Jeff Beck and Adam Dreyfus combined their expertise to create AnswersNow, a start-up in RVA addressing autism with technology.
Gardner is an energetic, intelligent, whirlwind of nine-year old exuberance. He is also on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. Raising him has been his parents’ greatest joy and daunting challenge. But now thanks to Jeff Beck, Adam Dreyfus and their team of THRIVE business mentors, parents of children with autism can look forward to having help at their fingertips.
AnswersNOW, a digital therapy services platform currently in beta testing, is the breakthrough invention created by Jeff and Adam to respond to some very sobering facts. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 children in the United States is born with autism,” Jeff explains. “That number is up from one in 1000 just a few decades ago. At the same time, there is a severe shortage of clinicians to address the issue. As a licensed therapist, I found it incredibly frustrating that I could only work with a few families at a time.”
Before he discovered his passion for working with children and families, Jeff was a business major in college. Something lit him up in a sociology class, which led to him getting his bachelors in sociology and graduate degree in social work from VCU. Years later, he met Adam Dreyfus, a nationally recognized expert in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and the director of the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism in RVA. It wasn’t long before the two put their heads together to consider a challenging data set: there are 3.5 million children with autism in the U.S. There are only 22,000 board certified behavior analysts worldwide.
“Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder require intensive services,” says Adam. “It’s pretty clear that the current model – which requires parents to enroll their children in specialized schools, if they happen to live near one accepting new students, specialized clinics or hire highly-trained in-home providers – is not sufficiently robust or available enough to tackle this problem. Jeff and I work with these parents every day. We see this pain point daily, and we wanted to develop a better way; an accessible, easy to use, low-cost platform.”
The AnswersNOW mobile app – a subscription based service that can connect parents of children with autism with certified therapists, provide an automated crisis tool, enable parents to track daily progress, and offers a community for parents to connect with each other – is scheduled to be launched this year. The beta set of parents are eager to enroll.
“Gardner was three years old when he was diagnosed,” says his mom Katie Gettemy of her first and only child. “We went from not knowing if he would ever talk to not knowing if he would ever stop!” In the meantime, the family struggled. “Finding the right resources for him was the most difficult part.”
“Having this resource back in the day would have been priceless!”
Even now, in the beta testing phase, she has seen a tremendous benefit. “True story. Gardner had a phobia of automatic flush toilets. Think about it, they are everywhere. If he had to use the restroom and there wasn’t a manual toilet, we had a crisis of serious
proportions. With this program, I could talk to a behavior therapist who gave us a simple solution…that worked! But the real benefit for us has been connecting with other parents to share resources.”
Jeff and Adam are working with a team of people to get the AnswersNOW technology up to speed, scale and quality. When it came to business start-up support, they turned to THRIVE. Jeff even missed a couple of days of his bachelor party to attend Anika Horn’s Unreasonable Lab.
“Anika worked with us to help us develop our business model,” he says. “And Stephanie Hepp was instrumental as we worked through financing, scale scenarios and fundraising. THRIVE is with us on this venture. For us and for the families who will benefit, that has been awesome!”
“What is awesome”, says Anika, “is the whole AnswersNOW idea and execution. When I first learned about Adam and Jeff’s idea, I had a hunch that this could be huge,” she says.
Jeff earned his graduate degree in social work from VCU and partnered with Adam, an expert in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis
“Putting a counselor in parents’ pockets just seemed like an obvious solution for families with autistic children to provide real-time support.”
“Adam and Jeff make a great founding team – their expertise and skills complement each other in a way that allows them to manage a two-sided marketplace, parents and counselors. It’s great to see that the lean startup approach is helping them create a product with their beneficiaries, instead of for them.”
AnswersNOW is not a replacement for face-to-face therapy or support services or any of the many resources children with autism need, “But it’s great to know I can reach out and get help when I need it.” Katie sums it up. “It’s going to make a huge difference for families like ours.”