• Chongo Bwalya

Ayana Therapy

The Problem


According to the National Association of Mental Health, 56% of health care providers have no form of cultural competency training, and 51% believe that their patients do not adhere to medical treatments due to cultural or linguistic barriers. Furthermore, Black, Indigenous, & People of Color (BIPOC) use mental health services at a third of the rate of white Americans due to cost barriers and lack of insurance. Enter Ayana Therapy, which was inspired by founder and CEO Eric Coly’s desire to develop a concept that addresses cost, stigma, and the health care system’s lack of cultural competency, which all hinder access to mental health services.


The Founder


The idea for Ayana first came to Eric after realizing that a close friend of his was having challenges finding a Black therapist with whom she could connect, which was hindering her ability to heal from her own mental challenges. Soon, he realized that this was not an uncommon experience for BIPOC individuals, remembering that he himself had suffered from debilitating depression and lacked an appropriate avenue to heal. Inspired by his desire to help his friend and others like her, he set out to develop a concept for an app that addressed cost, stigma, and the healthcare system’s lack of cultural competency. He then launched Ayana Therapy in Los Angeles in 2020.


The Business


Ayana Therapy provides mental health support for minorities and marginalized communities with an emphasis on intersectionality. Ayana’s user-friendly app matches those from marginalized communities with therapists who share their background. To address the barriers of cost and lack of insurance, access to the platform is offered at an affordable price compared to other therapy options. The company initially began by partnering with corporations, universities, and non-profits to provide access to the app for their staff and employees. It has since expanded to directly service individuals at $60 per session.


The name ‘Ayana’ means mirror in Bengali, and founder Eric Coly chose this name because he wanted the platform to consist of therapists who reflect and understand underrepresented identities in healthcare. According to Eric, Ayana’s true differentiating factor is its focus on intersectionality. While the mental health industry has seen several therapy platforms emerge, many are focused on serving one specific demographic. In contrast, Ayana is focused on using a holistic approach to serve those from all backgrounds, including individuals with intersecting identities, which are inherently more complex. The platform contains over 400 worldwide counsellors who speak 12 languages and who come from LGBTQIA+, Black, Gender-nonconforming, Muslim, Native American, Asian, and disabled communities.


How it Works


Upon creating a profile on the Ayana App, the first step is for individuals to complete a questionnaire that is then used to match the individual with a therapist who shares a similar background. The questionnaire itself is designed to capture cultural nuances by including non-traditional questions that focus on culturally relevant items. After being matched with a therapist, the user chooses a therapist, enters their payment info (if using the B2C option), and begins communicating with their therapist via text, call, or video call.



The Team


Eric and his team bring unique and complimentary skills to Ayana Therapy and each share a passion for uplifting those from marginalized communities. Beyond his personal ties to the mission, Eric had over 10 years of experience working in Investment Banking and was a prior student at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The Head of Product & Operations brings 10 years of startup experience, and the Head of Sales brings 15 years of sales experience. The team also consists of a Clinical Director and Deputy Clinical Director, each of whom bring knowledge of the mental health industry, particularly as it relates to anti-racism and equity in mental health.


The Future


Ayana’s growth trajectory has only just begun. In the short run, it plans to launch new departments, including teen, family, group, and couple counselling, and will also offer psychiatry services to provide users with access to medication. It is also building an institution focused on educating allies about the various notions of cultural competency. To ensure a consistent supply of therapists for each of its planned endeavors, Ayana is launching a bridge pipeline in which recent graduates can work with them to complete their clinical hours.


In the long run, Ayana is focused on capturing more of the B2B market, evolving into an AI-augmented platform, and eventually, expanding globally to serve various markets with its culturally sensitive offering. To facilitate its plans, Ayana will be raising a seed round in 2022, with the potential for a series A round in 2024.


It is no secret that mental health has become a rising concern in today’s world. Eric Coly is looking to build a future in which individuals who have historically not seen themselves represented in the mental health space can also feel empowered heal in a culturally sensitive manner.


To learn more about Ayana Therapy, please visit https://www.ayanatherapy.com/ or feel free to reach out to Eric at eric@ayanatherapy.com.