Beating the Blues: How entrepreneurs and founders find balance and wellness

 In News, RedBridge Lisboa, Start-Up

Mental burnout is a serious consequence that startup entrepreneurs face when starting and growing a business, yet continued stigma in Portugal surrounding mental health issues has often prevented founders from coming forward, until now. Essential Business discovers two social impact entities that are getting people to talk about and prevent professional mental health issues before they become a serious problem.

Text: Chris Graeme Photos: Marie Bacelar (RedBridge)

It is estimated that 72% of entrepreneurs suffer from some kind of mental health problem related to the stress of starting and developing a business. In fact, some of the most successful company founders have suffered from the effects of stress and burnout, which include anxiety, depression, and even a complete nervous breakdown as a result of constantly living with pressure, risk, financial worries, responsibility, and overwork.

Even Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has not only publicly admitted he lives with the challenges of being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, but also lives with anxiety and depression.

And closer to home, the Portuguese banker Sir António Horta Osório bravely admitted how a toxic combination of worry, overwork and the burden of responsibility running the UK’s Lloyd’s Banking Group caused him to suffer burnout and take time out.

A few months into his job, when he discovered the true extent of Lloyd’s financial problems, severe insomnia led to five consecutive nights of no sleep at all which he described “a form of torture”.

Sir António did come back to the bank, but only after a spell in the famous London mental health clinic The Priory, where he slept for 16-hour stretches, and spent a great deal of recuperation at his home in Chelsea.

While surprising at the time — especially in the take-no-prisoners corporate world — the episode ended up as a positive. Lloyds introduced a mental health programme at the bank including training up thousands of mental health first aiders.

And when Sir António was knighted in 2020, it was for his services to mental healthcare as well as the financial services industry.

Adrenalin and anxiety

Rita Maçorano, CEO and co-founder of Nevaro, a mental health and wellbeing startup, says that uncertainty and not knowing how the business will be tomorrow, and whether it will succeed or fail, is one of the key stressors that founders have to deal with.

Founders also become addicted to the constant adrenalin that derives from this uncertainty. “That makes it exciting because we want to bring our projects to life and be successful, but we don’t away understand the effect that has on our overall health, and we might disregard our physical health by not getting enough rest, and understand the consequences of being a workaholic”, she said at the debate ‘Beating the Blues: How entrepreneurs and founders find balance and wellness’ organised by RedBridge – the first event for 2024, and second event on mental health startups and founders — at computer programming school Lisboa 42.

Inês Sequeira, Director of Casa do Impacto, which launched the mental health pilot programme ‘Target’ in October 2023 – the first mental health and wellness programme directed at entrepreneurs in Portugal – said that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Portugal was becoming more aware of the importance of mental health, although she admitted that culturally the Portuguese were not so focused on such issues or used to going into therapy. (As is more common and accepted in the United States, for example)

“I feel that in other countries the discussions are much more advanced than in Portugal. For example, there is a substantial number of founders who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) whose main positive features include resilience, creativity, and hyper-focus and it is no accident that people with ADHD often become entrepreneurs,” she said.

Inês Sequeira revealed that there are still gender issues regarding openness to discussing mental health and wellbeing issues and this was patent when it was observed that more women entrepreneurs than men signed up for the ‘Target’ pilot.

Since ‘Target’ started in October 2023, it has signed up around 200 startup founders and company leaders in a project that will continue throughout this year.

It has an investment of €25,000 being deployed by the social impact incubator Casa do Impacto and is mostly financed by Portuguese insurer Fidelidade. Its adoption by other incubators at a national level is one of its goals.

Designed from October last year, “we have been organising monthly activities dedicated to promoting mental heath and wellbeing, including awareness sessions, deep-dive workshops, and wellbeing activities”, explained Inês Sequeira who added that the active phase of the pilot began in January.

Target is also planning a retreat for impact entrepreneurs in Portugal aimed at the founders of the Casa do Impacto community — the incubator that has 65 startups and supports a further 250.

There is an aspect of the programme called ‘Empowerment’ where issues and problems are discussed and faced in the security of a ‘Founders Circle’ and while guided by a coach, the idea is that founders help each other to find solutions to problems they are facing.

Another aspect called ‘Healing’ is basically coaching therapy with activities centred around yoga and mindfulness.

At the end of the programme the impact team will gauge how successful the programme was and what were the key takeaways.

