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Supporting moms and dads through the ups and downs of parenthood: How Alli Therapy is taking a parent-centric approach to mental health


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Supporting moms and dads through the ups and downs of parenthood: How Alli Therapy is taking a parent-centric approach to mental health

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we sat down with the Co-Founders of Alli Therapy, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, to learn more about Alli Therapy’s tailored mental health solutions for parents, and their thoughts on the massive growth in the mental health space. Plus, we had the chance to connect with one of their certified therapists, Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, to unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about parenting therapy and more.

Alli Therapy is an online emotional and mental health tool to support families through the journey of parenthood, with more than 34 million parents in North America living with mental health issues their mission is to support moms and dads through all stages of parenthood.

Sarah Rennick, Co-Founder & CEO of Alli Therapy

Before founding Alli Therapy, Sarah founded Mama Mobile, an in-home wellness service company for moms and moms-to-be. Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Mama Mobile had to cease operations. Wanting to still support the community of parents Sarah had fostered, she reached out to her clientele to gain a better sense of what they felt parents alike needed help with.

“I reached out to the Mama Mobile community to gain a better understanding of what parents actually needed — to see what services or solutions would make their lives easier as they moved through parenthood, said Sarah.

This is how the idea for Alli Therapy came about. While the majority of digital mental health and therapy solutions out there provide great services that are highly needed, rarely do these solutions offer services designed specifically for parents.

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

Cherry Xu, Co-Founder & CTO of Alli

Cherry was also working in the wellness space before founding Alli Therapy, and was introduced to Sarah while she was leading Mama Mobile. Recognizing the opportunity in service marketplaces and being a mental health advocate herself, Cherry pitched herself as a Co-Founder to Sarah, and the rest was history!
Alli Therapy provides an all-in-one solution for busy parents to connect with a therapist that best suits their needs. With the use of matching technology, users are connected with therapists that are not only a great fit for the user’s stage of parenthood, but also their personality.

“We provide all of our users with a free intro session to ensure they feel comfortable with their matched therapist, ” said Sarah. “You’d be surprised at how many people abandon therapy due to a lack of fit, and making sure our users felt good about their matched therapist was really important to us.”

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

The mental health startup landscape is beginning to see a real shift as funding has reached a record $852 million USD globally in the first quarter of 2021, nearly twice the amount raised during the same period in 2020. Cherry attributed the industry’s momentum to the rise of mental health awareness.

“We’re seeing high profile celebrities speak up about their own experiences with mental health, and while we still have a ton of work to do, the stigma is slowly beginning to lift. People like Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, and Simone Biles, the US olympic champion, are opening up about their experiences, and this sparks conversations around mental health, while also demonstrating that we all face our own challenges, and asking for help is okay.”

Sarah added that seeing TalkSpace, one of the largest providers of online and mobile therapy in the world, IPO earlier this year really solidified the need for mental health services and the opportunity for startups to innovate.

Alli Therapy prides itself on having therapists that actually speak parent. Users can find individual or couples’ support with therapists who specialize in all types of parenthood challenges.

Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, Alli Therapist

Michelle Winterburn, one of Alli Therapy’s therapists, highlighted that stigma and financial restrictions are some of the biggest barriers when it comes to parents accessing mental health services.

“Many people think seeking therapy means they are a failure. Although we have come a long way in shifting the perception of mental health and wellness, the stigma persists.

Finances are always a consideration, especially with a new family. All Alli therapists are licenced and registered, making their fees reimbursable through most extended healthcare plans or as an eligible medical expense on taxes. Therapy may be more affordable than you think.”

Michelle believes Alli Therapy’s approach when it comes to helping parents is truly unique. She highlights three main pillars that differentiate their services from other mental health providers: specificity, accessibility, and affordability.

“The journey of parenthood comes with unique challenges at each milestone. Alli Therapy supports clients from pregnancy planning to empty nesters, which can be a 16-20 year journey. All of our therapists have a special interest in helping parents and have taken additional training in helping parents navigate parenthood related challenges.

It can be hard to find specialized clinics in rural areas. We make specialized therapy accessible to anyone, regardless of location. Further, getting out of the house takes a lot of logistics and planning for parents. Alli Therapy makes it easy for them to have sessions from the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, Alli Therapy is committed to not leaving any parent behind. We don’t want anyone to not seek therapy due to budget constraints. To accommodate clients on parental leave who may not have insurance, we offer a sliding scale option to offer our services to those who cannot afford the full price.”

Michelle also stresses that seeking parenting therapy does not equate to failure. “This is a huge misconception in the space, but we are all interconnected, and sometimes we need to seek help as much as we are giving help.

As parents we are always giving. When the pandemic hit, we had to continue to give –  but without the support of others in the ways we once had. This takes a heavy toll on many of us, and having a safe space to talk about the highs and lows of parenting with a skilled, non-judgmental, therapeutic lens can make a huge difference for so many.”


Want to learn more about Alli Therapy’s personalized support for parents? Check out their website to learn more.


Alli Therapy is looking to fuel their growth to provide more parents with the services they need. Interested in teaming up with Alli to improve mental health support for parents? Reach out to Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu!

How mental health looks in 2021: For companies, customers & founders

In light of Mental Health Week, the DMZ sat down with mental health startup founders for an inside scoop on how their companies are addressing mental health.

