Matt Keenan

Matt Castagnozzi ’23 creates Psych-Tek, a service to help normalize psychedelic treatments

headshot of a student in a suit

When you think of magic mushrooms, what immediately comes to mind? For most, mushrooms and other psychedelics invoke images of colorful hallucinations and recreational trips with friends. Indeed, mushrooms and their hallucinogenic chemical, psilocybin, continue to be a taboo subject for most people. But for Matt Castagnozzi, a native of Millbrook, N.Y. and a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a minor in Information Technology, Design, and Startups (IDS) from the School of Information Studies, psilocybin, in conjunction with the use of advanced technologies, represents a promising form of treatment for anxiety and depression and a chance to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry.

Castagnozzi’s discovery of psilocybin was accidental and unexpected. Diagnosed with depression and social anxiety as a teenager, he was prescribed a laundry list of standard treatment options by his doctor, specifically different selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most common antidote to anxiety and depression in western medicine. Frustrated with the medication’s ineffectiveness and his overall lack of treatment progress, he began to research alternative forms of treatment. After perusing the depths of Google and consulting others with similar situations, Castagnozzi recognized a commonality: psychedelics, specifically in the form of psilocybin, were surprisingly successful in treating symptoms and were beginning to build momentum as a viable option for medical care.

“I did more of my own research into the effects of mushrooms,” said Castagnozzi. “I found that there are actually a lot of treatments being developed using psilocybin mushrooms to treat depression and anxiety. I thought that if this could potentially help me, then I’d love to help as many people as I can.”

With this newfound knowledge and passion for psychedelic treatments, Castagnozzi began brainstorming ways he could aid in making these forms of medicine a viable and common option. Through the Student Sandbox, a part of his IDS minor, he decided to take a leap of faith and launch Psych-Tek, a startup leveraging the power of data and technology to gauge interest levels in alternative forms of treatment and educate people on how these medication forms can work for their specific issues.

“Psych-Tek is essentially a data brokerage,” explained Castagnozzi. “We put out mental health evaluation forms to see what types of problems you are facing, what your medication is, and if you are open to alternative treatments.”

From there, Psych-Tek plans to take the data they receive and sell it to medical professionals so they can better inform their research on psychedelic treatments. Castagnozzi also envisions Psych-Tek collecting survey respondents’ contact information to connect them with companies conducting relevant clinical trials with psychedelics.

Though psychedelic legalization is in its early stages (Denver, Colo. became the first city to legalize psilocybin in May of 2019), Castagnozzi is confident in its progress and long-term viability, which will greatly aid Psych-Tek’s reach and impact.

“I would say there is going to be a lot of mainstream traction in the next 10 years,” said Castagnozzi. “One of the biggest reasons is because (major sports leagues) are looking into treatments for players with brain injuries. There are also a lot of companies that are very far along into their development stages.”

Though there has been an abundance of obstacles with the formation of Psych-Tek, such as reaching out to established researchers and finding potential survey respondents, working on a self-proclaimed passion project has fueled him to continue to grow the project.

“For me, the whole practice of building a business is really exciting,” said Castagnozzi. “I really like trying to figure out how to make an idea viable. I truly do believe these treatments can help people in ways that traditional medications can’t.”

Looking long term, Castagnozzi would love to build Psych-Tek into a regular data provider to medical professionals and researchers. For now, however, he is looking to gain exposure and brand recognition in the psychedelic treatment space and improve the functionality of Psych-Tek’s survey capability. Castagnozzi recognizes that growth and expansion won’t be an easy task but doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Castagnozzi. “Just because things get hard doesn’t mean you should give up.

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow Matt Keenan ’22; photo supplied

Audrey Miller ’20 channels her passion for social entrepreneurship at the Watson Institute

photo of a person against a mountain backdrop

When it comes to social entrepreneurship and supporting young founders with a purpose, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who radiates as much passion and devotion as Audrey Miller ’20. Miller, a Toledo, Ohio native and Syracuse University graduate who double-majored in political science and international relations in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, now channels this entrepreneurial spirit through her role as Program Coordinator at the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Miller’s interest in social entrepreneurship dates back to her senior year of high school, where she worked with a non-profit focused on education, community sustainability, and long-term growth in Uganda. For Miller, this was an eye-opening experience that shifted the trajectory of her educational and professional journey.  

“This was the first time I had ever really heard of community sustainability,” said Miller. “Before that, my only idea of sustainability was environmental sustainability and not this idea of building up a community. After this, I became really interested.”

When Miller landed on the Syracuse University campus for her freshman year in 2016, she immediately sought out ways to become involved in the university’s sustainability and social entrepreneurship community. After watching a presentation in one of her first semester classes, Miller reached out to the founders of Thrive Projects, a student-run non-profit focused on building community-sourced solar panels in Nepal. After working with Thrive Projects throughout her freshman year, Miller took the initiative to launch her own student organization named Thrive at SU, which served as a bridge between local non-profits and the university student body.

“We focused on how to help students get skills and build their resumes while giving back to the community,” explained Miller. “There are so many cool and diverse things in the City of Syracuse that I feel like as students we get cut off from.”

Through her work with Thrive at SU, Miller became acquainted with the Blackstone LaunchPad and its members, where she eventually accepted a role as a Global Media Fellow in her sophomore year. In this position, Miller assumed the responsibility of managing Syracuse University’s Hult Prize Competition, a prestigious global business competition focused on granting prizes for solutions to societal problems. While working as a campus director for Hult Prize, Miller was granted the opportunity to travel to London, England to meet with campus directors from other universities at the organization’s accelerator program, an experience that made a lasting impact on her career path.

“That trip really solidified my love for social entrepreneurship,” said Miller. “It was really amazing getting to meet all these other people from around the world who had the same desire to have a positive impact and enable others to have a positive impact. It was such a transformative experience.”

With her sights set on working in the social entrepreneurship space after graduation, Miller packed her bags and moved west to Boulder, Colo., where she accepted a role as an Operations Coordinator with the Watson Institute, an accelerator program focused on assisting and educating young, early-stage entrepreneurs through biannual 16-week programs. The Watson Institute also prioritizes initiatives aiming to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges through technology and innovation, a mission that provides meaning to Miller’s work.  

“I feel very honored to be able to work with so many amazing young people who want to have a huge impact on the world,” said Miller.

Now in her new role as Program Coordinator, Miller draws on many of her prior experiences to navigate a dynamic and exciting schedule as part of the small Watson Institute team, where her span of responsibility ranges from running classes and grading course assignments to managing the mentorship program. From working on the Hult Prize in the LaunchPad to launching her own student organization on campus, Miller feels as though her experiences on the Syracuse University campus were invaluable.

“If you want to work with an entrepreneur, you have you have entrepreneurial skills yourself,” explained Miller. “The skills I have now were developed in the LaunchPad and through my other experiences. They are what got me to where I am now.”

Miller relishes the social entrepreneurship community and connections she has made since starting her job and stays in close contact with many of the Watson Institute’s former students, no matter if they live in the United States or in foreign countries like China, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Above all, she finds gratification in hearing success stories of former students who have gone on to make real change in the world through by way of their ventures.

“There have been times when I have cried from seeing how amazing some of these people are,” said Miller. “I feel so humbled being able to work with them.”

Though she doesn’t have her own transformative social entrepreneurship idea, Miller plans on staying in the social entrepreneurial space and continuing to assist talented young entrepreneurs into the distant future.

“This work has given me such a different perspective on the world and the problems I face every day,” said Miller. “I love being able to help others make progress and make a huge impact in their community.”

Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Matt Keenan ’22