Startup Profile: Hopscotch
If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down then a fun game might help a treatment plan stick. Children with a diagnosed behavioral health condition, like ADHD or anxiety, often have trouble finding treatment due to provider shortages across the country. Those children who are able to see a clinician often don’t follow through with the full treatment protocol because clinicians have few tools to engage the children and their families outside of the office visit. Hopscotch, the first place winner of the Blackstone LaunchPad pitch competition, held this year at Startup Grind’s annual conference, provides a technology that aims to make pediatric behavioral health more engaging and accessible for children.
“We’re addressing the pediatric mental health crisis facing children and adolescents in America,” says Hopscotch founder and CEO Marla Beyer. Estimating that up to 80% of children with diagnoses go without care due to provider shortages, she developed Hopscotch to digitize treatment programs, allowing clinicians to increase the interactivity of both in person and virtual appointments and extend the reach beyond the office setting by providing digital treatment plans that make it easier for children to follow through between sessions.
When clinicians sign up to use Hopscotch, they gain access to the library of digital content ranging in age, condition, and therapeutic approach. The content is appropriate for use both in a digital, telehealth setting and for in-person appointments. Developed by Hopscotch’s clinical experts, the library includes both synchronous content that clinicians can use during a session and asynchronous programs, such as games or daily check-ins for children to access at home. The majority of content in Hopscotch’s library is rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, though some exercises fit within other therapeutic approaches.
“We try to provide as much autonomy as we can to the provider, giving them a varied range of content across the treatment spectrum so they can find what they need depending on who they see come into the office,” Marla says. “As we launched, we received hundreds of content request from clinicians who have been using the platform, asking for specific exercises, and saying that they love the gamified content. We definitely lean on clinicians to inform our product road map.”
In addition to providing content that supports clinician’s work, Hopscotch enables providers to collect and analyze data about their clients’ progress. “Data is crucial in understanding outcomes in behavioral health, for example to determine whether a modification to the approach is necessary. Most providers rely on anecdotal feedback to inform their approach. [With Hopscotch, they can] have a wholistic picture.”
The seeds for Hopscotch were planted when Marla was working at children’s hospital in Buffalo, coordinating NIH trials related to children’s behavioral health and working closely with children, their caregivers, and clinicians.
“Being able to see the care process for a 100-foot level helped me understand the inefficiencies. I heard every day the personal and intimate stories of patients and their families, how they had to wait months to see a provider, and how drastic an impact it had on their lives. I felt I had to do something to solve some of the inefficiencies in the space.”
To explore the idea further, she went to Cornell Business school. During her first week on campus, before classes event started, she searched for the school’s entrepreneurship hub, the Cornell Blackstone LaunchPad.
“I walked into the campus director Felix’s office and said, ‘Hi, I have this idea, do you think it’s good?’” Marla recalls with a laugh. “He said, ‘I’m not the one to tell you if it’s a good idea. You need to talk to customers. Come back to me once you’ve spoken to 100 customers.’ I didn’t want to do that — it seemed like so much work. But then I spoke to one customer, and then to ten, and I just kept going.”
With the support of Felix and the Cornell LaunchPad, Marla was able to turn her idea into a company. In the past two years, she participated in eLabs at Cornell as well as Harvard Innovation labs, was selected to join the Johnson & Johnson Incubation labs in Washington DC, signed on 16,000 clinicians as users, and won first place (and $25,000) at the Blackstone LaunchPad Annual Pitch Competition.
Though grateful for the prize, Marla says the bigger benefit of the Pitch Competition was the mentorship she received. “Now that I’m beginning to fundraise, it was really helpful to have mentors from Blackstone provide feedback on our pitch. They were willing to work with us in multiple sessions to refine and button up our pitch, and they were so helpful beyond the competition.”
In addition to suggesting students get involved with their campus LaunchPad or other entrepreneurship center, Marla has the following advice for students considering starting a company:
1. Take advantage of being a student founder.
“People and alumni are really happy and willing to take the time to talk to students in a way that’s different than what you experience as a full-time entrepreneur.”
2. Focus on your customer.
“Focus on the problem you’re solving, not the product or solution you’re building… One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten is ‘you’re one of the most customer focused founders I’ve ever met.’ It was such a great compliment because it means I’m committed to understanding the exact problem and the exact need. You have to be obsessed with your customer.”
3. Be willing to change your mind.
“Go into conversations with customers ready to pivot. Your idea will change. If it doesn’t, you’re doing something wrong. If you pivot, that means you’re headed in the right direction. Your customer is more important than your lightbulb idea.”
4. Resilience is like a muscle that entrepreneurship helps to strengthen.
“I’ve been told no hundreds of times. It’s important to be able to make it through to that one yes that allows you to take two steps forward… I like to think of myself as flexible and resilient, but when you go through the process of starting the company that muscle becomes stronger with each rejection, failure, and pivot, and it becomes easier over time.”