Schools in the United States are already struggling with a teacher shortage. For students with thinking and learning differences, it’s even harder to find teachers and other specialists that are equipped to work with them. Parallel Learning is solving that problem with a teletherapy platform that partners with school districts to create individualized plans for each student.
Meant for kids in grades K through 12, Parallel announced today it has raised a new addition of $6.125 million, led by Rethink Impact, a fund that focuses on female and non-binary founders. The funding, which brings the Series A total to $20 million, will be used for expansion into new territories and products. This will entail hiring providers who are licenses in each new state where Parallel will operate.
Founded three years ago in New York City, the startup says that in Q3, it increased its provider network by 200%, with over 95% of providers electing to stay on Parallel. This means Parallel has been able to work with 4x the number of students in almost 80 K-12 school districts, resulting in 4x total revenue generated compared to the previous year.
The services offered by Parallel’s providers include speech-language pathology, specialized instruction, behavioral and mental health coaching and executive function coaching for students. Parallel’s providers work with a school’s special education program (SPED) to develop a Individualized Education Program (IEP), a legal document in the United States that outlines the personalized education plan for a student with special needs.
Parallel’s founder and CEO Diana Heldfond tells TechCrunch that Parallel’s mission is personal for her. When she was seven, Heldfond was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia.
“I lived firsthand through a number of the same services that we are now providing to students and can personally speak to how impactful the extra support can be,” she says. Heldfond started her career working on Wall Street and, after observing many investments in the developmental services space, spent years developing a thesis around a virtual care provider. Then when the pandemic hit and schools began struggling to serve their students, Heldfond knew it was time to bring her idea to fruition.
One of the main problems Parallel addresses is the shortage of behavioral and special education providers that work with children. “Special education has this tricky issue where everything is lumped together at the district level,” says Heldfond. “Each student gets different services, making it a huge challenge for districts, especially in rural areas. Imagine providers spending hours driving from one school to another. It’s a huge waste of time especially when there’s already a massive shortage of these providers.”
The company’s chief clinical officer is Dr. A. Jordan Wright, a psychologist and the author of the sixth edition of the “Handbook of Psychological Assessment” and “Essentials of Psychological Tele-Assessment.” Since kids, especially younger one, react differently to teletherapy, Parallel worked with clinical publishers like Pearson and Riverside to incorporate learning materials, interactive games and activities into sessions, which are helpful for kids with shorter attention spans. The platform also includes a library of clinical test materials for speech-language pathologists and school psychologists, and curricula for educators and service providers.
Parallell’s proprietary software also includes partnerships with curriculum publishers who use evidence-based practices. Its Enhanced GoalTracker tool tracks a student’s progress on their IEP and generates individual progress reports, saving time for their special education team.
Once a collaboration plan is created with everyone who is invested in a student’s well-being, including their providers, teachers and family members, Parallel starts with an intake meeting where everyone meets to create a plan. The plan takes into account the strengths of each school district, which is an important part of Parallel’s business model. The company partners with K-12 public school districts, reaching out to special education directors, superintendents and others.
“We offer districts a menu of services, including assessments, speech language therapy, mental health services and specialized instruction,” Heldfond says. “School districts have the flexibility to chose from these core services based on their specific needs.”
One of the ways Parallel is working to prevent burnout among its providers is by encouraging them to form a community with one another, through things like continuous education, mentorship and opportunities to grow within Parallel.
“We’ve made it a priority to integrate our providers into the Parallel community and ensure that they get substantial benefits that make Parallel the ideal fit for them. We even have programs that help providers transition from private practice to working in schools,” Heldfond says. She adds that Parallel’s lead-to-provider ratio is 3x lower than its competitors, enabling it to provide more support to providers. Parallel’s workers include both 1099 and W2 employees, who get paid by the hour and work remotely.
Parallel scales up and finds more providers through several ways. One is word-of-mouth: providers who are already working for Parallel refer their peers. Parallel is also speaking with universities, especially graduate schools, to recruit future providers. It’s also created a library of free resources for both internal and external providers, including professional development materials, free white papers and webinars, in a bit to attract skilled speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, specialized instructors and school social workers.
Parallel also announced five key hires to its leadership team today. They include former GoHealth CTO Cern Veron, who will be Parallel’s chief strategic growth officer; Sarah Finney, who will join as VP as customer success after serving in a similar position at Presence Learning; former Acorn Health SVP of strategic growth Monica Maspons, who will serve at Parallel as VP of strategic operations; Kushal Patel, Parallel’s new VP of finance after working as senior director of strategic finance at Learneo; and Polygon co-founder and CTO Meryll Dindin, who is joining Parallel as its director of data analytics and AI.
In an investor statement, Rethink Impact founder and managing partner Jenny Abrasion said, “Parallel’s innovative tech comes at a time when 42 of 50 states face SPED teacher shortages. Our firm spent years looking at solutions in special education and were incredibly impressed by not only the quality of what Diana and her team have built but by the fact that they have so quickly scaled to 80+ districts.”