Erin Sietstra chats with Lori Evans Bernstein, CEO & Co-founder of Caraway, about investing in health equity

Women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people have been excluded from venture investment portfolios for far too long, perpetuating the cycle of racial inequities and health disparities. At Hopelab, we’re dedicated to breaking this cycle and improving and scaling impact, innovation, and entrepreneurship to meet the mental health needs of underserved young people by investing in people with lived experience in the communities they aim to serve.

With an unprecedented need for mental health resources and both new barriers and persistent inequities in women’s health, Hopelab Ventures is proud to be an investor in Caraway, a virtual care startup providing mental, physical and reproductive healthcare for college-aged women with $10.5 million in seed funding.

I had the pleasure to catch up with Lori Evans Bernstein, CEO & Co-Founder of Caraway, to discuss how Caraway and other women-led organizations are helping move the needle on health equity.

Caraway logo

Q1 – What led you to start Caraway? (e.g., a particular moment or experience)

What inspired me the most is Caraway’s bold vision. Despite the industry’s best efforts, our healthcare system regularly fails to meet the needs of women. Particularly, Gen-Z women are finding themselves in a uniquely difficult moment where they are facing multiple crises – a growing mental health crisis, rising social instability, and substantial barriers to women’s rights and reproductive care. Personally, I’ve witnessed the impact of today’s health system and these challenges on many of my own family members as well as my friends’ children in college.

Q2 – In your own words, what makes your organization stand out?

Caraway is addressing the multitude of healthcare crises facing college women+ with the first integrated mental, physical and reproductive healthcare solution. Our goal is to fundamentally change the way college women+ experience our complicated and inaccessible healthcare system. Built with students for students, Caraway enables college women+ to take charge of, better understand, and effectively manage their healthcare needs.

Caraway provides women+ age 18-27 with 24/7 access to care that prioritizes the needs and concerns that present during this developmental-age window to uncover early diagnoses and set the course for lifelong healthcare habits and overall well being.

Q3 – How will this funding help Caraway move us closer to achieving health equity, especially for youth mental health?

Caraway shares Hopelab’s dedication to creating a world where all young people can thrive, with our focus set squarely on the mind-body health of college women+ and a clinical understanding that the two cannot be separated. Mental health is physical health and vice versa. For us, women+ means that Caraway welcomes, honors and celebrates all gender identities and expressions. Our healthcare services are designed for cisgender, transgender, and nonbinary people.

College women+ often don’t know where to turn when they have a problem, have trouble getting appointments for routine health needs, spend countless hours waiting for an appointment at student health or urgent care and experience deep frustration and risk because they can’t get the care they need. For Black college women+, these challenges are even more dire, as they often don’t feel welcome, supported or safe. Now, with the reversal of Roe, Black women are disproportionately affected by socioeconomic barriers to reproductive health and the growing number of state abortion bans. Traditionally, Black women have accounted for nearly 40 percent of abortions in the U.S. According to a recent analysis in the Washington Post, “75% of historically Black colleges and universities – representing 166,000 students, are located in states that recently outlawed completed or severely restricted abortion.

The seed funding we raised – $10.5M, led by 7wireVentures and OMERS Ventures, with participation from Hopelab Ventures – is being used to bring crucial health services to Gen Z women+ of all races, ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientations by:

  • Providing mental, physical and reproductive care, accessible 24/7, day or night and on weekends.
  • Growing a care team of diverse, multidisciplinary professionals trained in cultural competency and empathy
    including nurse practitioners, physicians, therapists, care coaches, and health advisors
  • Promoting Caraway through a student paid internship program, Caraway Campus Advisors, that represents a diverse and inclusive group of women+ across historically underrepresented campus communities

Q4 – What does mentorship look like for Caraway? Who do you seek advice from?

Mentorship is built into Caraway’s culture and organizational structure. We combine an experienced clinical care team, healthcare veterans and a passionate GenZ team – which make up a third of the company – along with a student advisory community 60+ people strong. Furthermore, our Caraway Campus Advisory program is our go-to-market, on-the-ground, internship offering college students an opportunity to enhance their learning and build their networks. At Caraway, we all work together to support women+ in taking care of themselves in our increasingly complicated and hard-to-access healthcare system.

I have been working in digital health for over 25 years and am always learning. I seek advice from our investors, board, advisors and partners, the Caraway team and women that I admire, including my mom and sisters.

Q5 – How can we, at the college level, invest in women and other minorities to help them launch their own companies?

We can invest and dedicate ourselves to teaching students about entrepreneurship and leadership. Our Caraway Campus Advisor program is one way we are preparing women and other minorities for the world of entrepreneurship. The program consists of college students who are passionate about Caraway’s mission and offerings and work to launch Caraway on their campus through a formal internship. CCAs learn not only about marketing and women’s+ health, but they also have a front-row seat to see how a startup is built and eventually scaled. These lessons are transferable no matter what these students decide to do next.

Q6 – Do you have a particular story, moment, and/or feedback of your services that makes you proud of your organization’s impact?

I do! The Monday after we opened our “virtual doors,” and during our weekly “All Hands” company meeting, one of our doctors, an OB/GYN, shared a care story from her first patient care session. The OB/GYN was able to put into practice Caraway’s mission to provide integrated mental, physical and reproductive healthcare and guide the member’s healthcare decision-making. She told us how this care appointment unveiled all of the complexities of healthcare and was a distillation of the value of care we aim to offer. The college student said, “I’ve never gotten so much out of one visit before.” I could see the emotion and pride on everyone’s faces.

Q7 – What are your hopes for the future of mental health for young people?

I hope that all mental health care in the future will be provided in an integrated patient-centered health system in which the patient is supported as a whole person and the healthcare team works together to identify and treat their mental, physical and reproductive health in a seamless way. I hope that we are living in a world where mental health is a high priority and integrated in every area of society.

I hope that we have a better and a truer understanding of why so many young people are struggling. That we have better treatments – especially better medication options – for the most serious of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar and eating disorders. That preventative mental health treatment becomes the norm not the exception and reduces the rates of adolescent mental health episodes evolving into lifelong disorders. That high-quality therapy is no longer only accessible to those that can pay out of pocket for it. And, that no one has to feel like suicide is the only way to relieve emotional suffering and pain.

Paving a path to health equity

Healthcare is complex, and women and other minority groups face underlying challenges that can make it even more difficult to find and access the care they need. I’m very grateful to Lori for taking the time to talk about her personal experience in this space and how, together, we’re helping pave a clearer path to health for women, regardless of their age, race, identity or location.


Related Content

View all Insights
instagram outline of margaret laws with purple background of lights behind her

Mental health tech was a hot topic at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas; enthusiasm and investment interest don’t appear to be slowing down. 5 key takeaways emerged.

illustration of a person looking at a chemistry set

Cozy video games exist – turns out wholesome games are a genre that centers on relaxation and wellness – is it the future for digital spaces?

An image with a teal and purple gradient background and several decorative shapes. It reads Hopelab Ventures: Hurdle

We caught up with Margaret Laws and Hopelab Ventures’ director, Erin Washington Sietstra to get their take on Hopelab and Hurdle can improve health outcomes for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ populations.

A box with a gradient background. The box reads 'Glowing up with social media: a zoomer's queer perspective in the wake of a global pandemic"

There’s more than one story to tell when you’re coming of age, surrounded by social media, especially as a young queer person in the wake of a global pandemic.