On this week’s episode I chat with Diana Heldfond, Founder & CEO of Parallel. Parallel is an edtech platform empowering students with learning differences by providing them with a lower cost, faster solution for getting the support they need. Parallel is tackling a big problem. According to Diana 1 in 5 students has a learning and thinking difference that her platform can help address.
Their service is cheaper and faster because it’s tech-enabled.
They create efficiencies by automating the admin work that specialists used to have to do and by mixing and matching specialists to make sure fewer specialists bottleneck the process. This has brought the price of care down by a whopping 50%. And it allows parents to get their child’s assessment done in days, whereas it used to take weeks. They work directly with families and with school districts. It’s pretty smart.
It’s always so cool to see founders start a company that hits close to home. Diana was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. That didn’t hold her back - she went to Georgetown and worked on Wall Street before starting parallel
It’s a great conversation. I learned a lot and hope you do too. Enjoy.
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Diana. Welcome. Thank you for being here.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me.
MPD: All right. I want to start at the top with your company. Do you mind giving us an overview of Parallel?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. So Parallel is a fully virtual platform where we provide services for kids with learning and thinking differences.
So we're talking about students. Everything from dyslexia, dysgraphia discalcula to other health indications. Like of course, ADHD being a large one anxiety, depression and so forth, and what we're able to do on our platform. As everything from psychological assessments, really helping kids get to the root of their challenges, working one-on-one with a really amazing.
Child psychologist. And then we've now layered on a number of support services so that students can really start to develop skills to work around those weaknesses once they've been identified and that the diagnosis process and that looks like now speech and language therapy, behavioral therapy.
Skill-based tutoring and executive function coaching. So essentially we've built a one-stop shop if you will, for families who are navigating these challenges on behalf of their children and made it as easy as possible to get not only more accessible, affordable care, but also a higher quality of care than they would get in traditional setting, going to say a private psychologist or a private tutor.
Other thing I'll note is that we actually have recently also started working directly with school districts who also are required by law to actually provide a number of these special education services. So have been able to expand our accessible care option directly to those districts.
MPD: So there's a lot of infrastructure around this space already in the states, unsure states vary.
We've got different tax regimes and I think subsequently different social service. How does this fit into the myriad of options that are available to families now, why do they need this solution versus what's already above.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. No, absolutely. So families typically have two options when they recognize that their child may be struggling in some form in the classroom.
And keep in mind, coming out of COVID where students have been learning from their living rooms for the past 18 months, two years. There's a lot of heightened focus from parents and teachers on children's development both in an academic setting and also, of course their mental health.
And with that, families have essentially two options when it comes to developmental delays in the classroom. Go straight to the school district and request basically special education services. There are a lot of unfortunate dynamics right now with the special education system and the American education system in general, and that there is a huge staffing crisis facing school system.
So it's very hard for the schools to actually find enough school psychologists. And other special education providers in order to actually provide services to those kids. And you end up with a lot of kids on lengthy wait lists. A lot of kids who, won't qualify for services as well, because they just don't have the track record of struggling that the school would be looking for to actually give the services.
That said, of course, many students do end up getting services through the school. And it's a really incredible thing. So I will note. The, for the families that don't qualify or for looking for kind of more robust answers outside of the school district, they do tend to go to a private psychologist, private tutors, private therapists.
But what I'll also note is that those services tend to be highly inaccessible. So very expensive to get, for example, private, psychological assessment done. It could cost anywhere between five to $10,000 when you're in large cities like New York, San Francisco, and so forth. And even across the United States, we're still talking about 2,500 to $3,000 on average for an assessment.
Certainly not accessible to the majority of Americans and. Similarly, when you look at all of the support services it's more or less the same story. And also note that there's very long wait times. So we're talking 5, 6, 7 months just to get. Initial diagnosis, nevertheless, start with services.
And, as you can imagine, when your child's struggling, it's a tricky thing to have to wait that long, to get the real answers and get them on a course to success. So what we've aimed to do at parallel is really break down that process and make it. Accessible as possible for families. So we offer our services at about 50% of the cost.
And also can get families started with service providers and just a week in the states that we do service currently. So a very different experience than what most families are going through today.
MPD: Okay. So when you started off, you give us a litany of things that you guys support the different types of learning differences.