This week is
Mental Health Week in Canada (May 3-9, 2021), and this year’s focus is to #GetReal about how you feel. That means the Canadian Mental Health Association is calling on us to express how we feel…“name it, don’t numb it”.

As you probably don’t need reminding, the past year has been a time of much anxiety and isolation. Almost everyone is feeling some level of worry, loneliness, sadness, anger, exhaustion and (as identified by this viral article in the New York Times) languish

Having a wide variety of emotions is human. Feeling and naming our emotions – even the uncomfortable ones – is part of good mental health.

To contribute to this week’s dialogue, we sat down with founders from two of our startups to talk mental health. In conversation is Mohsen Omrani, CEO & President of OPTT Inc., along with Alli’s Sarah Rennick, CEO & Co-Founder, and Cherry Xu, CTO & Co-Founder.

Here’s what they had to say:

Q: How is your company tackling mental health?

Sarah Rennick, CEO & Co-Founder of Alli

Sarah: Alli is our way of helping parents prioritize themselves – and become happier and more confident in the process. We do this by helping parents find support from licensed therapists who specialize in their current stage of parenthood. 

Our matching algorithm uses a 3-minute questionnaire completed by the parent to dive into their challenges and goals, and we use that to match them with the most compatible therapist. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we would add that it also takes the right support team.  

Mohsen: OPTT is a virtual mental health platform targeted at healthcare organizations. Our goal is to help increase their care capacity and personnel efficiency by 4x. Instead of providing care to a limited number of patients, our vision is to develop clinically-validated, scalable solutions that allow clinicians to deliver high-quality mental health care to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

We recently announced a new partnership with Curatio to create a one-stop app with trusted news, community support and professional health care services. We are looking to expand this partnership by bringing a group of health care providers who are focused on mental health or chronic conditions, such as diabetes. We’re also now actively looking for local and federal entities to pilot the app with their members.


Q: How has the pandemic affected your work in the mental health space?

Mohsen Omrani, CEO & President of OPTT Inc.

Mohsen: For us at OPTT, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a turning point. We recognized, early on, that this challenge would create a silent mental health pandemic, which may only worsen in scope and severity in the months to come if left unchecked. To make matters worse, our current health system is strained and unable to meet demands. We saw an urgent need to develop innovative approaches to expand the capacity of mental health care delivery.

Already established as a virtual mental health platform, we teamed up with our clinical partner to develop and validate a new care plan that directly addresses mental health challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our commercial partners have already achieved exciting results. The program has shown to reduce both anxiety and depression symptoms of employees by 40% in just the first five weeks of the nine-week program.

Cherry: That’s a great question. The truth is, the idea for Alli actually arose during the pandemic. We had been running our startup, Mama Mobile, which is a service that helps busy moms in the GTA and Ottawa get in-home massage therapy services, and with all of the lockdowns, we knew we needed to find different ways to support our communities. 

We did what any founder-at-heart does and we conducted 100 customer calls to talk with moms about what they needed most! What we heard was a resounding call for more mental health support. From there, Alli was born.


Cherry Xu, CTO & Co-Founder of Alli

Q: Have your customers’ needs changed with the pandemic?

Cherry: We’ve seen our customers’ needs change with the pandemic. In particular, we’ve seen parents struggle with added responsibilities and fewer breaks. With less time for themselves, it’s also been challenging for parents to find therapists that they can connect with and that truly focus on their life stage. 

Many parents put their own needs on the back burner – if this was true before COVID-19, it’s even more evident now. That’s why we’re trying to make it easier for parents to get matched with the right therapist.

Mohsen: Yes, definitely. Many telemedicine companies that previously didn’t have mental health services have since added our product to their offerings. Plus, with increasing demands for care, our customers have looked to us to provide additional capacity and support.

As a result, our partnerships and sales have accelerated and the number of patients using our platform has tripled.


Q: What advice would you give to startup founders to help protect their mental wellbeing?

Sarah: This is such an important question. One stigma that I’d like to disrupt is the mindset that you only need mental health support when you’re in crisis. So many of us wait until we hit that breaking point to reach out to a therapist. 

I recognized, a while back, that it’s incredibly important to give my mental health regular TLC. Entrepreneurs are constantly on the line between burnout and the next big win, and we need to find ways to recharge. Of course this is easier said than done, but I try to stay accountable by making time for bi-weekly therapy appointments. These have been a good chance to learn more about myself. 

I’ve also been learning how to better protect my energy, and what works (for me) to recharge it. I feel like it’s a process of continually sharpening my communication skills so I can name my emotions and ask for what I need, while also working to understand the world around me a little better. It’s not easy, but I think these are things we don’t talk about enough as entrepreneurs.

Mohsen: These are all great points that Sarah makes. Adding to that, I think it’s important for startup founders to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s so important to pace ourselves and remember to take care of ourselves – every day, every month, every year. 

And most importantly, when the pressure is too high for one person, it’s important to find a good support person to talk to. There is zero shame in asking for help.

Do you need mental health support?

If you’re struggling with your mental health, know that you’re not alone. 

A great resource you can check out is confidential video counselling offered by DMZ alumni Inkblot Therapy. Inkblot’s services are completely free to many members of the DMZ community. This includes staff, their families, Incubator program startups, alumni and their families.

If you want to join the conversation on mental health and #GetReal about how you feel, head over to our social media accounts where we’ll be continuing the dialogue.