ND Founders Profile #12: Notre Dame Grad Launches Psychological Well-Being Company With Faculty Member

Author: Lillian Piz

Connor Toohill Nd Founders Facebook Connor Toohill (economics and political science, class of 2014) co-founded Ritual in 2018


Company Founded: Ritual Year Graduated: 2014
Title: Co-Founder and CEO Degree: B.A., Economics and Political Science
Location: New York City (headquarters) Residence Hall: Dillon Hall

It was during his senior year at Notre Dame when Connor Toohill discovered the thing that might become his lifelong calling. “I fell in love with concepts related to wellbeing. It became the thing in the world that I was most interested in.” Simultaneously, during his time as a Notre Dame undergraduate, Toohill had caught the entrepreneurial bug working on a side project called NextGen Journal, a national collegiate media platform. Now, six years since his graduation, Toohill has returned to his Notre Dame roots and combined these two interests through Ritual: the company he co-founded with Dante Doig-Acuña and ND Prof. Matt Bloom.

Ritual is a mobile platform for guided wellbeing and spiritual practices - like meditation, contemplative prayer, and personal reflection. The company partners with experts throughout the world to share a variety of practices - such that people can select and customize a wellbeing routine that is right for them. 

“We identify existing experts that want to share their practice, partner with them and support them to develop guided audio content.” Toohill explains that while there are currently great resources for audio-guided mindfulness meditation practices, “We knew this was only the tip of the iceberg for wellbeing. Meditation apps tend to be hyper-niche wherein they focus on one particular practice for one particular outcome. We knew from our team’s research that in order to maintain high wellbeing, it can be really helpful to engage with multiple types of practice.”

How did this all come about? During Toohill’s senior year at Notre Dame, he reconnected with Matt Bloom, an associate professor in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. Toohill thoroughly enjoyed the conversations he had with Bloom and Fr. Daniel Groody about well-being and purpose within one’s life and career. Soon, these conversations evolved into plans to develop curriculum for a class called The Heart’s Desire and Social Change. “We had lots of conversations about topics related to wellbeing and spirituality from varying perspectives.” 

While Toohill was clearly invested in dialogue surrounding mental, social and spiritual wellbeing, it was when he went to live in South Africa post-graduation that he developed not just an intellectual connection with these topics, but a personal one as well. “I really struggled with anxiety. In the process I came up with a set of tools to help; this included things like meditation, contemplative prayer, gratitude and personal reflection.” As a teacher at African Leadership Academy, Toohill noticed that many of his students faced similar challenges. 

On the tails of Toohill’s personal experience, he received a call from Bloom who had received research grants to study psychological well-being and was now trying to figure out how to share that research. “Matt had been learning a tremendous amount about the nature of our wellbeing -which we understand as all the elements of your mental, emotional and spiritual health -- really anything related to quality of life beyond physical health.” Bloom presented Toohill with an opportunity: to build a new company that would bring well-being insights to the world.

As the idea started to evolve into a product, Toohill and Bloom felt prepared to take the next step. “We started to get a sense of the platform that we wanted to build - and at that point we went to work with the IDEA Center to actually start standing this up as a company. We did a lot of validation work with Ben Hoggan and his team which was really helpful in building this out in the early stages.” 

Toohill speaks to the ambitious mission that Ritual seeks to accomplish: “Wellbeing is a multidimensional experience. There are a wide range of different practices… from meditation, to contemplative prayer in different religious and spiritual traditions, to reflective practices, to forms of identity exploration and intentional social experience. There is no one size fits all model.  Different practices help different people at different points in their lives.” By creating a central platform for these practices, Ritual hopes to help as many people as possible to build and sustain high levels of wellbeing.

Reflecting on his own entrepreneurial journey which has taken him full circle back to Notre Dame, Toohill emphasizes that, “Entrepreneurship is really hard. Search for a problem you are especially passionate about solving, a solution you are uniquely positioned to build and a team that you truly enjoy pursuing that with. Because if you find something that is really meaningful to you, that is what will sustain you amidst the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey.” 

Ritual just released its beta platform featuring guided practices from its first eight expert partners, and it can be downloaded from the iOS App Store!