How do you do all of it? What is the program here? If someone goes to your website and signs up, what are they signing up for?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah, absolutely. I'll know our whole mission here at parallel is to really support. Every student and recognize that not every student learns or thinks in the same ways.
And so what support looks like for one student is very different from what support looks like for the next student. And that's typically why students with learning and thinking challenging. Are not able to fully function in the standard classroom, right? Because the standard classroom is not made for a neuro atypical brains.
And the way that we do it here at parallel is by providing highly individualized care and support. So when a family comes and clicks that get started button on our website, I start by talking to a member of our care team where we really start to dig into what the referral concern is, and then ultimately match them with a provider that suits their needs.
So most families do start with an evaluation and then move into support services with us. But of course, many things. Already come with an assessment or just looking for support services for various reasons. So very flexible there. But once we have that initial consultation, our care team will hand match the student and that family with a provider on our platform.
And. Also a care coordinator to really help them navigate the services. Again, that all happens within a week and then all of the services are again, highly individualized and tailored to that student's specific needs. So on the assessment side, the first session is a meeting with. Psychologists to really, again, dig into those referral concerns understand the child's academic history, medical history where all of those challenges lie so that we can ultimately build a testing plan that really is able to answer the concerns and questions that parents came here for in the first place.
And then ultimately carry out. Five to six hours of psychological testing using standard materials. We actually worked very closely with Riverside and other testing publishers and do all of that testing on our proprietary platform, which we're really excited about and ultimately deliver families.
These lengthy reports that go into all kinds of details about how their child's brain works. Strengths all of their areas of improvement, and ultimately provide that a diagnosis if warranted as well as they probably the most exciting part is this learning plan or support plan that really gets at all right, what's the next step.
And how can we really set this child up for success? What interventions can be taken at home in the classroom, what services would be helpful, what accommodations would be helpful and so forth. And then just quickly on the support services. For a session as a goal setting session with the provider.
So if you're signing up to work with a learning specialist, if you're signing up to work with sorry, I have a visitor of my dog. If you are signing up, if you're signing up to work, working with a learning specialist, if you're signing up to work with a. Speech and language therapist, whoever it is.
Very first session again, it's going to be that goal setting session to really dig into what is the concern, what are tangible goals and what should this program look like for this individual child's needs. And then again, building that program to make sure that we're actually helping students achieve their goals.
MPD: Okay. So I'm hearing headlines of it's less expensive onboarding and service delivery are. How do you, if the story is that, Hey, there's a shortage of labor that specializes in these areas in the whole market. And that's why there's this bottleneck. How are you able to deliver the service faster?
I assume you're drawing from the same labor pool. So how are you making up for that difference?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah, absolutely. There's a few different ways that we do it. And I think that this is one of the very exciting things. Digital health these days, is just how you can ultimately use technology to make these systems more efficient.
And also how you can be strategic and thinking about staffing, your actual services. And when it comes to the technology, first thing we did was really start to look at the assessment process and try to pinpoint why it was so expensive and why there were such long wait times. Was it simply that there's a staffing shortage around providers or is it. The actual assessment processes is highly inefficient. It turns out it is just to break down what this usually looks like. As I mentioned, it's five to six hours of synchronous face-to-face testing, but there's document review there's classroom observations.
In some cases there's a ton of scores. Psychologists literally will write down scores on paper and then they'll upload them to a website and then they'll transfer them to a report, which can take them hours just to do the scoring. And then they're putting together a really lengthy report and typically the higher, the price tag on the psychological assessment.
And more cohesive. The report is right. And it's just wildly inefficient. Like I said, when you start to actually dig into each of these processes that psychologists are going through, and frankly, there are very few tools out there to help aid efficiency in the cycle psychological assessment process.
And what we immediately started doing was thinking about how we can build some technology to cut out those administrative and efficiencies. And everything from. Ultimately collecting information about clients to producing those reports. We've found ways to weave in technology and cut down the actual time, spent by psychologists quite significantly which makes their time.
Being used much more efficiently, also allows us to bring down the cost quite significantly as a whole, when we look at the package price. But what I think is also exciting for us from a business perspective is that we can actually pay psychologists quite well. Because we're using. Hours of their time.
