Cognitive therapy startup Koko raises $2.5M, launches chatbot with Kik messaging service

By Heather Mack

New York-based startup Koko, which uses artificial intelligence for crowd-sourced cognitive therapy, raised $2.5M in Series A funding, with Omidyar Network and Union Square Ventures leading the round. The company also announced the launch of KokoBot, its new chatbox experience that will be available on chat networks Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Kik.

KokoBot, which is based on technology developed at the MIT Media Lab, provides a peer-to-peer network for users to deal with symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression. Interactions go through KokoBot, which moderates content and, theoretically, exposes users to principles of cognitive therapy. Users tell the KokoBot whatever is stressing them out (or inducing anxiety or depression), and the chatbot then routes the message to an appropriate KokoBot peer who has elected to help out.

Those sharing stressful situations receive, on average, four responses, with the first arriving within five minutes. In a study of its offering, Koko reports 99 percent of issues receiving a response, with 90 percent of those deemed helpful.

“Some of the most important software applications from the past decade have been powered by collective intelligence, such as Google and Wikipedia,” Fraser Kelton, co-founder of Koko said in a statement. “KokoBot pairs collective intelligence with artificial intelligence to improve people’s emotional well-being.”

This marks a new partnership with Kik, which is mainly used by teenagers. KokoBot will be integrated directly into Kik’s platform, so when users express feelings of anxiety, stress or depression, they can opt in to be routed to KokoBot to receive the chatbot-powered therapeutic support without leaving the Kik environment.

“Kik is dedicated to fostering a supportive and safe community,” Ted Livingston, Kik’s founder and CEO said in a statement. “Teens are our primary demographic, and integrating services like Koko’s directly into our platform helps ensure our users have access to the emotional support they need, when they need it.”

Koko’s larger aim is to advance online mental health offerings, and the company has research partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and the University of Maryland, all of which will analyze anonymized data from KokoBot. The KokoBot API is also available to developers in beta.