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Exclusive: Motivo nets $14M to address mental health's supply problem

Aug 18, 2022
Illustration of a therapy couch with a pillow made of money.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Atlanta's Motivo Health has garnered $14 million in Series A funding led by insider Cox Enterprises, the parties tell Axios.

Why it matters: The behavioral health industry faces a tremendous specialist shortage and Motivo, using technology, is tackling one large overlooked barrier: the road to achieving mental health licensure.

By the numbers: Motivo has witnessed 4x growth in the last 12 months, with the latest Cox-led financing pushing total funding to $16.3 million.

  • SteelSky Ventures and Great Oaks Venture Capital also participated in the round.
  • The startup, with 23 full-time employees, has helped 1,500 therapists reach licensure since its inception.
  • Owing to time and cost constraints, a striking 64% of aspiring therapists that obtain a master’s degree in counseling never become licensed, according to Motivo.

What they're saying: "The last five to 10 years has been all about access, but now that supply is tapped out; We need more clinicians," founder Rachel McCrickard says.

  • McCrickard launched Motivo in 2018, motivated by her own uphill battle to access licensure in rural north Georgia. "The closest clinical supervisor was two hours away. It was a long, arduous and expensive process."

Zoom in: After completing graduate school, the process to attain licensure, depending on the state, requires 100 to 250 hours of supervision — taking around two years for a typical charge of $90 per hour.

  • That's unique. Other specialties, like speech and occupational therapy, oftentimes don't require individuals to pay for their clinical supervisor.

How it works: Motivo's online marketplace matches aspiring mental health therapists with state-focused virtual supervisors, coordinating licensure requirements on both a B2B and B2C basis.

  • Its platform is now available in all 50 states, with the pandemic having encouraged states to permit virtual supervision. About 60% of business comes from community behavioral health organizations and the remainder individual clinicians.
  • As Tim Howe of Cox Enterprises sees it, Motivo is "democratizing the opportunity to get licensure." On the B2B side, he adds "we've only begun to scratch the surface."
  • Without Motivo, aspiring clinicians wouldn't know where or how to find a supervisor, McCrickard adds. "You'd be calling around one-by-one. This automates the whole process."

Of note: Motivo has a strategic partnership with Elevance Health, formerly Anthem, to help increase the pool of qualified therapists throughout California.

What's next: With therapists required to re-certify their license each year, McCrickard and Howe say there's an untapped opportunity on the continuing education side.

  • Motivo plans to leverage its clinical supervisors to create content, peer consultation and education around various topics, be it trauma-informed care or narrative therapy, for example, McCrickard says.
  • It also plans to expand beyond supervision by developing a product to help fill clinical staff shortages.

Yes, and: The freshly backed company is adding new B2B contracts with behavioral health organizations, digital health companies, health plans — plus intends to enter into partnerships with graduate universities.

  • New hires of sales leaders and software engineers will support its growth ambitions.

Details: The clinician-led company promoted Dr. Carla Smith to chief clinical officer earlier this year.

  • Howe is a board member, joined by Chris Cavazos, a former leader at Humana's employee wellness and EAP unit.
  • The company in 2020 hired Michael Chen and Sarah Louragh as CTO and COO, respectively, from Airbnb.

One fun thing: Motivo is Portuguese for "foundation" — reflecting the company's belief that supervision is the foundation for a therapist's career.

Disclosure: Cox Enterprises recently agreed to acquire Axios for $525 million. Read more.

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