At the AmFam Institute, we are excited to shine a spotlight on the outstanding companies within our venture firm’s portfolio that are dedicated to promoting healthy youth development. In light of the multitude of challenges currently faced by today’s youth, it is a moral imperative to invest in innovative social enterprises that prioritize their holistic well-being and growth.
For us, health goes beyond mere physical well-being—it encompasses mental and emotional resilience, giving people the tools to navigate life’s challenges.
One only needs to open a news website or turn on the television to know that mental health is front and center in many of today’s stories. It is no longer enough to refer to these as unprecedented times–there was a mental health crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that only worsened in the intervening years. In 2022, the U.S. hit an all time record high in the number of suicide deaths, recording nearly 50,000 lives lost to suicide.
While many facets of life have returned to some sense of normalcy, our collective mental health has not–with young people remaining at alarmingly high risk. Earlier this fall, the last seven U.S. surgeon generals met to discuss this crisis, noting that it is so massive that it could undermine the foundation of our democracy. Tech platforms are taking notice, with YouTube just this month announcing that it would start limiting recommendations to videos that focus on body weight and social aggression. Parental mental health is simultaneously suffering, with many feeling alone and unsure of how to best support their children through these crises.
As various systems are working to address these challenges, equitable access to quality care remains out of reach for many individuals and communities.
There has been justified critique of our now ubiquitous social and tech platforms and the roles they play in the well-being of our youth. What brings us together can also wedge us apart, particularly as generative AI has made its way into the mainstream. In spite of these challenges, we believe there is an important role for tech, AI, and digital health to play in solving the crises facing our youth–particularly when conducted responsibly, ethically, and inclusively, which means centering the voices of youth in the development of solutions.
With this vision in mind, we wanted to feature the seven companies that have captured our attention and investment, each tirelessly striving towards closing equity gaps in mental health – broadly, specifically for children and their parents and caregivers, and in key moments – that deliver outsized positive impact. Discover their inspiring stories through the engaging video spotlights below.
1. Cass: Texting for Mental Health
Cass (formerly X2AI) is pioneering AI-based chatbots that provide accessible mental health support, self-care strategies, and professional coaching—all through easily-accessible text messaging. Their mission is to make high-quality mental health care available to everyone, regardless of income or location.
2. Manatee: Strengthening Families’ Mental Health
Manatee delivers digital mental health services to children and their families, emphasizing the importance of family well-being. With a team of parent coaches, they empower caregivers to nurture their child’s development effectively.
3. Bark: Protecting Young People Online
Bark is a digital app used by parents and caregivers that monitors children’s online activities for potential issues like cyberbullying, sexual predators, explicit sexual content, depression, acts of violence, and suicidal ideation.
4. Babbly: Nurturing Early Development
Babbly identifies the risk of developmental delays as early as 9 months, a critical time period for the 1 in 5 children who experience such challenges. Harnessing the power of AI, Babbly offers parents real-time insights into their baby’s development, with an initial focus on speech and language milestones.
5. Parent Powered: Supporting Parents Supporting Children
ParentPowered creates easy-to-use tools that support parenting and improves the lives of all children, regardless of economic status or background. Its first program, Ready4k, is an evidence-based curriculum delivered via text messages that helps parents find age-appropriate ways to engage with their children.
6. AnswersNow: Telehealth Support for Autism
AnswersNow provides a telehealth platform to assist children on the autism spectrum and their parents. Their goal is to make applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for autism accessible to families who have long awaited quality care, including those who live in non-urban settings.
7. Vincere Health: Value-based Care For Smoking Cessation
Vincere Health is an activation and engagement platform that recognizes the intersection of mental health and addiction to improve outcomes. Part of the growing value-based care movement, they recognize the power of connecting with difficult to serve populations and engaging them in meaningful care that is responsive to their needs.
These seven companies exemplify the transformative potential of investing in youth and parent “whole person” health and wellness. Together, we are forging a path towards a future where every child enjoys the support and resources necessary to thrive. We are thrilled to celebrate the visionary leaders who are actively shaping a healthier and more promising world for our youth.