was born: a platform offering mental health videos and courses from Black psychologists and therapists, along with meditation tools and exercises. Additionally, Alkeme hosts regular live-streamed events led by clinical professionals when something traumatizing, like another police shooting, happens to the Black community.
Image credit: Courtesy of Alkeme
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Mundy drilled down on Alkeme’s story and defined its “why” to generate interest from investors
One of the first things Mundy did? He honed in on Alkeme’s compelling story and defined a “why” that would “bleed through” his conversations with employees, investors and stakeholders. From there, he started “pounding the pavement,” gaining traction by sharing the struggles that he and so many others in his community faced. Mundy’s efforts were successful: Alkeme raised $1 million in its first funding round.
But after the app first launched in March of 2022, Mundy realized that it wasn’t “the right product to have in the market — we had to simplify it.”
Rather than put out a “labor- or resource-intensive technological solution,” Mundy wanted to shift the focus back onto Alkeme’s original mission: creating content and finding clinicians who could provide the services people needed. So it did.
Alkeme relaunched in April of 2022 and has since flourished as it continues to “create generational health” within the Black community.
It was another lesson in just how much perseverance pays off. “I’m always reminding myself and the team that this is a marathon,” Mundy explains, “particularly doing what we’re doing. There are not many companies out there that have the aspirations that we have. Sometimes we jokingly say we’re going where no company has gone before — because nobody out there is doing what we’re doing, quite like we’re doing it.”
Image credit: Courtesy of Alkeme
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Mundy looks forward to Alkeme’s exciting future — and continues to support the mental health of his team
Alkeme saw 333% year-over-year growth in 2022 and has several exciting initiatives in the works, including providing free premium access to the app for HBCU students and, ultimately, all Black college students across the country. Last month, Alkeme also launched its Alkeme Athlete Coalition, a group and hub on the platform focused on mental health awareness and education and offering resources to athletes of all levels.
Building Alkeme has shown Mundy the value in adaptability — and a good pivot. “I have to be stubborn on the vision or the goal, but I have to be extremely flexible on how I get there,” Mundy says. “Because if you live long enough, if you work long enough, things will inevitably go wrong. Fortunately, I’ve been able to adapt to the environment, our community’s needs and everything in between to make sure that we have the ability to keep going.”
Mundy also acknowledges the sometimes “irony” in leading a fast-growing mental health startup while trying to look after the mental health of he and his team; it can be an environment that “tests” their dedication to health and wellness every day.
That’s why Mundy has prioritized building an internal company culture that keeps mental health front and center.
“Every meeting, we start with the meditation and mindfulness moment,” Mundy says. “Every day, we have a status update talking about, ‘What’s your Alkeme? What did you do to take care of yourself today?’ We’re highly cognizant of it and making sure that we’re supporting one another with our overall health and wellness because we do understand the nature of our business and the importance of just taking good care of yourself.”