Clayful raises $7M to grow its on-demand mental health support for students

By Nancy Dahlberg

Clayful is addressing the growing pediatric mental health crisis through its platform that offers text-based coaching for students to support their mental wellness whenever and whereever they need it. The Davie-based startup partners with K-12 schools and school districts to provide students with access to human coaches within 60 seconds.

The chat-based, on-demand approach also addresses the school counselor shortage, because nationwide there is only one school counselor for every 408 students. The multilingual platform has already connected thousands of students across the country to coaches for support.

“‘We are rethinking what mental health support looks like for the Tiktok generation – and building it for them,” says Maria Barrera, co-founder and CEO, in an interview with Refresh Miami.

Today, Clayful announced it has raised $7 million in funding led by Reach Capital, one of the leading investors in education. Reach has also funded Nearpod, ClassDojo, Epic, Newsela, and many others. Other Clayful investors include the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, Ovo Fund, Common Sense Ventures, Charter School Growth Fund, and Wisdom Ventures.

“Thousands of students across the US are already feeling Clayful’s impact, and we believe in their approach to making such vital support accessible to a broader spectrum of students. Their top-notch coach selection, robust training, and rigorous certification exemplify their commitment to ensuring a high-quality, trusted platform, and we are excited to support them in accelerating their reach of even more students and schools,” said Wayee Chu, General Partner at Reach Capital, in the announcement.

Clayful’s nearly 100 vetted and certified coaches on the platform give personalized, confidential support to students, typically ages 8-18. The schools or school districts pay for the service, not the students. In the event of a crisis, Clayful coaches and coach supervisors work together to follow clear and codified escalation procedures. Clayful also provides school districts data-driven insights.

Barrera, who grew up in South Florida before going to Stanford University, founded the company about two years ago alongside Melissa Pelochino; they met while working at Nearpod, a South Florida-based edtech company. The concept for Clayful came to Barrera after reading a New York Times aricle about increasing rates of suicide among 8-year-olds. “It broke my heart. I quit my job to go figure out how I could make a difference and how I could help,” she said in an earlier interview.

Today, Clayful offers its service to 25 school districts in six states (not Florida yet). It’s now a core team of nine full-time people and in total about 110 team members, including coaches and contractors, Barrera says.

Clayful is also hiring. Barrera hopes to hire a leader of coach training, coach supervisors, sales reps and customer success experts, among others. “We are creating this whole new layer of the workforce,” she says.

The funding will go toward hiring and continuing to expand into more states and school districts. “It’s really to just get this into the hands of even more students and developing more products that meet students where they are,” Barrera says.

Measuring impact was important to the team and they invested early on to conduct an efficacy study in partnership with LearnPlatform by Instructure, a provider of technology that enables institutions to research, select and evaluate digital learning solutions. Early statistics from the study show that students who participated in more Clayful coaching chats during the 2022-23 school year had significantly better attendance rates. On average, students with zero chats had an attendance rate of 91%, while students with chats had an average attendance rate of 95%. That equates to roughly seven more days in school for students who used Clayful. 

Many of the issues students bring up during coaching center around social anxiety, bullying and feeling intense academic pressures. After working through these with Clayful Coaches, 86% said they feel safer and more motivated to go to school.

Clayful asks for student feedback after every session and often the students express that the coaches helped them escape a very dark place, Barrera says. “The things that students say honestly make me cry every day.”


Nancy Dahlberg