The psychological toll of the pandemic cannot be overstated. According to the CDC, there have been “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” Like the rest of the world, mental health providers have been forced to adapt to current conditions at a time when more and more individuals are seeking care. Alma, the membership-based network for mental health providers, has proven to be invaluable for both providers and patients. The startup, founded in 2018, firmly believes that providers need support to manage their practices and this support results in better quality care for patients. The company shifted its offering from its in-person locations to support the needs of mental health professionals in a digital-first world through a complete suite of practice management tools, continuing education courses, insurance contracting, and billing solutions. Patients are able to quickly find vetted professionals on the platform, increasing accessibility and affordability. In the last six months, the number of people seeking care has increased by 120% on the platform.
AlleyWatch caught up with Founder and CEO Dr. Harry Ritter to learn more about the greater shift to virtual mental health care during the pandemic, the company’s plans to continue making mental health care more accessible, and latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $40.5M.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
$28M Series B round. Insight Partners led the round, with participation from Optum Ventures and existing investors including Tusk Venture Partners, Primary Venture Partners, Sound Ventures, BoxGroup, and Rainfall Ventures.
Tell us about the product or service that Alma offers.
At Alma, we’re on a mission to simplify access to high quality, affordable mental health care by supporting mental health care providers in building thriving private practices. With Alma’s membership-based network, providers gain access to a suite of tools and services like insurance contracting support and continuing education, all in the service of providing the highest quality care to a diverse clientele. For consumers, that means easy-to-find, genuinely affordable, in-network care.
What inspired the start of Alma?
Mental health care providers are on the front lines of the rising mental health crisis, but in many ways, they are ill-equipped to meet the growing need. Often operating as isolated small businesses, they struggle with the challenges of running an independent practice — from marketing for new clients to essential day-to-day tasks like scheduling, billing, eligibility checks, and claims processing. I saw this first hand when I was at Oscar Health building their first primary care and wellness space for Oscar members, where patients often said that while therapy was incredibly helpful, the process of finding the right, in-network person was near impossible.
How is Alma different?
What makes Alma unique in the mental health space is our core belief that in order to increase access to high quality, affordable mental health care at scale, we have to support the providers on the front lines. We believe that when providers have the support they need, mental health gets better for everyone. That’s why Alma is a provider-first business and solution to the ever-accelerating mental health crisis. By bringing together and supporting providers, we make it easy for patients, payers, and even employers to more easily meet their goals around mental health.
What market does Alma target and how big is it?
Over $221 billion is spent each year on mental health, and yet despite that, 60 percent of adults with a mental health condition still had not received the care they needed within the past year. In 2020, the crisis only accelerated. More than 2 in 5 people in the US report struggling with mental health issues associated specifically with COVID-19.
What’s your business model?
Providers pay a monthly membership fee to join Alma’s platform. Through their membership, providers gain access to all of the tools and services they need to run a thriving private practice. We also contract directly with major payers to make it easy and rewarding for providers to go in-network.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
COVID-19 has accelerated demand for access to high quality, affordable mental health care. We also saw a huge jump in teletherapy as people were forced into quarantine. In January 2020 only 5% of all visits at Alma were virtual – by April 99% were virtual and virtual care remains the dominant way people are accessing services today. First and foremost, we focused on our providers. We accelerated product development to support online care, which was essential for providers to maintain continuity with existing clients and support new ones. We also focused on supporting providers in offering high-quality care with timely training and education. We created guides on teletherapy best practices and hosted virtual events on issues impacting clinicians, from grappling with ambiguous grief to racial equity training for cultural sensitivity. Lastly, in support of our mission to increase access to affordable care, we added Aetna as our newest insurance partner. In an incredibly unpredictable year, we were fortunate as a business to experience exponential growth. Our network of providers grew by 40 percent each quarter and expanded to the tri-state area, welcoming providers in New Jersey and Connecticut to the community. We saw dramatic growth in demand for affordable online care, with in-network sessions supported by Alma growing 267 percent quarter over quarter. Esther Perel also joined our Clinical Advisory board to help us support and train the next generation of mental health care providers.
What was the funding process like?
We are fortunate to be living at a time where mental health and the importance of improving access to care are increasingly a focus of policy-makers, thought leaders, and investors. Fundraising during a pandemic changed aspects of the fundraising experience, replacing many interactions that would have been in-person with virtual ones instead, but we feel very fortunate to have found incredible partners with Insight Partners and Optum Ventures to help support us in our journey forward.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
In my view, far more important than the money you raise is the partners you decide to work with. The investors become key members of your team, advisors, confidantes, and a critical part of your support system. Each investor brings something unique to the table, and finding the right match for your company is a huge part of what makes for a successful raise. We’re incredibly fortunate to have Ross Devor from Insight Partners and Laura Veroneau from Optum Ventures now part of the Alma family.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Mental health is a market that is enormous and has huge tailwinds, which has ignited a lot of interest in the space overall. Our team is also phenomenal and I think investors have seen that we’re the right people for the job to build something truly special. But I think the key factor for us has been our fly-wheel to create value in mental health that directly meets the needs of all key stakeholders – consumers, providers, and insurance companies. For consumers, we’re a vetted network offering affordable, in-network care. For providers, we take the hassle out of running a practice, making it easy to take insurance, learn and grow with colleagues, and find the right clients for your practice. For insurance companies, we’re building a high-quality solution to the growing access gaps and partnering to improve outcomes.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months? We look forward to doubling down on our commitment to improving access by expanding our provider network nationally, investing in product developments that drive clinical outcomes, and growing the Alma team, whose passion and dedication make all of this possible.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank? My biggest piece of advice is to find customers you love to serve. Starting a business and fundraising are incredibly challenging experiences. If you’re not doing it for a customer you really are excited to help, it is infinitely harder. We’re so fortunate to work each day with incredible mental health professionals who inspire us with their compassion and commitment.
My biggest piece of advice is to find customers you love to serve. Starting a business and fundraising are incredibly challenging experiences. If you’re not doing it for a customer you really are excited to help, it is infinitely harder. We’re so fortunate to work each day with incredible mental health professionals who inspire us with their compassion and commitment.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
One of our most critical goals is to scale our team by finding mission-driven, passionate people to join the Alma team. As we scale across the country, we need to keep building our team to support that growth and our mission.