The app Stephen Smith ’17 created only a year ago to fight obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has now become a full-fledged enterprise. The student entrepreneur serves as founder and CEO of a mobile OCD treatment platform launched from a dorm room, that now has a downtown Chicago office, a team of eight members and a total of 80,000 users, subscribers and followers.
Smith struggled with OCD for years, but his fight with the uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and behaviors didn’t turn him inward. Instead, during his junior year, Smith launched a mobile app as a tool to help others with what can be a debilitating mental health condition. And it is a widespread condition —OCD affects millions of people worldwide.
Smith’s app nOCD now provides on-the-go treatment to fight OCD, records real-time data, offers guided cognitive behavioral exercises, and allows people with OCD to join in-app support communities at any hour of any day. With this technology, users get 24/7 clinically approved care and are connected to a community that understands them.
Today, three highly regarded OCD specialists serve as scientific advisors. And nOCD has secured some big-time venture capital investment.
Smith has established a business team of eight full-time members. (It’s a team that identifies with their app user community — half of the team has OCD.) Now, nOCD has a Michigan Avenue office in downtown Chicago, with strategic partnerships with Stanford Medical School, Columbia Medical School, Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, Acadia Healthcare’s San Jose Behavioral Health Hospital and Brainsway, an Israeli neurotechnology company. Once Smith graduates from Pomona College in December, he’ll be at the Chicago office full-time.
Smith’s vision and product are garnering acclaim as well as investment. Over the summer, at Silicon Valley’s Mobile UX Awards, nOCD won top app for social impact. The awards are decided by 50 leading tech executives.
Smith, who transferred to Pomona from Trinity University in 2015, says Pomona was exactly where he needed to be for nOCD’s debut and for him to be successful as both a student and entrepreneur.
When he’s not in class, Smith’s days are packed with stand-up phone meetings, data analysis and business development. He says fellow Sagehens saved him on many occasions, helping him when he fell behind on academics. As a Pomona-Pitzer football team alumnus, Smith says his former teammates have doubled as his tutors, going over class topics with him when he was overwhelmed.
“I’d ask them, can you teach me this concept? Often they go above and beyond and teach me the entire chapter.”
Alumni from The Claremont Colleges have helped along the way. At the beginning stages, there was Kevin Yamazaki ’10 who was a development partner. Currently, Keck Graduate Institute graduate Dr. Maria Filippou-Frye ’14, who is at the Rodriguez Lab at Stanford University Medical School, is partnering with Smith and the nOCD team in participant recruitment for a clinical trial where the researchers are trying to understand the rapid effects of a medication called ketamine on individuals diagnosed with OCD.
Smith, who is majoring in economics and minoring in Asian studies, lists professors in rapid succession who have done everything from teaching him how to collect data (Professor W. Bowman Cutter) and raise funds (Professor Gary Smith) to mentoring him in the fine art of the power nap (Professor Feng Xiao).
Smith says he is grateful for the experience of having a network of students, alumni and professors who genuinely want him succeed and are in his corner.
“The Pomona community is very selfless,” says Smith.
Smith is outward-facing, too. He believes that if nOCD can grow so quickly for one condition then there are massive possibilities for what this type of software can do for other mental health conditions. Technology can’t replace face-to-face care but it can certainly augment it, Smith says.
“People are always wondering how you’re going to treat mental illness, given the shortage of licensed mental health clinicians. And the answer is through technology.”