And we're allowing them to really focus on the things that they want to be doing, which is working with the children, providing that ultimate diagnosis and support plan. And really doing what they went to school to do. Versus, scheduling sessions and administrative work that, and it was a waste of their time.
And then on the staffing piece, as I noted, one of the other exciting things Being a large company, right? Is that we can actually develop systems to use supervisory models for staffing. So similar to a lot of our peers in the space we use the supervisory nature in particularly with the assessments we use psychometrist who are highly trained professionals to administer some of that synchronous face-to-face testing and help with some of that administrative work where the technology, is enable to.
But being able to do that. By highly trained professionals who are not clinical psychologist with a PhD, ultimately allows us to bring down the price blind again, but also, it allows us to work with a much larger pool of professionals to your first point, that you don't run into necessarily the same supply constraints that if you were just trying to do, all of your sessions or all of your assessments, PhD clinical psychologist.
It would just not be a sustainable business model. And frankly, when you look at the landscape today and why these inefficiencies exist from the high prices to the wait times, it's because that is the traditional model. I think just as a company and we think about our mission, it's really about.
How do we implement and use that technology and be strategic right about our processes and our workflows to ultimately be able to provide the highest quality of care and still be able to do it not much more efficient manner.
MPD: So change is hard and it's scary for people and it forces people to change jobs or make more or less money.
You're disrupting a big industry and an industry that is not usually called an industry. Who are the naysayers for this and what are their complaints?
Diana Heldfond: COVID has changed a lot of things. I actually had, one of our earliest advisers when I first contacted him when I was starting parallel, which I started in the middle of COVID or re the beginning of COVID he had previously been approached by a number of other companies that wanted him involved and he laughed in their faces when he said, oh, we're going to do psychological testing in a virtual setting.
And then COVID broke out and I happened to get in touch with them a couple of months later. And he immediately was like, I'm all in. Because I think that one of the biggest issues facing this industry was. The question of, is it actually valid to do a lot of these services online? Can you actually, is it clinically sound right?
And we can definitely get into the research in a second, but also, are you being able to provide that higher quality of care? And I think a lot of psychologists, a lot of parents, a lot of teachers and administrators, everyone, that's a stakeholder in this space just had no interest in trying the virtual route.
Despite the fact that. Teletherapy has been around for decades. It just wasn't something that anyone was being pushed to do. And so I actually think one of the biggest hold outs was probably actually on the psychology side and it's still something that, there's constantly research being developed.
That's able to point to tell assessment as. Form of assessment as well as, teletherapy and so forth. And also note that on our clinical team, we have a, actually one of the top researchers in the world for tele assessment, Dr. Jordan Wright, who has conducted a lot of pivotal research on the use of the whisk and other psychological tests in a virtual setting and being able to compare those norm scores of virtual testing to those of traditional in-person testing.
And that really has helped. No this whole industry into a virtual setting. And it's been really exciting to see over the last two years or so that we've been working on parallel.
MPD: So are there things that the virtual setting doesn't work for? People talk about, there's a big debate and I think this even extends beyond what you're doing.
Virtual versus in-person. Are there places where virtual is better or worse or is it across the board better? What's the name?
Diana Heldfond: No, I think, look, to be realistic, there are always going to be cases that don't work in a virtual setting. I think one really good example is when we're thinking about something like autism, right?
It's a very physical condition. There's actually, it's basically impossible to do autism testing in a virtual setting. That said there's constantly new tests being published. So fingers crossed that becomes an ability one day, but There are certainly, like I said, cases where this isn't the right fit, either from a clinical perspective or also just for example, a student who has maybe really severe ADHD, it might genuinely be really hard for them to sit in front of a computer screen and do the testing that said, we've built in a lot of ways around that and have seen really great success to date.
MPD: really comes down to.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. Just little things. So like on a zoom screen, a child with ADHD when you're talking about a seven year old could be distracted by clicking a mouse, on our platform. The child has no control of a mouse unless the provider gives them access.
So very little things that has come down to us, working with our clinical team as well as, folks over at these large testing publishing companies, right? Riverside, helping us understand things like, okay, if a child minimizes the screen, we need to be able to know that as a provider.
