by Lucia Maffei
Let me set the scene for you.
Eva Breitenbach is pursuing her MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. On December 1, 2016 she wakes up and discovers that she cannot move half of her face. Later, she’s diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a rare neurological disease that translates into a temporary paralysis of a facial side. In other words, half of her face was totally frozen and stayed that way for four months.
“I couldn’t close my eyes, it was pretty hard to smile,” Breitenbach said in an interview. “I’ve seen a therapist for a number of years, but it was really this experience that made me realize just how valuable that relationship was.”
At the time she was diagnosed, Breitenbach already had a therapist she could trust. A friend of hers was not as lucky as she was. He would make calls, schedule appointments with different therapists and ended up wasting time in finding the right match.
For Breitenbach, both her personal experience and her friend’s translated into Sophia, an online database of therapists that offers matching services to potential patients. Launched in June, the company just went through the “delta v” accelerator program at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and currently has a network of 28 therapists based in the greater Boston area.
“Most of the time, what would happen is you… go online on your insurance website, and there’s this sort of long list of pretty undifferentiated names and numbers,” Breitenbach said. “Especially if you haven’t been to a therapist before… it can be really difficult to find that person who’s right for you.”
When patients start using Sophia, they’re asked to fill out a survey with questions about their logistics (where are they hoping to see a therapist, when are they generally available, what insurance they have) personality (for example, what kind of people do they work best with) and needs (what specific topic are they going to discuss with the therapist).
After running a matching algorithm against its database, the Sophia team sends patients an email with profiles of their three top choices. Once patients have picked up one, Sophia connects the two directly and follows up after the first appointment.
The service is meant to benefit therapists as well, who often work particularly well with a specific profile of patients but don’t necessarily know how to reach out to them.
So far, Sophia has been charging therapists a monthly fee, but it’s considering alternative forms of revenue. In a follow-up email, Breitenbach wrote that the company is moving forward with a model where therapists can use the service for free for the first three months. In this new model, there is also no charge to patients, employers, doctors or schools who may want to use the service.
Sophia is based at Alley Cambridge, a coworking space near the Cambridge Public Library. Breitenbach added they’re hoping to raise their first round of funding in late spring 2018.