American entrepreneur Kenny Laplante has been living in Brazil for about three years, where he founded Genial Care, a startup that combines a Headspace-like platform to clinical support for autistic children caregivers in Brazil. He used to work in the U.S.-based growth equity firm General Atlantic as a private equity investor. In GA, Laplante was focused exclusively on healthcare services, investing in companies that used technology to improve clinical outcomes.
While working with companies in that space, back in 2017, one of the sub-sectors that he became personally involved in was that of intervention for autistic children in the US. “Once I had that first contact, I kinda fell in love with that area because it is an area where better work and better technology can actually make a huge difference in people’s lives,” he told LABS.
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He decided that he wanted to start a business focused on that, but he wanted to do that abroad. The thing is, it was not only with intervention for autistic children that he fell in love with. Laplante was dating a Brazilian that is now his wife. “I was living in New York. So I decided to go to Brazil and try to build something that could help people and use some of the knowledge that I had gathered as an investor in the healthcare space.”
Without speaking Portuguese, Laplante started to work at Brazil’s finance platform Guiabolso. He spent over a year there, learned the language and also what it was like to work at a startup. In 2019, Laplante left the firm to start to develop the idea behind Genial Care. “I took a sabbatical year; I was a volunteer at a Brazilian health post in SUS (Brazilian public health system) to understand the Brazilian reality and, step by step, develop the pieces behind Genial.”
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Digital and human care: how Genial Care works
Genial Care is a startup of education and support for caregivers of autistic children, for the most part, the parents. The company started to operate in May 2020, and since then, Laplante has been building a team and developing its first service. “Healthcare is a very sensitive area, and we have to deal with it carefully. We just now are opened up to the public,” he says.
The firm has a subscription-based business model. It started with a beta launch for a small number of mothers, and it has a waiting list of people. “We work directly with consumers. However, we are also starting to develop some partnerships with other groups, perhaps companies. It’s primarily B2C right now, but we think that this [business] is a very valuable thing for B2B2C, for instance.”
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According to Laplante, customization is key right now, so Genial Care’s clients have an actual person working with them, speaking with them regularly. In short, the model provides a hybrid approach. A human side with regular meetings featuring Genial’s clinical leader and ongoing conversations with the firm’s care coordinator, besides a digital component, that is kind of a Headspace concept. The platform offers videos, audio, quizzes about autism.
Genial has a Portuguese-fluent senior clinical leader born in Venezuela and raised in the US. “She has a degree as a behavior analyst, which is a very rare certification in Brazil. She’s like our Chief Medical Officer, essentially, and she is responsible for the caregiver. They meet once or twice a month,” says Laplante. Customers pay BRL 879 monthly for this service.
Genial Care next steps
Currently, the startup has nine full-time employees, and they work across different areas, tech, design, content, clinical. As the startup is actively growing, it is now hiring. To begin operations, Genial raised a BRL 5 million Seed round at the end of 2020 led by Canary, a Brazilian fund that already invested in several Latin American startups such as Gupy, Sami, Qulture Rocks, among others, and the unicorn Loft.
“We still have some room to grow on that Seed round,” he says, adding that the firm’s focus now is developing measurable quality outcomes. “It’s very hard and rare to demonstrate clinical outcomes with your product and service in healthcare. Even the best hospitals in the world have a hard time doing this. So we are focused on measuring outcomes, and we think that over the next six to 12 months, we will have fantastic outcomes because of all the clinical work that is behind this.”
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According to Laplante, Genial has a clinical council with some of the best researchers in the world. The startup will seek the next fundraise after it has the clinical results demonstrated at some point in 2021.
“Autism is a very complex disorder. It’s not something we take likely, and we are very focused on autism, and for right now, we are focused on parents”. Although, Genial Care might be able to expand beyond that with-in autism to start to work with other people better involved in the autism ecosystem, such as professionals, psychologists, and teachers, for instance, as Laplante explains. “That’s one avenue we might think about, and also beyond autism at some point. But that’s way out in the future. Autism itself is such a big problem that we have so much room to grow. There are 4 million people with autism just in Brazil, and there are 100 million people with autism in the world.”
Latin America’s expansion is not out of the discussion. In Laplante’s view, there’s a lack of healthcare systems in Latin America as a whole, and “none of the countries in Latin America serve the autistic population very well,” he claims.
For him, Genial exists because Brazil has a huge population on the autism spectrum, and very few professionals who are trained toward that. “Technology has a big role to play to bridge that gap, to try to help and care for those caregivers, and support them to be teachers of their children. All that logic makes as much sense in Brazil as it does in other Latin American countries. We are an international team; we have the vision to expand beyond Brazil because the problems are very similar. But right now we’re focused here.”