April Koh, YC ’16, knows that in today’s world, where mental health care is finally becoming mainstream, we are still not quite there yet. She knows because she struggled with the “guessing game” of getting help herself.
“Coming out of my journey, where I struggled for years as a teenager with insomnia, I was deeply motivated to prevent others from having to go through the trial-and-error I went through,” Koh said. That’s why she, along with fellow Yale alum and current Yale School of Medicine Assistant Professor Adjunct Adam Chekroud (Ph.D, ’18, Psychology), founded Spring Health to help improve “precision mental health care.” While other digital companies focus on faster access to mental health care, she says Spring Health goes a step further – connecting individuals with “the right care from the start.”
Koh explained: “Many people think that faster access to therapists will be the main way to help people feel better faster. I want to shift people away from the obsession with immediacy and more towards a focus on precision – the idea that we can combine technology and human compassion to connect each person to not just any resource, but the right resource for them.” This idea lies at the heart of Spring Health’s service platform, which is designed to help employers looking to provide better mental health options for their employees.
It’s been quite a ride for Koh, who started her company when she was a 24-year-old student at Yale. The Spring Health concept earned Koh and Chekroud the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education in 2016. The prize is awarded by InnovateHealth Yale, the Yale School of Public Health’s social entrepreneurship program.
Now 29, Koh recently became the youngest U.S. CEO of a so-called “unicorn” (a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion). “Yale gave me a resourceful and rich environment to think about big ideas and how I could change the world one day,” she said. “It’s where I met my co-founder and my first investors. Yale Psychiatry contributed to the pivotal research in precision mental health that serves as the defensible IP in our product.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 radically transformed the world and thrust personal mental health into the public spotlight. For Koh, the pandemic reshaped her company’s goals, as it pivoted services to help companies manage the pandemic-related and lockdown-induced mental health struggles of their employees.
“We launched Spring Health Family last year, largely in response to the youth mental health crisis,” Koh said. According to Koh, in September 2020, over half of all 11- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In response to this urgent concern, Spring Health expanded its employee mental health support to include “all members of a family, whether that's a spouse, a child, or an adolescent,” she said.
In a world where mental health concerns (and subsequent business startups) are growing, Koh is confident that her company’s emphasis on precise and tailored mental health care that recognizes an individual’s personal needs will clearly distinguish it from all the rest.
“We are a global company now, catering to clients from all over the world,” she said. And she is wholly committed to maintaining that growth in an increasingly challenging and stressful world.