So that we can fix that before we continue with testing. Because if the child's actually, watching YouTube in the corner, that's not going to work very well. And so it's been really interesting to take all of the lessons, right? Cause it's not like here at parallel where the only people doing tele assessment right.
Are teletherapy. But we look at, what's been. The case for all of these psychologists over the past two years and better understand the different use cases. And we're able to really solve for them, both using the technology and also just building and protocols. How do we prepare parents to be able to build an environment for their child to then do this testing and not be distracted?
And how do we tech test their technology to make sure that they have the right. Or strong wifi connection or is it actually better that the student does the testing from school? Because maybe that's a more distraction, free environment than doing it. Say. New York city studio apartment where their parents are there kind of thing.
We're constantly learning and evolving the product. And of course the processes that we're conveying to these families and trying to build the best case scenario around it. But I think, overall, when you think about virtual versus in-person the reality. When you're thinking about in-person testing, things can be missed as well, or even actually thinking about my own experience with in-person testing when I was a child, because I grew up with, being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD as well. I remember being really traumatized frankly, by being dragged to the psychologist office. And I think that there's something really liberating about the fact that children can have.
Psychological testing or their tutoring or speech therapy all from, with the comfort and privacy of their own home. And that we can really actually aid particularly on the support service side, the sessions with, their everyday environment. So for example, the executive function coaching, a lot of our coaches will actually just build programs and work with the students with everyday surrounding.
So if you're talking about how to better organize your life, how better to do that, then, taking things from your own bedroom, to actually be able to practice.
MPD: To talk about success, we need to talk about how you measure, right? What is the measurement for outcomes here? When you say something's working or it's not, what are you looking for?
Does it vary by discipline?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah, it absolutely does vary basically by service, right? And of course, success is gonna look different for each of the students we work with based off of, their specific needs and the conditions that they're struggling with and so forth. And one of the.
Ways that we test is very clinical, right? So setting a baseline early on using clinical measures, to understand where that child is at and then being able to measure every couple of months that they're on the platform to see what, how they're improving. As well, as in, as I mentioned, the first session is that goal setting session, which is of course more qualitative talking to parents about. What they want to see for their child or teachers, what they want to see for that child. And being able to build that program that ultimately does get child to a place of success. And again, that's going to look different for every student, but again, between the clinical measures where we can see, real hard data that this child is improving in the areas of Yeah, challenge areas, and then paired with, of course, being able to build that plan where we really know that we're going to be able to help that child reach those specific goals, whether it's, getting slightly better grades in school being able to bring, their homework home and get it turned in on time.
Whatever it is for that family, that child specifically is struggling with. We really are trying to build the program specifically to help uplift that child.
MPD: So there's a very interesting business insight. In what you're doing that maybe are abstracted from the specific space.
First thing you talked about was you were doing a direct to consumer a PTC, and now you're also working with schools, a B2B how'd you think about the channel strategy? How'd you go from one to the other? Is that some sort of analysis you were leveraging? What's the method for picking the channel?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. It's a great question.
Schools K through 12 schools are one of. Providers or distributors of our services. So storage school districts have on staff school, psychologists, speech and language therapist, a physical therapist occupational therapist. You name it and of course, special education teachers who are highly trained in.
Supporting students with learning differences, right? So it's not new for the schools to provide these services backed about 15% of students within the K through 12 education system are receiving these services. Unfortunately right now schools are just inundated with. More requests than ever for special education services, as well as just a lack of staff, right?
It's no surprise. Every time you open the wall street journal, New York times, there's a different article about how this teacher staffing crisis is just playing the system. And unfortunately it's really hitting those special education base hard. And I get it also on the teacher side, right?
Because you also have so many teachers who are just completely overburdened with higher case loads. Ever before that it's just it's unsustainable. And so we see schools looking for outsourced solutions, like parallel, to be able to fill that gap and get through, for example, the backlog of services that were not provided during COVID.
Cause keep in mind, remember when schools went, virtual schools were scrambling just to put day-to-day class. Classroom sessions online, nevertheless, trying to figure out how to do speech and language therapy online, right? For all of these special education students. And so many of these students just had services fully caught off, and now the schools do need to still make up those hours and provide those services as well.
