Health Tech: the teen builders of Hopelab

Happy Friday night, Health Tech readers.

👩‍⚕️ Situational awareness: The senses. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduce legislation today to define a federal right to fertility treatments, in the belief that restrictions on abortion could apply to the technology of assisted procreation, our colleague Oriana Gonzalez writing.

1 big thing: Hopelab wants teens to build

Animated gif of a loading screen with a brain

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some venture capitalists paying adults to start businesses for teenagers. Youth-focused behavioral health investor Hopelab is putting young people to work in these startups.

The strategy means the company’s portfolio companies can compete with TikTok and Instagram to help young people thrive, Erin Sietstra, Head of Investments at Hopelab, told Erin.

Why is it important: Soaring rates of teenage mental health disorders have created a market for youth-focused behavioral health startups that could gross up to $26 billion by 2027, annually recent report of venture capital firm Telosity.

Driving the news: Venture capital investment in youth-focused mental health companies has skyrocketed in recent years, from $59 million in 2018 to $871 million in 2021, per Telosity.

  • As recently as July 2020, when Sietstra joined Hopelab, employers and health plans were uninterested in youth mental health services.
  • “Fast forward to now,” Sietstra told Erin, “and employers are saying, ‘Yeah, we need youth solutions because that’s what our customers are asking for. “”
  • It “looks like this big, sudden wave of investment,” adds Sietstra.

Rollback: This month, Hopelab awarded $1.5 million to five startups offering youth-focused mental health care services: Brave Health, CarawayInStride, MindRight and Purple.

  • Other startups in the company’s portfolio include eating disorder treatment company Equip, school-focused telehealth provider Hazel and teletherapy company Huddle.

How it works: In each of its businesses, Hopelab puts young people in the driver’s seat, helping to create, design and develop products and services that teens actually want to use.

  • Holding company Carawayfor example, interviewed dozens of young people representing a variety of races, gender identities and sexual orientations before going public, CEO Lori Evans Bernstein previously told Axios.
  • The company eventually hired nearly a dozen Gen Z employees in its on-campus product and engagement segments.

What they say : “You’re going to respond better to someone’s needs when you hear from the users themselves,” says Sietstra.

  • “If we view engagement as the key to effectiveness, you’ll have to really understand what it takes to capture and hold a young person’s attention,” she adds.

Yes and: The shortage of trained, representative and affordable mental health providers has made individual therapy inaccessible to many young people, but especially those from underrepresented groups. (As of 2019, 88% councilors identified as white.)

  • These constraints have led Hopelab to invest in more creative mental health support solutions, such as those that use coaches and peer groups.
  • Sietstra sees these tools as particularly useful “if you’re not in a situation where you can get a provider who is comfortable and equipped to understand your identity or talk about things that might be stigmatized in your community or a great rite of passage in your community.”

And after: Hopelab’s latest collaborative effort, Youthlab, pays people between the ages of 13 and 24 to help shape the design of digital products and participate in research collaborations.

  • “We try to reduce the obstacles that prevent companies from integrating young people into their development process,” said Sietstra.

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