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Exclusive: SpectrumAi raises $9M seed for virtual autism care

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Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

SpectrumAi, a startup focused on quantifying autism treatment, raised $9 million in a seed round, founder and CEO Ling Shao tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Spectrum's goal is to add objective analysis to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, the only form of autism treatment that is currently covered by most insurance plans.

  • The prevalence of autism in the U.S. has risen significantly in recent years, and the existing supply of ABA providers is failing to meet demand.

💡 Context: Shao's lightbulb moment — and the impetus for starting Spectrum — came during the pandemic, when credentialing standards for ABA supervisors were reduced from a PhD to a GED.

  • At the time, Shao was helping to lead Buoy Health while taking care of her four autistic sons, all of whom were receiving treatment from overloaded ABA providers who she witnessed jotting down notes manually and struggling to keep up with demand.
  • "So you can imagine, four treatment sessions are happening in my house every day, meanwhile I’m working at an AI tech company," Shao recalls. "I was suddenly like: 'We can automate this. We can track the data.'"

Details: F-Prime Capital and Frist Cressey Ventures co-led Spectrum's seed round and were joined by the Autism Impact Fund.

What they're saying: Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the co-founder of Frist Cressey Ventures, tells Axios his firm has spent the last six years looking at a dozen companies in the virtual autism care sector. Spectrum stood out because of its "emphasis on quality and its accurate measurement," he says.

  • "What appealed to me about [Spectrum] was its bulls-eye focus on advancing care for individuals and their families," says Frist.

How it works: ABA is an evidence-based form of therapy that uses rewards to help teach communication and daily living skills, and Spectrum is tracking data on outcomes to better understand how various components of care impact its quality — hopefully boosting health equity in the process.

  • Spectrum plans to court payers, who can adopt its software to track outcomes and move to value-based care contracts, and will likely partner with an electronic health record (EHR) company or build its own health record components.
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