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Building a Company feat. Dr. Katherine Grill, CEO of Neolth

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Buffalo chapter.

Dr. Katherine Grill is the CEO and co-founder of Neolth, a technology company that provides personalized mental health support to teens and young adults through a self-guided platform. She’s received a BS in Art Therapy, MA in Psychology, and a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience, with expertise in school-based mental health and using digital interventions with adolescents and young adults. She has worked with hundreds of students throughout her career and often provides mentorship to students during life transitions, such as graduation to early-career.

Dr. Grill was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the 2022 education category and was the recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2022 from the Canterbury School. She has won numerous awards through her work with Neolth, including being named as a top international youth mental health solution by the World Economic Forum, UNICEF and Salesforce as part of their UpLink Innovation Challenge, the 2021 Lyfebulb-Loyola University Chicago Public Health Innovation Challenge; 2021 Timmy Finalist for Best Tech for Good in San Francisco; 2020 Startup of the Year EdTech award; Top 100 Startup in 2020 by SOTY; Top 100 company in 2020 by Pepperdine University; and was a SoGal Global Finals and Regional (San Francisco) pitch competition winner. She was featured in Forbes alongside the founders of Bumble and Zyper in 2021 as a leading female founder and was honored with a display on the Nasdaq Tower in Times Square in 2020.

This interview details Dr. Grill’s experience building and running a company, as well as advice for anyone interested in starting a company themselves.

  1. What inspired you to create Neolth? Why did you leave your previous career(s) for this journey of entrepreneurship?

“From a young age, mental health was a big part of my life. I had family members and friends who struggled with mental health, particularly being unable to access care due to stigma and cost. I saw the devastating impact this had on them and their families and wanted to make a change. I studied Art Therapy in college, interested in the expressive arts as a healing modality. I enjoyed patient care but was frustrated by the inequities in the health system. I returned to school to complete my MA in Psychology and Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience. I wanted to learn how to create and validate health programs that could increase access to and engagement in mental health services. I worked at Children’s National pediatric hospital conducting NIH research focused on teens and young adults. It was there I learned how to build and validate health programs. I also co-founded a community health program for young adults and was a university professor teaching courses in psychology and neuroscience at undergraduate and graduate levels. I built a well-rounded background in patient care, clinical research, public health, and education. I leveraged this experience to put my passion into action – ultimately founding Neolth as a way to create impact at scale for millions of people.”

  1. Starting a company is something many young people dream of and most never do. What got you from the idea to a fully running company?

“The first thing you should know is that starting a company is a process that typically takes years. For me, my journey started as a teenager through my lived experiences. That passion led me to pursuing a BS, MA and ultimately PhD in the mental health field. To put it in perspective – we’re talking about 15 years here. Gaining lived and professional experience in your chosen field is key before starting a company. I believe one of the major reasons companies fail, especially in the health space, is that founders neglect to build this experience.

By the time I moved to California, I was already married and had the privilege of being able to take time off to explore the tech world. My husband (now co-founder) encouraged me to participate in some pitch events. I met a few investors who loved my idea for Neolth and ended up mentoring me (the money came much later). I spent about two years working on market research and building an MVP with my co-founder, while we were both employed in other jobs. It wasn’t until I was accepted into accelerator programs that I made the choice to work on Neolth full-time. Those programs were a great experience, because I received mentorship from industry experts and support from other founders as I eased into my CEO role.”

  1. Building and running a company seems completely overwhelming. Did you ever feel like you couldn’t do it or wanted to give up? What kept you going?

“Yes, many times I’ve been overwhelmed. It’s normal and every founder feels this way, because we’re human. The problem is, most founders feel like they can’t admit it because somehow, we’re supposed to be superhuman. [There’s a podcast episode from Techstars where they talk about the misconceived mantra that founders and CEOs can’t show weakness.] As the leader of your company, you’re the one who is motivating and supporting your team. You’re ultimately responsible for addressing challenges the company faces, and there are challenges every day. You’re also putting on a public face for customers, investors, your end users, etc. All of these things can be exciting, but they also can drain you physically and mentally. 

When you feel like you want to give up – a few things have kept me going. One is the passion for what I do. Adolescent mental health is my calling, it’s something I feel very strongly about. The second is my team, especially my co-founder. I can talk openly with him about the ups and downs and he’s always there to support me. Lastly, the teens we serve keep me going. We often get messages from students who are using Neolth about how the app has helped them. It’s amazing to hear about how our app is impacting their lives in a meaningful way.”

  1. How do you maintain work-life balance and incorporate self-care into your life?

“I don’t know that work-life balance exists as a startup founder. There will be times that you work nights, weekends and holidays. In general, you work more than 40 hours a week. I’m honest about this because it’s important that young people know what they’re getting into if they choose to start a company.

Incorporating self-care into my routine may look like taking a break during the day to go outside with my dogs or to work out. Sometimes it’s falling asleep early to get a few extra hours. Lately it’s been practicing self-compassion exercises to remind myself it’s ok not to be perfect. Having your own schedule for self-care is important, but I also believe having a ‘self-care buddy’ – someone who can remind you to take a break – is vital. When burnout takes hold, we don’t always recognize it. It may take a friend or co-founder’s nudging to realize we need to press pause and focus on self-care.”

  1. Do you have any advice for college students, particularly women, who want to pursue entrepreneurship?
  • “Assess your support systems – starting a company can strain you emotionally and financially. Do you have a partner or family members who will support you in getting your business off the ground, whether emotionally or financially? Will you secure loans or venture capital? These are crucial to think about before getting started.
  • Be willing to sacrifice – if you enjoy a clean-cut 9-5 job, having clear work-life boundaries, or being able to take regular vacations – starting a business probably isn’t for you. In the early days, you have to sacrifice a lot. I’m not saying you never get to spend time with family or relax on the weekends, but you have way more responsibility as a business owner than an employee. Make sure you are ready for that. Talking to other business owners will help you learn what their experiences are like and if it’s a fit for you.
  • Assess your values – why are you starting the business in the first place? Many young people tell me they want to found a startup. If it’s just about being able to say you started a company, it’s not a good idea. What will keep you going is passion. Find something you’re passionate about, spend time learning about that field, and then start your business.
  • Don’t let anyone put limits on your abilities: There are many barriers women face in life, including starting a business. We’re taught from a young age that ‘business is for the businessMEN’ because ‘feminine characteristics’ aren’t suited for entrepreneurship. Personally, I believe there are no characteristics that are inherently masculine or feminine and that saying so is a problem that stems from our gender binary system. Regardless, women are held to different standards than men. You need to outperform, especially financially, to have the same access to capital that men do. Women face subtle sexism on a daily basis, which shows up in interactions with customers and employees. It’s important to be aware of this, but equally as important to have confidence in yourself that you can overcome it. The more women we have in business, the more we can shape our narratives as leaders and entrepreneurs.”
  1. Anything else you’d like to add?

“Neolth’s vision is to champion a preventative model of care within schools, where every student has access to the quality educational, stigma-reducing, and stress-alleviating resources they need to thrive. Students can download Neolth for free on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, and at cloud.neolth.com

Sign-up for Neolth today and receive a 60-day FREE TRIAL to get started on your mental health journey!

Khrystina is a first-year grad student, earning her Master's in Social Work. She's written for a variety of audiences throughout her academic and professional careers on topics ranging from mental health to travel guides. She's passionate about wellness, sustainability, food, her cats, books, and love. ❤️