Yury Yakubchyk Jr., A&S '13, is all about supporting the next generation of young entrepreneurs. From an early age, as a child with ADHD, he says he knew that traditional paths through corporate America would not work for him. Now, he wants to encourage other neurodivergent students to pursue entrepreneurial paths, too, whether that's through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures' FastFowardU Demo Day and summer incubator program, or by hiring mission-minded Hopkins alumni to work at his company, Elemy. A nationwide provider of childhood behavioral and mental health care, Elemy offers personalized in-home and online care services for children on the autism spectrum and with other behavioral health conditions.
Here, he talks about founding a company during a pandemic, entrepreneurship as a vessel for open-mindedness, and what he wants to focus on next.
How did Elemy begin?
I struggled with very severe ADHD during my youth, which I was lucky enough to get therapy for through my physician-parents' network. When I graduated from Hopkins, I started a few companies (both of which are still running) in the hotel and telecom spaces, but at a certain point I knew that I wanted to pivot and focus on mission-oriented work in a broken sector. My personal story drove me to consider pediatric behavioral health.
What's different about Elemy's approach to tech?
The behavioral health industry, especially for kids, is a very pen-and-paper business. When I started researching this space, I saw only a dozen software engineers working in pediatric care on LinkedIn. But one-third of U.S. children have some sort of mental health condition that they need care for. What we've built is a company with a sizable engineering team and R&D spend, where we can innovate around how families interact with their clinicians, and we can track clinical outcomes. The data we pull really helps families with their care experiences in a way that impacts everyone.
What has it been like to launch this business in the middle of a pandemic?
Families first started using the Elemy platform in April 2020, and we ramped up from there. At the time, most child mental health providers worked in clinics and facilities, but many of those facilities shut down during COVID. So, it was hard for families to find therapists, plus the resources that usually came from schools weren't accessible. At the time, it felt like a really precarious situation for pediatric patients, and I think we ended up coming onto the scene at the right time. We could help families rapidly in a time of great need because we were giving them access to online care.
What have you learned from the pandemic experience?
Basically, we've already created this strong foundation: a software platform that we built in-house, that can handle the complex logistics of delivering high-acuity care in a home setting. We started by focusing on child autism, which certainly wasn't the easiest thing we could have chosen. And I've learned that this was a good method; because we solved for a hard thing first, we can now ask ourselves, 'What are the other areas of home care delivery where we can have an impact?' One example is moderate-to severe ADHD, but there are plenty of other areas we are looking at as well.
You're well-known for giving back to alumni and young entrepreneurs. Why does this matter to you?
Entrepreneurship is becoming a more viable career option, and not just for people who have crazy high risk profiles. I think people who want a certain level of independence and impact are also now looking at entrepreneurship, which means universities need to invest in that. In many ways, a traditional university experience contradicts entrepreneurism: Structured classes, grading, and even the organization are linear. So I feel it's important to provide support for people who want to pursue entrepreneurism within a university setting. I want to encourage innovation as a viable career path.
Why choose the route of entrepreneurship?
Transparently, I knew I wasn't going to have a corporate career. I didn't think I'd do well at it, but I knew I could build something. And while this is a lonely and challenging journey, especially in the early days, for me there was no plan B.
What's your advice for new entrepreneurs?
There's no textbook for doing this right. Slack started as a gaming company and pivoted into communications. The founders certainly had no business starting a communications platform, but here they are. Versus Zoom: The founder spent his entire career in the world of real-time communications. He used his deep knowledge to become the largest player in the space. Those are two opposite paths that led to a similar outcome of product-market fit and scaled companies. Any time there's someone giving you one road, know that it's either the road they've heard about the most or the one they saw in their own experiences. That's not all there is. Be open-minded about the journey.