Business

Amae Health is developing a personal approach to mental health care in an increasingly digital space

When Sonia García and Stas Sokolin decided to start Amae Health to solve the broken care system for people with serious mental illnesses, they were already well-versed in the industry’s problems.

“I started thinking about this problem a very long time ago,” said Sokolin, CEO of Amae. “I grew up with a sister who suffered from bipolar disorder for many, many years, and as a family we always struggled to find her care. It felt like everything was made up of pieces and our family was falling apart.”

Garcia also had her own experiences with the mental health system. She lost her father to suicide when she was 16, and then she and her family spent years caring for her brother, who suffered from schizoaffective and bipolar disorder. Sokolin and García were introduced by mutual friends at Stanford because they both had a passion for the field. The couple knew the system could be better.

They launched Amae Health in 2022 to provide a new approach to supporting patients with serious mental illnesses. Amae brings together resources – including family and individual therapy, social workers, mental health care and medication management – ​​all under one roof. That is, a physical roof, because Amae focuses on a personal approach. The startup hired Dr. Scott Fears, who had experience with this all-encompassing approach to care through his work with Los Angeles Veterans Affair Hospital, so they could iterate and improve an existing model rather than starting a new model from scratch.

Amae Health just raised a $15 million Series A round led by Quiet Capital with participation from Healthier Capital, the company of former One Medical CEO Amir Dan Rubin; Baszucki Group and Index Ventures partner Mike Volpi, as well as all of the company’s seed investors. The startup currently has a clinic in Los Angeles and plans to use the capital for expansion. The next center will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, followed shortly by locations in Houston, Ohio and New York.

The funds will also be used to further expand the company’s data platform. Sokolin said the company is using AI to sift through the volumes of data collected in its clinic to find ways to further improve care.

Many startups have been founded in recent years to improve the mental health system, but Amae Health’s focus and approach stands out. Most mental health startups launched during the pandemic are digital-first and focused on anxiety and depression. Amae looks completely different.

There’s nothing wrong with having a number of companies focused on anxiety and depression, of course, and it’s good to see founders also focused on helping people with serious mental illnesses. Severe psychological problems 14.1 million people in the USA are affected, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But there is much less innovation in the industry.

This isn’t all that surprising: Solutions for people with serious mental illnesses don’t fit as neatly into a traditional venture model as many telemedicine and digital solutions. People with serious mental illnesses require face-to-face care, making solutions more expensive and slower to scale.

“When we first went out to raise money, a lot of venture capitalists asked, ‘Why are you doing this in person?’ Why isn’t this virtual?’” Sokolin said. “The fact is that you cannot treat someone who is having delusions or auditory hallucinations virtually. Just like you can’t treat cancer virtually, you can’t treat this virtually either.”

The nature of the business also means they won’t immediately expand to all 50 states, as some digital health startups have managed to do. García said the company agreed with this because it was more focused on results than scaling.

“This is about intentional growth and scale, not a winner-takes-all market, but about being truly thoughtful and conscious about how we grow and ensuring we create lasting change and recovery in these people’s lives Garcia said.

Trying to scale too quickly has hurt some mental health startups. The therapy telemedicine platform Cerebral has come under criticism for this Advertising to potential customers and how patient data is handled in his pursuit of greatness.

This slower growth approach can and has worked in the past, said Sokolin, a former VC at both the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Health2047. A prime example is One Medical, a full-service healthcare system including personal care. The company raised more than $500 million before being acquired by Amazon for $3.9 billion. It’s no surprise that the former CEO is a current investor in Amae.

Sokolin and García agree that their approach has scared off some potential investors. They are more focused on building a system for quality care and not just on the number of patients they can treat.

“There are many more people than anyone could ever treat,” Sokolin said of the number of people with serious mental illness. “We will never treat more than a small fraction, but we want to be the best-in-class provider for these members.”

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