Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, mental health resources were in demand. Approximately 20 percent of the world’s children and teenagers have a mental health condition, according to the World Health Organization. That number is increasing in the wake of the pandemic, which has caused a disruption in services to an already underfunded and resource-strapped industry.

Cindy Nie has experienced the effects of an overburdened mental health system firsthand.

“I had a friend who was diagnosed with depression, but she told me she needed to wait for two months to see a psychotherapist,” Nie says. “I thought that was unacceptable.”

Nie reflected on that conversation often and, in 2019, launched One Healing Space as a response. The social enterprise is dedicated to raising mental health awareness by providing peer support and online individual, couple, and family therapy.

“To me, it’s really important to do something good for the people,” Nie says. “I found there were so many international students suffering from mental health issues, and that was the moment I decided I needed to pivot and make a bigger impact.”

Transitioning from Real Estate to Mental Health Support

Nie traveled to Canada from Nanjing, China, to attend Western University as an international student nearly 10 years ago. While there, she specialized in finance and became interested in real estate after completing an alternative investments course. After graduation, she worked at a brokerage, where she strove to optimize the firm’s operational processes to improve efficiency and steer it away from its more “traditional” policies and procedures. Roughly two years later, it felt like time to start a new adventure.

Nie had researched Israel after reading the book Start-Up Nation and decided to attend Tel Aviv University’s summer Entrepreneurship, Innovation, & Business program to immerse herself in the country’s booming tech ecosystem. In the morning, Nie took classes on topics from idea generation and building a minimum viable product (MVP) to crowdfunding and venture capital financing. At night, she attended networking events, like TAU Ventures’ annual Coller Startup Competition, where she would meet entrepreneurs and learn more about how they built their businesses.

“I made a lot of good friends and saw different stages of startups,” Nie says. “That summer program gave me a lot of real-life experience. It was very inspirational for me.”

She returned to Canada and launched her first startup, called Houserve, which she hoped would “revolutionize the real estate industry” through technology. But, after a few months, she realized mental health was what really resonated with her. It was then she pivoted to One Healing Space.

Growing a Mental Health Startup

Through One Healing Space, people can request a counseling or therapy session and get connected with a licensed therapist based in Ontario, Canada, in as little as two hours. Over the last two years, the organization has built a team of 15 therapists and 70 volunteers. Nie says they also have 12 graduate students serving as interns, who are primarily pursuing a master’s degree in social work and help with drop-in sessions under the supervision of One Healing Space’s clinical director.

“We’ve built relationships with six schools to provide internships,” Nie says. “It’s been a great opportunity to work with these schools to educate the next generation of counselors and mental health professionals.”

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Nie recognized that people would likely start feeling isolated and so created a peer support program, called Peer Support Call, where a host trained by One Healing Space would lead a group of 10 to 20 people in a discussion about a topic related to mental health. The organization has also offered additional free, livestreamed events throughout the pandemic to create community and provide a wider range of resources.

“We want to solve a problem,” Nie says, “and there are many solutions to it. Counseling is great for people who have that awareness and are OK talking with a licensed therapist, but there are people who aren’t aware, and there’s still a stigma around psychotherapy. That’s why we offer peer support. We just want people to feel supported.”

Nie was recently accepted into the NEXT Canada 2021 cohort, which provides a select group of entrepreneurs with seed capital and educational and mentorship opportunities to take their business to the next level within eight months. Through the program, she’s learned from faculty at institutions such as Harvard Business School, the University of Toronto, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and met with seasoned entrepreneurs from around the world.

“Being selected is an honor,” Nie says. “It gives me a lot of confidence. I knew nobody when I first came to Canada, but I have perseverance. I’ve worked really hard building my startup, and I’m still doing it despite all the challenges and difficulties because I want to do something good for society and help others.”

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Preparing for Her MBA with HBS Online

As Nie continues to grow One Healing Space, she’s also starting to apply to MBA programs. To help her prepare, she enrolled in Harvard Business School Online’s three-course Credential of Readiness (CORe) program in 2018 to get a feel for HBS and take the courses the School offers to incoming students to get ready for the MBA classroom.

“The platform is very advanced,” Nie says, “and the knowledge I gained was extremely easy to apply. All three courses were very helpful in helping me build One Healing Space.”

After completing CORe, Nie wanted to meet others who took the online program offline and volunteered to lead the HBS Online Community’s Toronto Chapter. She’s held various meetups, speaker series, book clubs, and other events to engage fellow HBS Online learners around the Toronto area.

“There’s one common thing about our Community members,” Nie says, “they care about self-growth. They love to meet with each other and learn from one another.”

Through a potential future MBA program, Nie looks forward to furthering her knowledge base and enabling One Healing Space to become more of a technology company to scale faster and help more people.

“Entrepreneurship is all about making a difference,” Nie says. “You want to help people and make their lives better.”

And every day, Nie has dedicated herself to achieving exactly that.

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Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.