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Nonprofit Management Alumna Partners with SIPA Graduate to Create Accessible Spanish Language Telehealth Platform

Liliana Iriarte, ’19SPS, Nonprofit Management, and Carolina Acosta, ’19SIPA, built the teletherapy platform Kai to enable Spanish speakers in Latin America and the U.S. to have access to mental health resources and therapists. After winning second place in the Greater Good Challenge, one of the ways the team plans to use the prize money is to bolster the professional development resources available to therapists on the platform.

Describe your pitch. What inspired you to develop this idea?

Kai is a unique, impact-focused teletherapy platform which works to connect Spanish-speaking users to affordable care, empower Latin American therapists and reinvest into social impact missions. We hope to serve Latinos in the U.S. and around the world who are less likely to access care, be insured, or have access to culturally relevant mental health care in their native language. Kai’s users will receive quality and affordable care from vetted clinical psychologists based in Latin America. In turn, the therapists obtain access to our platform’s superior teletherapy tools by paying a small fee per session. 

Every member of the founding team has personal experiences with mental health care and the barriers that can exist to access it. We strongly believe in normalizing mental health care into day-to- day life. In order to accomplish our vision for a world where mental health care is accessible to all, our business model takes our skills and experience and applies them to our thoughtful design. Liliana, our co-founder and a 2019 M.S. in Nonprofit Management graduate, has extensive nonprofit connections that we leverage to connect to organizations with meaningful missions. Our other co-founder, Carolina, grew up as a Colombian immigrant in the U.S. and Mexico and has extensive experience working with the immigrant populations we seek to serve.

While awareness around mental health has increased, there are still many barriers to access and the Latin American community is particularly in need. We began to develop this mental healthcare project during our time at Columbia University.  Eventually we decided to create a social-purpose business model which achieved improved access and reinvested returns and resources into non-profit missions. We are proud to now be based primarily in our home country of Colombia, while embracing our experiences living and learning as Latinos abroad. We are excited and hopeful to see our vision of a world where everyone has access to mental health care come to life. 

How are you planning to use the seed money?

We are very grateful for the opportunity to present our idea at the Greater Good Challenge and be selected as one of the winning teams. We have built a vetted team of qualified therapists and have already advanced the process of integrating HIPAA-compliant communication tools into our platform. We plan to put the seed money toward our customer acquisition costs, to expand our reach, grow our therapist team and retain our existing clients. In order to reduce the financial burden for our users seeking care, we sustain our business by charging a fee per session to the therapists using our platform. In addition to giving our therapists access to streamlined teletherapy tools, including booking and payment, we want to empower them in providing the best quality of care. We aim to do this by sponsoring master classes, well-being workshops and professional case supervision. The Greater Good Challenge seed money In will also assist us in providing streamlined technical and legal onboarding for our therapist team.

What do you hope to have accomplished with your business venture a year from now?

Kai is looking forward to launching a pilot phase with our existing team and partnerships by the end of 2020. By next year, our goal is to be an established resource to the Colombian and Latino community abroad, particularly in the U.S., while also being the go-to platform for Latin American therapists hoping to establish and strengthen their teletherapy business. We have already established a U.S.-based nonprofit partnership and a Colombian-based nonprofit beneficiary who we will support and work alongside. In addition to launching our pilot phase, we hope to be able to run campaigns alongside these partnerships allowing us to expand our reach toward populations with the most need. We are also in conversations with Colombian university psychology programs interested in partnering with us to provide clinical experience to their graduates. Our goal in the next year is to have an established university partnership that will support the professional development of qualified therapists while expanding our therapist team. Overall, the Kai team is hopeful that a year from now we will be a step closer to making mental health care accessible to more people in meaningful and impactful ways.

With generous support from the Beba Foundation, Columbia SPS held its first Greater Good Challenge. Open to SPS students and alumni, the business pitch competition culminated in four teams winning a combined $18,500 in seed money. Learn more at sps.columbia.edu/challenge.