American Heart Association backs $2M seed round for Bentonville startup Sober Sidekick

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,344 views 

Chris Thompson, above, said Sober Sidekick’s funding round is scheduled to close at the end of February.

A Bentonville startup with a notable lead investor is nearly halfway to completing a $2 million seed funding round.

Chris Thompson, CEO and co-founder of Sidekick Mobile Technologies, said the company has picked up $250,000 from global healthcare leader American Heart Association (AHA) through its Social Impact Fund.

“It’s validation from one of the biggest players in healthcare,” Thompson said. “Doing the diligence that they [AHA] did and giving us that kind of support means a lot. Especially as we work with [other] big health systems.”

Sidekick Mobile Technologies’ product is Sober Sidekick, a sobriety and recovery app on iOS and Android. The platform encourages behavioral health shifts in substance abuse through guided peer-to-peer support. Among several features, it offers instant anonymous sober support from real people.

“Sober Sidekick is disrupting the behavioral health system by forcing it to work towards long-term health outcomes,” Thompson said.

Thompson, 28, relocated to Northwest Arkansas from Los Angeles in early 2022. He launched the app in January 2019, just a few months after ending five years of alcohol addiction.

Sober Sidekick is pursuing better health outcomes and greater equity for those who suffer from addiction or substance use disorder (SUD), a known disorder that leads to adverse health outcomes.

According to its website, AHA’s Social Impact Fund represents a high-priority strategy for the organization to drive equitable health and well-being for all, specifically through the lens of adverse social determinants of health and related structural inequity.

AHA is the funding round’s lead investor, but another investor is Ikigai Growth Partners, a Denver-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage healthcare companies.

Michael Brouthers started the fund in 2020. He was previously the CEO or a senior executive in several of the world’s largest healthcare payers, providers and IT firms, including United, Humana and Cigna.

That strategic partnership should get Sober Sidekick an audience with other name-brand health systems.

Thompson said Ikigai’s commitment is $500,000. That’s in addition to various angel investors who are backing Sober Sidekick. Thompson referenced Ramsay Ball of Bentonville, who has an extensive background in real estate, private investment and community development.

Thompson said Ball is “doubling down” on his investment.

“Ramsay is an interesting part of this story,” Thompson said. “He sold me on Northwest Arkansas and pushed everything going on here. His bullishness about Sober Sidekick and passion for pushing this forward is worth noting. We wouldn’t be in this location if it weren’t for him.”

Sober Sidekick’s funding round is scheduled to close at the end of February. Thompson said the financial support would help the company make some key hires and gain more adoption in the healthcare space by launching paid pilot programs with major health systems. He recently met with the Department of Defense’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) about a possible pilot program with Sober Sidekick.

It will also help with an “aggressive” goal of reaching 1 million Sober Sidekick members by the end of 2023. The growing social network recently passed 150,000 members — it had less than 10,000 in January 2021 — and has been downloaded by users in more than 150 countries.

“The fact that we did that with so little capital tells us that by being more aggressive, we can hit 1 million members,” Thompson said.