AIM Clinics earned first place and $45,000 in the 2018 John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) on May 22. The provider of autism therapy took home an additional $20,000 by winning an Early Childhood Award supported by the Renee Adelson Early Childhood Innovation Fund, established by Scott Adelson, ’87.
Run by Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the SNVC is the social impact track of the University of Chicago’s nationally ranked Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC).
In this Q&A, AIM Clinics founder George Boghos, '18, lays out how the startup plans to provide the gold standard autism therapy to children in rural communities in the United States.
Q: How did your team come up with the idea for your startup?
In 2000, our current clinical director was living in Arkansas when both of her sons were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There were no autism-specific therapists in Arkansas, so she moved to the east coast to ensure her children could enroll in the best possible treatment for ASD—Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. She became inspired by the positive impact ABA therapy had on her children, so she went to graduate school to become a certified ABA therapist and then moved back to Arkansas to provide this critical service to families like her own.
Q: What problem does your venture work to solve in society? And can you explain the exact services you offer and to whom?
Today, many children with autism across the US do not have access to ABA therapy – the only therapy for autism to be endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other experts in the field – because of where they live. There is a wide disparity in access between densely populated urban and rural communities. For example, in Massachusetts, nearly 100 percent of children in need of the therapy can access it. However, in Arkansas, only 6 percent of children can access ABA therapy. Mississippi and Oklahoma share a similar reality, with 7 percent and 5 percent access, respectively. This is largely due to a shortage of certified clinicians in rural areas. The domino effect of this shortage of therapy is severe; it deprives children with autism of a treatment that can significantly improve their communication and social skills and alter their life trajectory.
AIM Clinics seeks to purposefully focus on markets where the shortage of therapy is the most severe and the autism care ecosystem is least developed, and deliver high-quality, evidence-based ABA therapy to children in those communities. To solve the clinician shortage, we have created AIM Fellowship, a multi-year talent development program that serves as a pipeline to create a sustainable ecosystem of clinicians in our target communities by investing heavily in recruiting and training local talent and fully sponsoring their ABA master’s degrees.
Q: Who will benefit most from your services?
We seek to create and measure impact on two separate beneficiary groups: the first group of beneficiaries are the families and the children to whom we are providing this life-changing therapy that they cannot access today. The second beneficiary is the ecosystem of healthcare providers we will create.
Q: Have you already launched a pilot? What are your short- and long-term goals?
In February 2018, we opened our first clinic in Bryant, Arkansas. We have two master’s level clinicians on staff who have begun providing in-home and clinic-based ABA therapy to 24 children, the maximum number of children we can serve with two clinicians, across the state of Arkansas. We have a waitlist that’s more than double our current capacity.
Our long-term goal is to create a robust ecosystem of autism care and specialized clinicians across rural communities in the United States, ensuring that all children with autism have access to the therapy they need.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Our team brings an attractive combination of business, clinical, and social service experience to benefit children with autism and the next generation of clinicians who treat them. We are both moving to Arkansas this summer to work on this venture full time. (George graduates this year, and Frankie will return to Chicago for her final year of studies this fall.)