Clayful co-founders Maria Barrera (CEO) and Melissa Pelochino (Chief Experience Officer)


Mental Health Help, On-Demand: Why We Invested in Clayful

Building long-term relationships with founders and operators is a core tenet at Reach Capital. A relationship sparked almost a decade ago led us to back one of the most impactful K-12 mental wellness solutions today.

Relationships are also at the heart of Clayful, which partners with schools and districts to provide students access to on-demand, text-based coaching that foster positive behavioral skills and wellbeing. Interacting with live coaches, students get strategies for managing emotions, fostering relationships, and navigating the ups and downs of adolescence.

We are thrilled to be leading Clayful’s seed round alongside a great group of investors, including Common Sense Ventures, Charter School Growth Fund, Wisdom Ventures and Google Latino Founders Fund, as Clayful embarks on its next growth stage. 

Clayful’s co-founders (pictured above) are no strangers. Its CEO Maria Barrera joined Nearpod in 2014 as its first product manager. Reach was fortunate to be an early investor in Nearpod and witnessed the incredible growth and contributions Maria made, from building products to running strategy and operations, to leading growth and monetization. Her co-founder and Chief Experience Officer, Melissa Pelochino, brings an invaluable educator’s perspective. She is a former dean of academics and director of K-12 professional development at the Stanford and Seesaw, and joined Nearpod in 2016 to train and empower instructional leaders on the platform.

Nearpod was acquired by Renaissance Learning in 2021, and is one of the leading digital K-12 platforms in the U.S. today.

Later that year, Maria and Melissa came to Reach with just a seedling of an idea for a transformative mental wellness solution for K-12 students. With their track record scaling successful edtech startups and navigating complex education systems, we were excited to take the leap and led their pre-seed round. Today, we are doubling down.

Building Capacity for School Counselors

With rising youth anxiety, depression and suicide rates, the need for mental health solutions is more acute than ever. Childhood mental challenges cost an estimated $10.9 billion each year in the United States. Officials are responding with encouraging efforts. The federal education department has committed nearly $200 million. States are leading their own initiatives to fund mental health services, expand therapist capacity, and provide more mental health education and resources to students and staff.

Today Clayful serves K-12 students across nearly 20 districts in 6 states, from rural towns in Michigan and Illinois to urban communities in California and Washington. This is the first personalized Tier 1 intervention to be universally available to all students and fully scalable regardless of staffing constraints.

By connecting students to Clayful Coaches, Clayful is expanding schools’ capacity to provide real-time support to every student while also reducing the load on educators. The company takes a rigorous approach to selecting and training coaches. Its coaching methodology is grounded in science and focuses on three key principles: 1) maintain a neutral stance and remain unbiased; 2) ask powerful questions that support students’ decisionmaking; 3) empower the student and build resilience.

Importantly, by approaching mental health support as coaching rather than therapy (and thus reducing the stigma sometimes associated with seeking help), students are more willing to engage in the process. This early intervention support can meet the needs of students with mild to moderate mental health challenges, helping individuals identify and address issues before they escalate.

Human Connection and Relationships Matter

Reach Capital is thrilled to be backing this dynamic duo, building on our trusted relationship nurtured over a decade and a shared mission to meet the mental health needs of all students. Human relationships, perhaps now more than ever, are essential in helping students navigate a quickly changing world.

To that end, the company’s namesake symbolizes this mission. Some of the most important structural qualities of clay are its durability and versatility, to be molded into different shapes. Our growth as students, teachers, founders, investors — as human beings — take different forms throughout our lives, and we look forward to seeing Clayful and everyone they serve reach their full potential.