HealthTech startup Clayful raises $7M to connect students to mental health experts within 60 seconds

The mental health crisis sweeping across America isn’t sparing anyone, impacting both adults and students alike. In recent years, we have also seen a worrying rise in mental health issues among young individuals, marking what many are calling a pediatric mental health crisis.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the distress caused by a year of school closures and familial difficulties has resulted in social isolation, heightened stress, and mental health challenges among school-age teens. Moreover, the CDC’s findings also indicate a significant 40% surge in persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and alarming rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among young people.

That’s why Davie, Florida-based startup Clayful is on a mission is to address this crisis through its text-based coaching platform designed to support kids’ mental wellness. Clayful collaborates with K-12 schools and school districts, swiftly connecting students aged eight to 18 with human coaches for guidance and mental health expert in a near real-time fashion. Additionally, they provide self-paced content through journals to students, teachers, and counselors on a weekly basis. Importantly, Clayful uses data-driven insights to aid school staff, issuing alerts when a student seems to be struggling, ensuring timely intervention and support.

Today, Clayful shared the news of securing $7 million in funding from a group of investors that includes Google Latino Founders Fund, Reach Capital, Ovo Fund, Common Sense Ventures, Charter School Growth Fund, and Wisdom Ventures.

The decision to launch Clayful stemmed from a significant catalyst for co-founder and CEO Maria Barrera. After coming across a New York Times article highlighting the alarming surge in suicide rates among 8-year-olds, Barrera made a life-changing choice. She left her position as the head of growth and partnerships at the people ops platform ChartHop to establish Clayful alongside co-founder and Chief Experience Officer Melissa Pelochino.

Recalling her motivation, Barrera shared with local news outlet Refresh Miami that she didn’t have a clear picture of what lay ahead, but she felt compelled to be part of the solution. Her journey began with extensive conversations with various stakeholders, including teachers, kids, and parents.

“I had no idea what this was going to look like, but I knew that I needed to be part of the solution,” Barrera said.

In the early stages, Barrera identified a crucial issue – the lack of diversity among psychologists, with 86% being white. Recognizing the disparity, she added, “That does not reflect me and it does not affect the majority of the school population out there.” This observation played a pivotal role in shaping Clayful’s mission and approach.

“We’re filling a gap in schools where they don’t have enough staff to navigate the mental health challenges that their kids are facing. And for kids, we’re bridging the gap between when they feel a bad emotion – whether that’s fear, sadness, anger – and when they rebound from that,” continued Barrera.

“We meet them where they’re at – either on their phones or computers – and connect them with a coach within 60 seconds that’s there to support them and listen to whatever’s on their mind.”

Now, Clayful wants to “ensure every student gets a trusted, certified [human] coach in their pockets and/or school device,” Barrera said. “Our design is based on meeting kids where they are at in and outside of school, online and on their schedule.”

“The situation was dire – too many kids in need and not enough mental health professionals available to help them,” she added.

Current research from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) also underscores the urgency, recommending at least one school counselor for every 250 students. However, the reality falls short, with only one school counselor for every 444 students.

Driven by their shared experiences at Nearpod, an edtech startup, and a deep understanding of the education landscape, Maria Barrera and Melissa Pelochino, the CEO and Chief Experience Officer of Clayful, respectively, founded the startup two years ago. Boasting over two decades of combined expertise in edtech and education, Pelochino, a former teacher, has contributed her insights as a consultant at Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with a role as the director of professional development at K-12 Lab at the Stanford

In response to the pressing need for mental health support in schools, Clayful launched its on-demand, chat-based mental health coaching platform in the spring of 2022. Currently, the startup collaborates with over 50 schools, reaching thousands of students nationwide, Barrera told TechCrunch.

“Our customers are school district decision-makers — like superintendents and directors of student services — who can bring this platform to their student body,” Barrera said. “Partnering with schools provides access and equity to all students, regardless of family means or geographic location.”

Highlighting their unique approach, Barrera explained that Clayful stands out from industry competitors like Daybreak and Cartwheel by connecting users with mental health experts in just 60 seconds through instant messaging technology. This enables real-time connections and dialogues between students and coaches, setting Clayful apart in the field.

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