As many of these schools have really long backlogs of actual evaluations that they need to get through. Just to, to preface where the space is at. What was interesting for us as a company is that, again, we always saw the schools as a really exciting channel for us, and there are other players, incumbent players out there that have sold traditionally teletherapy services to school districts.
So we definitely knew it was possible to build some sort of outsource solution. But what I will note about our personal journey that was quite interesting is that schools have always been amazing referral channel for B to C side of the business. Teachers, administrators in both private and public schools are constantly sending families our way, those families, that we talked about earlier, either not qualifying for services or need more robust services and what the school can provide or for whatever reason. They're constantly looking for referrals and turning to trusted folks like teachers to give them those referrals. And so we were already working with a lot of schools in this kind of referral based capacity.
And what was really interesting is that, public schools hold lists of independent evaluators. They hold lists of independent providers across the board they're actually required to by law. And so as I was calling up these special education directors, just trying to get on the independent provider list, the conversations morphed immediately where, they were just.
Perplexed by how frankly cheap our services were and the conversation more, fairly quickly from you that's great. You can be on the independent providers list, but also, why don't we talk about actually contracting the services directly with the school, because we're actually in a much greater need of that.
It was somewhat a natural change for us. And that. Consumer side of the business is still growing really quickly. And there are so many use cases for families to need to go outside of the school district that we're really excited about or excited about being able to build this, go to market strategy or the stool go to market strategy, in tandem with each other.
And I think for us, what's really exciting is that we're being able to build it from the beginning all at once. As opposed to a lot of companies that are, go. From consumer to to enterprise later on. And having to adjust the product in many ways later in the company's progression.
But the one other thing I'll say is that I think we also had a unique opportunity by starting on the consumer side to. A make sure that we were building a sound platform and being able to really understand the clinical side of what we were doing and so forth and show some initial outcomes. But also being able to build a platform and a product that's actually. I delight for users, as opposed to some of these more clunky platforms that frankly are built for K through 12 institutions. A lot of ed tech solutions are not made for the individual consumer. And I think that's one really unique piece of what we're doing is just those efficiencies that we're trying to get from the tech and also just the general user experience.
And then of course, the outcomes that we're really aiming to produce is all very unique. When you think about Yeah, us having started as a consumer based company. And then transitioning to the enterprise side of things. This
MPD: is great. Looking at your channel strategy, I love the way you did it as the way I think someone want to do it.
In hindsight, you avoided the gatekeepers upfront. You put the product under the pressure cooker of the consumer market, and then listen to the market when they pulled you into a B2B. That's. Classic set of good decisions being made by an entrepreneur. Yeah, no, it's awesome. And I think people struggle with this decision a lot.
Like how do you, where do you go first? And there's some wisdom in that.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. And I think it's an interesting thing, particularly that you're seeing more and more in digital health, is this idea of b to C and back to B model that really does allow you to build this Supreme product and service.
MPD: Yeah, it's amazing. The people can get away with a crap service. If they in the experience, maybe the service is fine if they sell B2B first, like it's just, it's shocking that the business to business market, isn't more demanding for that. But another conversation. You also, you did more than that.
You're going into a highly stigmatized space. There's a lot of emotion and feelings around this. How do when you, especially when you do a consumer oriented channel, how do you break that down? Any lessons learned? There's a number of entrepreneurs who claim to specialize in this.
This is their, they want to break down stigmas through product.
Diana Heldfond: No. Absolutely. And I have to admit there's a lot of entrepreneurs that I've learned from particularly when you look at their marketing strategies and so on. And I really I would look at Zach over at Rowe, for example, and he got up in front of.
National television to tell everyone about his challenges and really try and normalize them and everyone's own living room. And it's really an empowering way to, to build your business right. And really bring consumers in the door and also. Really build that trust with consumers, right?
That, that builds that lasting relationship. And certainly, parallel was driven by my own experience, growing up with a lot of the same challenges and frankly, a lot of my own frustration of going through the school system. His label of dyslexia at HD, but not necessarily knowing what that actually meant or how it really affected me.
There were very clear memories that I have is actually a story that's up on our website about page. But I remember in first grade there were kids reading, like Harry Potter chapter books. And I was struggling to read, the picture book with one sentence per page kind of thing.
