Updated March 26 at 12:27am

Frustrated by therapist search, she formed a business to help

By Paul E. Kandarian | Contributing Writer
When Yuri Tomikawa needed a therapist and had trouble finding one, the Brown University graduate eventually founded an innovative business to do just that. Zencare features clinicians who are referred, recommended and/or vetted. The Providence-based …

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Frustrated by therapist search, she formed a business to help

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When Yuri Tomikawa needed a therapist and had trouble finding one, the Brown University graduate eventually founded an innovative business to do just that. Zencare features clinicians who are referred, recommended and/or vetted. The Providence-based company, founded in 2015, recently expanded service to Boston.

What are the biggest hurdles to starting a business in Rhode Island?

I was very lucky and didn't really find any. I had many connections at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design who I could go to and find out who the great therapists were, that was a huge benefit for me. I left Brown and lived in New York for a while, but had this community of friends here. I thought Rhode Island would be a great testing ground for a company I want to take nationally. It's small and people are nice. I think certain things here might not be forgivable in bigger cities, so you're more able to test them here. Plus, a lot of things are more affordable, such as rents, which are good for an entrepreneur.

Does Rhode Island have the resources to help companies develop innovative products and services?

For me, running a tech company, I found there isn't as strong a tech community in Rhode Island. I work at a co-op space, Social Enterprise Greenhouse, with many other entrepreneurs in the shared space. In New York, I found a much stronger tech community, for people in their 20s and 30s. There wasn't one place here I could go for that, even if I wanted to, learning more programming. In New York [and] San Francisco, there are tons of places to learn programming; that community is much stronger.

What industry offers the greatest potential for growth through innovation in Rhode Island and why?

That's a difficult one for me; to be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I see a lot of artists, RISD people who stay around, but I only know my own industry.

How has business been so far for your company?

We're now in two cities, Providence and Boston, and it's growing. On average, we refer upwards of 80 to 90 people a month to a variety of therapists. We have about 55 therapists in Providence, and in Boston about 20. Within the realm of therapy, we have psychiatrists, talk therapists, which entails psychologists and social workers, and also dieticians who can help with nutrition therapy for people with eating disorders.

What sort of innovation does your site embrace?

We've made it very user-friendly. It's pretty simple, and photo/video-heavy so you can see what the therapist is like. That's the one issue people have; if you go in person and meet for the first time, you might find out in the first few minutes it's not a good fit. With this, you get a feel for the person before you actually go. And we remove a lot of the logistical hassles, such as insurance and availability. Online, you can check all that out, and then book a phone call with a therapist through the platform. They call you at a time you request. We want to take them from point A to B in two to five minutes.

How did this idea come about?

I was working at a consulting firm and thinking about a career switch and wanted to talk to someone to ground myself and figure out my direction. Not a career coach, but something to get me more aligned in life. Being new to the therapy world, I found it hard to navigate, there was no way of telling who was good or accepting new clients. I'd end up leaving voice messages with people and hearing back from about half.

Is your business unique?

It depends on how you see it. Directories for therapists existed, but we're doing something unique in quality vetting, having a quality network, so someone totally into therapy feels assured they're finding the best help. We interview all the therapists and make sure they're practicing clinical rigor, and they're friendly and professional and continuing to improve their skills. That's the most unique part of what we're doing, trying to build this quality network.

Has feedback been good?

It can be tough to find a therapist, and once I started this, so many friends reached out. I talked to a lot of people I knew who said it was really an issue. And it takes a lot of courage for people to reach out for help. The process is not an easy one, and sometimes that's the last straw for a lot of people trying to get help.

You want to take this nationally?

Yes. We just extended to Boston this past fall, and it will take some time to build out. As to a timetable for going nationally, we'll see how it goes and decide after that. •

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