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Sumathi Chandrasekaran, Founder at Mind Cafe


Great Companies: How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: I have been practicing as a counseling psychologist for the past 18 years in Chennai. I see my clients only by appointment. I have observed many times, certain clients who suffer from severe anxiety and depression need help and want to get relieved from their emotional distress, but only to find themselves feeling more hopeless due to the unavailability of counseling services at the right time. I found that these people need to get professional help at the right and earliest time to prevent further severity of a mental disorder.


This made me rethink how I could help to resolve these kinds of situations and also assist in providing assistance for those in distress immediately, so as to improve their quality of life. This made me come out of the idea of Mind Café, with people just walking in without any prior appointments and reaching out to a professional, in an unconventional setting over a cup of coffee.


Great Companies: What are the various services provided by Mind Cafe

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: The clients are not only made feel more resourceful to find their own solutions to their problems but also facilitate the development of a positive and healthy self-identity. Each of them is provided an art corner, in which they are allowed to connect to the creative part of the brain, by drawing mandalas, an artwork to release stressful emotions. They are provided with a body scan, a relaxation method that helps to ease their body and mind. Certain clients who have the severity of symptoms that are identified with any mental disorder will be referred to a nearby psychiatrist. In this way, we ensure that people are directed in the right direction to the right professional at the apt time without delay.



Great Companies: What makes Mind Cafe different from hundreds of other similar service providers?

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: Definitely, in India, there is no place that offers the kind of service that mind café could offer, as this concept is a disruptive model. Mind café's purpose is to break the stigma of counseling and provide a safe place for people to step in for their emotional problems that are easily accessible and affordable. Moreover, the other counseling centers are conventional and one needs to fix an appointment prior to visiting their place. Mind café have the facility of walking in, just when they feel burdened and thus alleviate their negative emotions. Mind café also assists in providing the required referrals, as we have a red book that contains all professional and alternate therapist contacts and addresses. The clients are provided a cozy ambiance with free-of-cost coffee to make them feel more comfortable and less stigmatized.


Great Companies: What were the struggles and challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: It was not an easy road for me. This concept was not only a disruptive model but a business model that addresses a social issue. In our society, it’s still a stigma to approach a professional to talk about their emotional issues. It has been a situation that involved multiple networking of people and consistent strenuous efforts. I knew that this involves a business consultant, as I had been more of a professional for many years. I had initially sought help from one of my mentors who guided me through the process of establishing a mind cafe. 


I, being a self-determined, and optimistic person, decided to take the plunge initially with the support of my team members of my NGO, Yuvathi. I started the first center, at Chepauk in Chennai in September 2018, with 5 members, including 3 psychologists, a relaxation therapist, and an admin. The response was good enough initially for the first six months. We later expanded by collaborating with either multi-specialty hospitals or other medical centers. I found that it was difficult to sustain our services in certain centers due to a lack of awareness about the facility available and the lack of awareness to seek professional help for their own emotional needs. The stigma attached to seeking or talking to a professional by itself was the biggest challenge.

 

In spite of these challenges, we managed to establish Mind café in two centers presently, one in Anna Nagar associated with Nithra Sleep institute and another in purasaiwalkam. Currently, collaboration talks are going on for establishing an exclusive Mind Café in Chennai with more refurbished services. This mind café is a café, with professionals available to relieve the client's emotional stress and provide an opportunity to reclaim their self-worthiness.


The other most vital challenge was providing training to the team of psychologists specifically, in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, a very effective therapeutic model for addressing the emotional needs of the clients. In India, the number of psychologists available is very less compared to the ratio that is necessary for the number of people in emotional distress. So, identifying an efficient professional with maximum experience who could work with a passion for a noble purpose.


I am prepared to face any number of challenges that could arise in my pathway toward this dream project for India.


Great Companies: How do you plan to grow in the future? What do 5 years down the line look like for Mind Cafe?

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: I am planning to expand in Chennai and Bangalore as early as possible. It could be a franchise-based model or by company-owned expansion. I strongly believe that, after 5 years, the need for Mind café services will be felt throughout India in most of the states. So, each state will be having multiple Mind Café centers that could be spread over all cities of the state.


Great Companies: If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?

Sumathi Chandrasekaran: Business is not about receiving profits alone, it’s about what I am willing to give and adding value to people in need

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