So it was very clear that I was developing at a different pace. When you're seven years old, you're not processing what that, that difference means. And frankly got very far through my educational career before I really started to piece it all together. And it wasn't actually until unfortunately I was having to really defend myself and the accommodations that I needed and so forth.
I really took the time to better understand what all this meant, how my brain worked and so forth and was actually really empowered. Once I put it all together. Cause you know, it's almost. A leg up to actually be able to understand and not much detail how your brain works and where are their areas of weakness?
There are also areas of really extreme strength, right? And being able to lean into those areas of strength, I think is really important. And so that is something that we've actually really tried to do with parallel from both a product perspective, as well as a marketing perspective, is putting the student, frankly, at the center of all of this.
Obviously we want to educate and empower the parents as well, but. No, this is an incredible opportunity for students to be able to get this one-on-one support this highly individualized support. And, I think that's the best thing that we can do when it comes to a marketing plan or strategy.
As well as, being able to build that Supreme product, we talked about it.
MPD: So you bled into something I wanted to ask you about later, but I want to do it now. You've got all these different types of disabilities, right? Challenges, learning, differences that folks have. But in modern times it feels like Asperger's is a competitive advantage.
We're seeing a lot of people thrive, be extremely successful in industry because they've got a different way. They think that is maybe better. Building organizations are better in certain applications. Are there particular superpowers? Have you identified that, Hey, this quote, unquote disability is actually a super power for this application or this role, are you starting to see those patterns emerge or is that me dreaming?
Diana Heldfond: You know what? I think it all comes down to is when you deal with these challenges, whatever it may be, whether it's. Struggling with mild autism, struggling with dyslexia, struggling with anxiety. When you recognize these challenges and you start to learn how to compensate for these challenges.
And that happens regardless of. If you are a child that is getting, the best support possible at the youngest age, with early intervention or just somebody who's struggled through the system and figured it out on their own eventually, which I hear stories about all the time. You really do learn how to cope.
And I think that's the greatest strength. And so all of. Whether it's these other founders or actually there's a stat that I don't, I hesitate quoting, cause I don't know how to justify it, but the twenty-five percent of the fortune 500 CEOs are dyslexic. Which I think actually like from a lot of the personal stories I've heard might be true.
But there's an immense number of people who have really done amazing things who do challenge in some form or another with difference or developmental delay of some sort. And I think what it all really comes down to is, like I said, this ability to build skills around those weaknesses to cope and that strength that you build as a result is really empowering and really allows you to go on and do some really great things.
MPD: Yeah. I feel like grit. It sounds like this is a story of grit, right? The people who overcome such adversity or challenges, trying to fit into a standard mode of learning with different.
Diana Heldfond: Absolutely. And I have one other thing I'll say is yeah. Yeah. And the other thing I'll just note, as it's not new news that everyone learns and thinks differently.
We have no problem saying someone's a visual learner versus an auditory learner, or starting to have more of a conversation around these actual medical diagnoses. But the reality is. Forever. We've been aware that people learn in different ways and that in fashions. And I do think that more and more, we're really seeing people be more empowered and starting to have more open conversations about.
There are specific challenges when it comes to both learning and mental health and how those worlds blend together as well. But hopefully it's really empowering to adults and certainly to students that are going through the system now to feel like they really can be set up for success, even if they do challenge or if they are challenged by, the typical classroom.
MPD: Fantastic. Can you give us an overview of your background? Like how did you get here? This is a interesting journey.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. I was born and raised in the bay area in San Francisco, and it was lucky enough to have parents that were actually hyper aware of Learning differences and what those challenges looked like.
And so I really consider myself on a blocky ones where I was tested for learning differences actually at seven years old. When I remember that challenge with the, not being able to read the Harry Potter books, like my peers and so had a lot of support in place from a young age and was, extremely lucky to have access to that support and that care.
And certainly had my fair. Challenges going through the education system, but overall had a positive experience. And from there went on to go to college. I went to Georgetown and actually started an ed tech company while I was there. I like to joke, but the second I left San Francisco, by the way, I went to Georgetown because I thought I wanted to join the CIA or something.
And the second I left San Francisco, I was like, no, no tech. Scene's great. I was really enamored, honestly, by the time I got there with, business world and tech, and like I said, I went on to start this I had tech company that was in an entirely different space than parallel, but it was just a really fun opportunity to work with some other smart people.
