Four Key Takeaways for Startups Targeting Collaboration with Health Insurers

Allyson Plosko, Director, Telosity, Vinaj

When Ashley Edwards, CEO of MindRight, worked in operations at a charter school in Newark, NJ, many of the students she encountered were facing trauma, from extreme poverty to food insecurity to mass incarceration. Despite these pervasive struggles, there was only one school counselor for hundreds of students, leaving them to navigate these challenges on their own.

As part of the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech conference, we had the chance to sit down with Ashley and Yavar Moghimi, M.D., Chief Psychiatric Medical Officer at Amerihealth Caritas DC, to discuss their collaboration to provide more emotional support to students in these underserved communities. In the course of our conversation, they offered four critical insights to founders working in the mental healthcare space:

  • Mental health care and support services need to meet youth where they are. For Ashley, choosing to deliver support through text rather than a mobile app was a no-brainer. In the communities she wants to serve, mental health care is often stigmatized. Most teens don't want an identifiable mental healthcare app on their phone. According to Dr. Moghimi, this means support options must be available that don’t force individuals into a predetermined “mental health box”.
  • COVID-19 is reinforcing the need for novel mental health tools. COVID-19 is ushering in a new paradigm of mental health. Lockdowns and quarantines have been a major obstacle to in-person care. Dr. Moghimi noted this is driving the need for health insurers to partner with companies offering virtual tools to serve their member bases. Simultaneously, redefining what constitutes mental health care is critical. Especially now, underserved youth want and need access to daily emotional support.
  • Founders trying to secure their first partnership with a health insurer should start locally. In the early days of a company, many founders spin their wheels trying to land a contract, or even a pilot, with a large health insurer. The reality is that the scale needed to serve these entities is beyond the capabilities of most startups; however, local plans administering Medicaid have incentives in their contracts to support small, local businesses. In some cases, local plans might be more open to risk and innovation. These locally administered plans can be a great starting point to begin to gather the evidence to support an early-stage company’s business model.
  • Founders need an internal champion. Anyone with experience in enterprise sales knows the importance of finding someone at the target customer who can internally advocate for your organization. This is especially true for entrepreneurs hoping to work with health insurers. It isn’t easy to identify who your internal champion might be and/or who has decision making power within an organization, so it’s important to be engaging with the majority of the leadership team to increase the odds of securing a contract. Throughout these conversations, it’s critical for entrepreneurs to distinguish between selling and thought partnership. Each type of conversation requires a different approach to keep the other party engaged.

Despite the challenges of current events, Dr. Moghimi and Ashley remain hopeful that we will look back to this time period as the impetus for change. Both are hopeful that insurers and providers will adapt, creating payment structures that provide coverage for a true spectrum of mental health support and care.

    Telosity is a Vinaj fund focused on investing in Pre-seed and Seed-stage companies improving mental wellbeing for 10 to 24 years old. Learn more at