Challenging stigma

Moderator Raquel Sampaio, lawyer, and co-founder and executive director of Direito Mental, and Vice-President of Mind Alliance Portugal, pointed out that there was still considerable stigma surrounding mental health issues in Portugal, where it is considered a vulnerability and a weakness, and asked how could this stigma be tackled?

Rita Maçorano, co-founder and CEO of Nevaro said science was the best way of dealing with stigma. “The skeptics can’t fight the facts of science and with our app you can see the science behind it”.

For example, Nevaro’s app ‘Holi’ uses mobile phone sensors, as well as a holistic and wellbeing evaluation models that measures a person’s burnout level in order to quantify and personalise their progress on the path to managing their mental health. It also has a mood tracker where a staff member in a company can write how they feel. The information can be used to monitor and evaluate signs of burnout, with alerts issued when the risks are high.

In one Lisbon IT company it was found that 71% of employees using the app were men. “It shows that if you go into a company armed with facts and explain the science and methodology, they will accept it, use it, and it will have an impact”, she says.

And adds; “We are hired for a job based on our capacity to perform, and that involves the mind, so it’s obviously connected, and that if the mind is healthy, so will the output. The question is how can we reach people and make them listen?”

As to the role of the entrepreneurial ecosystem community, the social side of mental health was crucial within the ecosystem because it was good to know that others were facing the same kind of mental health difficulties as you and showed you were not alone. “It gives you hope, you understand others went through it and overcame it, and found the strength to keep on going, and that is what is really crucial,” concluded Rita Maçorano, Co-founder and CEO of Nevaro.


This first RedBridge event of the year called ‘Beating the Blues’ was held once again at the premises of 42 Lisboa, one of the best coding schools in the world. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, students can set their own pace and path, according to their availability, talent and interests.
The 42 program is 100% free, there are no academic requirements to apply and employability is guaranteed, promoting the development of a better and more ‘techy’ future generation.

Carolina Fulcher. Chief Marketing Officer for 42 Lisboa explained that as a coding school it was very different from other schools because the students don’t pay fees. 42 Lisboa is sponsored by companies.

“Software is very important now and the students are very well prepared for the job market. We don’t have any teachers or classes. They learn through projects that they have to submit and learn by doing and finish the course with a whole portfolio of projects. The students learn to code in C and C++”, she said. (C and C++ are programming languages that can be used for developing applications such as game development, GUI applications, operating system, databases, etc. The C programming language is known as the God of programming languages, whereas C++ is an extended version of C.)

“The students learn the toughest language, they learn with each other, but they also have a club and can play music so it’s a bit like a university for them but without teachers telling them what to do.”


Redbridge started in 2020 as a way to connect tech startup founders, entrepreneurs and creative professionals between California and Lisbon. (and the rest of Portugal). Founded by best-selling author and writer Jonathan Littman, marketing guru Hugo Antonello (FunnyHow) and Nathan Hadlock (Pela Terra Fund), its vibrant community includes founders, lawyers, artists, authors and journalists. The community currently has 140 members and different informal networking events with panel speakers, some of which are based a RedBridge’s Lisbon HQ on Rua Vítor Cordon and Shack 15 in San Francisco. The community is now building bridges between Portugal, the US and the UK, France and Brazil. Since last year it has partnered with Lisbon’s LX Unicorn Factory, Startup Lisboa, and also partners with Unbabel (the Portuguese language and automated translation unicorn), 42 Lisboa (coding school), and LBC, HERE Partners, Healthtec Lisboa, and AGPC.


The mental healthcare tech Nevaro provides digital solutions for mental health, wellbeing and performance based on physiological biomarkers and gamification. It makes mental health tangible by prioritising science-based innovation: understanding the brain and connecting its pieces through physiological and behavioural biomarkers and gamified experiences.
It has developed a personal trainer for mental health that can be used through a smartphone to measure and suggest the best way of coping with daily mental health issues such as stress.


Part of Portugal’s oldest and largest charitable institution, Casa da Misericórdia, Casa do Impacto comprises a new generation of entrepreneurs who believe in sustainable business models capable of creating social impact by promoting innovative solutions to solving social and environmental that align with the values promoted by Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa. Its latest project ‘Target’ is the first mental health and wellness project directed at entrepreneurs in Portugal and achieved an initial funding round of €25,000 for a pilot lasting one year involving around 200 people.