And I, get to gain a lot of independence, starting something from scratch and, that ended up flopping, but it was still a really fun experience and yeah, exactly. It was an enlightening experience. And Then, went on to actually go work on wall street was working at being called PJT partners, which is a spin off of Blackstone doing M and a advisory and restructuring advisory.
For, large cap tech healthcare companies did a lot of work in the utility space as well. Which was, a fantastic experience as well to really think. What a good business at the core of it all looks like. So I very much come from finance world was ultimately really motivated to start parallel.
I'm looking at it from a finance lens, frankly was very close to going and working in growth equity actually. And found myself in conversations with a lot of funds who had stakes in the autism space. Care delivery centers and was just really intrigued by that from a business perspective.
And it was a very common thread, a trend between all of these funds, but also know when you really dig into it, it is a pretty fantastic business model. You've got, a condition that requires a lot of ongoing expensive care and higher reimbursement rates from a lot of different folks.
And so that was really what sparked. The idea to really dig in a bit more and fast forward, call it a year later pandemic hit and never in a million years, did I think that would actually really start something in this space, but, tying that into my own experience, growing up with learning challenges was where things really started to get exciting was, recognizing that you've got a very similar Opportunity as you do with the autism space, but you're talking about one in five students as opposed to one in 50.
And you're talking about having even more reimbursement channels because you're now talking about K through 12 school districts. In addition to pairs that are covering a large chunk of it. All in all was really excited about the opportunity pandemic hit. I was, thinking about what my next move was and decided to go the route of being an entrepreneur instead of.
Going into private equity, which I think was a good decision in the end. And then, obviously given that I come from finance realm, first thing was first was go hire a really great team of folks that could help us figure out the clinical part and the operating part. Now we have an amazing group of individuals on the team and I've grown quite immensely over the past a year and a half or so since we started,
MPD: that's a hell of a story to a hell of a resume.
How did learning differences, your learning differences you talked about earlier fit into that because it doesn't sound like it held you back too much.
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. It's interesting. I actually did a fellowship when I was in college. That was specifically for students with disabilities across the board.
Physical disabilities, mental disabilities Was absolutely captivated. It was called a Lyme connect that there's any other students that are listening to this that are sophomores in high school. I highly suggest you apply. It was one of the most empowering things I've ever done and just met the most incredible people.
People that were so much, so far cooler than, anything I had ever done with my life. It was just, really taken by that experience. That fellowship happened to be supported by a number of actual banks. And that was really ultimately where I went from just being a college student to deciding I was going to go do the finance track was connected to some really fantastic people through that opportunity.
And that was really what look at me, certainly to finance around. But it's interesting now that everything has really come full circle that now I'm focused back on.
MPD: Yeah, it sounds like I'm taking one thing I'm taking away from this is if you look at, the narrative starting with, Hey, I had started out with trouble reading. It was behind then ended up going to Georgetown and working in investment banking and now run a cool company and a venture backed CEO, it D you look at this, the learning differences are very prevalent. I have kids and in the parenting conversation, it comes up all the time. I don't hear about it a lot with my adult peer group. Does that mean that we are getting pretty good at supporting people through the process and people are getting on the rails in their own way or we're not doing well and they're out of sight, like what's happening.
Where's the disconnect between that volume of conversation with kids, but not at the adult level.
Diana Heldfond: Great question. I think the reality is it's still highly stigmatized. We see this all the time, right? It is very, it's a touchy subject, for a parent to go admit to their peers that their child is struggling, particularly in today's hyper competitive world for kids.
And so it's not talked about as much as it should be or as much as it is prevalent. And I wouldn't say necessarily, frankly though, that kids are necessarily out there talking about it either. I think I had a very unique scenario. But like I said, I want my almost whole academic career up until that experience never really understanding.
What my learning challenge is, we're certainly never sitting there and talking to my peers about it. And never in a million years. Did I think I would run a company where I literally, for a living tell people that I have dyslexia. Even when I was working in banking, I didn't dare tell anyone that I had dyslexia.
