“We kept hearing from market research that patients with disabilities didn’t have hope or peace because they were struggling with mental health,” Randa told Technical.ly.
Finding a name she could trademark incorporating these universal concepts was a challenge, until Randa’s husband suggested looking to her late father, a 44-year DuPonter with Finnish heritage, for inspiration. So she named the company the Finnish word for hope: Toivoa. The name of the platform itself, Rauha, means peace.
Toivoa last week won the $22,000 first-place prize in the Delaware Tech-Enabled category of Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s Startup 302 pitch competition.
While mental health apps are a multibillion dollar industry and growing, there is a glaring dearth of mental health apps that are truly accessible for people with disabilities. A recent audit by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) found that most digital mental health apps are inaccessible and not relatable to people with disabilities, Randa said.
Randa, a commercial executive for over 25 years for companies including Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Regeneron, was appointed to the ADA board around the time President Joe Biden came into office — and a time marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really started looking into mental health and people with disabilities,” she said. “The US is facing a severe mental health crisis, with a higher incidence within vulnerable populations.” A quarter of the county’s population has a disability.
How it works
In the last 19 months, Randa left her job at King of Prussia’s Novartis and built Toivoa and Rauha, a mental health platform that she said has 71 accessibility features, including color contrast, closed captions, keyboard mobility and multiple navigational options. Its first two products are for people with mobility issues and hearing impairments, and incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy — “the gold standard,” Randa said.
Rauha starts with a healthcare provider, who gives a patient a code they can use to download the app. (Treatment is covered by insurance, per Randa.) The patient then answers a series of questions about their disabilities, which optimize their experience, both in the tech sense and by creating a customized plan with Dr. Samantha Gaies, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist, who offers personalized therapeutic advice via video.
Randa said the platform is HIPAA compliant and includes a social community. Patients on the platform are matched with a peer coach who they meet with about once a week through the app by interactive video, live chat or email. Coaches are matched according to the patient demographic as much as possible.
“What we know is it’s got to be somebody that looks like them, somebody that sounds like them, somebody that has similar experience,” Randa said. “So, a veteran with PTSD wants to talk to another veteran. Somebody that’s 60 years old, that has challenges with hearing their grandchildren, we need to match those specific scenarios.”
Delaware as digital therapeutic hub
Randa moved to Delaware in middle school and attended Brandywine High School and University of Delaware before launching her career with Delaware Health and Social Services.
“I think there’s a great opportunity for Delaware to take over the digital therapeutic space, and I’d be excited about being part of it.”Laura Randa Toivoa
Over the weeks of competition, Startup 302 has helped her identify organizations where she can recruit for coaches.
“We’ve made a very big commitment with the state of Delaware,” she said.
She sees the state as a potential hub for the digital therapeutic space.
“I know how impactful this state is when they embrace something, so I’m very excited as somebody that has grown up in Delaware to continue to help develop the digital therapeutic space here,” she said. “Philadelphia kind of claimed gene therapy with Spark [Therapeutics], other areas have claimed the biotech industry. I think there’s a great opportunity for Delaware to take over the digital therapeutic space, and I’d be excited about being part of it.”
That means growth for Toivoa, and Randa is experienced in growing companies. Over the next five years, the company is expected to expand and create jobs in Delaware, including coaches, IT, call center employees, and legal and finance people. The platform itself will expand, too, with long COVID and adolescent mental health platforms next in line to be added to Rauha.
She has a lot of hope for that growth. (Remember the company’s name?)
“I anticipate within five years that we would have at least 300 positions in the state of Delaware,” Randa said. “We’re building a company from the ground up and are really excited with all the great universities that we can tap into. Digital therapeutics is a little bit of tech, it’s a little bit of healthcare, and it’s a little bit of consumer goods. It’s a mixture of multiple industries, all of which have wonderful talent pools in the state of Delaware.”
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