They wouldn't just any model I ever built. I do think when it comes back to the parenting conversation is that this is still a hyper segment. Space and that, we at parallel as well as all of the other companies in our industry really have a duty to. Decrease that stigma to start conversations and also educate more families about these conditions and really change the narrative.
So it's not that these are disabilities, right? As you can tell, we really hesitated that the word disabilities in general. But rather that, these are differences that everyone's brain is unique and that's something that should be celebrated because like I said, where there areas of improvement or challenge.
There's usually places where students are really extremely gifted in other areas. So I think a lot of it just comes down to, or the baby beginning of this conversation and there's a lot of work to be done. And, I think in particular, you're seeing more of a conversation starter around behavioral health around children, particularly I think pandemic one of the good things that came out of the pandemic at least was this heightened awareness.
Children's mental health and this growing conversation. And I think, neurodiversity as a category is the next step.
MPD: It's interesting too. And hearing all of this is wait, remind me, what percentage of folks, fall into one of these buckets that you would say once a huge percentage of people, the idea for 20% of the population would be stigmatized it's you would think it almost be normalized at the.
Diana Heldfond: No, it is. And unfortunately they're just conditions that people don't talk about. And also, going back to the reason why we're all here, there's not great access to the education needed to even understand that some of these conditions are affecting, that 20% of the population, many people go their entire life. Without ever being properly diagnosed or getting any kind of support for these conditions. And keep in mind that 20% statistic is both learning and thinking differences or talking about anxiety, depression, as well as learning challenges and other developmental delays.
So a lot of different conditions under one umbrella that said there's also so much comorbidity and studies out there to show that, and it makes perfect sense, that child struggling. Dyslexia and learning to read, it's going to inevitably develop other mental health related concerns when they're not developing at the same pace as their peers.
And our challenge with test taking, maybe they develop test anxiety maybe that starts to affect their social life. And then so on. But, there's just so much interconnectivity between education as well as mental health. And, you're at parallel, we're really on a mission to try to bring it all into one general conversation and help parents figure out how to identify these challenges early for their children, and then get them the support that they really need to succeed.
MPD: What do we know about these learning differences now? We're talking about the ability to diagnose, which sounds didn't even exist probably within a few decades ago. As part of it too, is there's an awareness and that didn't exist before Ms. Hope. I'm assuming at least. And we talk about treatments and therapies.
Do we understand the science of what's happening yet or is that research is still, has to be done? Where are we in that?
Diana Heldfond: Yeah. No, it's a great question. I will say there has been research on this space for decades, right? That you have been able to diagnose students with these challenges for quite some time.
I think the bigger issue, actually more so around the education piece and making sure that students are even getting to the point where they're meeting with that psychologist. And being able to actually get that diagnosis or get that support going forward. That said, for example, even on the remediation side, many evidence-based strategies Orton-Gillingham being the godfather of them all.
And many of them being offshoots of that strategy that is, is evidence-based has been around again for decades and is proven to help support students. Dyslexia and other, academic challenges, to really be able to learn core subjects like reading, writing, and so on using a multisensory approach to reading.
And it's amazing how much actually research has been done to date. And how many. Different solutions are out there really on the remediation side that said there's still so much work to be done. And frankly a lot of really incredible research that's coming out of various different institutions in this space to be able to diagnose at an earlier age early in our intervention is of course the most important kind of part of the conversation here, because if you're catching these things, when children are two, three years old, You can make so much more of an impact than if you're catching this stuff when they're nine, 10 years old or even, into adulthood.
Which is unfortunately the case. And so I think that's where there's a lot of work to be done is really starting to shift the conversation to be more of preemptive screening, rather than doing this all in a reactionary way. Which is unfortunately though, just the case today.
MPD: Thank you so much for being.
Diana Heldfond: of course. Thank you for having me. This was a really fun.
MPD: That was awesome. I love when we're able to talk about things that are stigmatized openly, and honestly, I think it just helps all of us figure out how to solve these problems. Next, a quick announcement. Next week we're taking a week off on the pod. So look for the next episode, two weeks out. If you liked what you heard, please look us up with a like, or a five star review and feel free to share with us.
You can find me on Twitter at MPD. And to hear more of my conversations with innovators, subscribe on YouTube, Facebook, or any major podcast platform. Just search for innovation with Mark Peter Davis.