2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: bekome, Northwestern University (Kellogg)


Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Industry: Health & Wellness, Mental Health

Founding Student Name(s): Shanna Traphoner-Liu (Kellogg ‘22), Vanessa Gottlieb Laudette (‘22)

Brief Description of Solution: Anxiety, as the #1 mental health challenge in the US, is a personal, unique, and pervasive daily struggle, but existing solutions are often generalized, insufficient, and inaccessible. Bekome utilizes cutting-edge research in nutritional psychiatry to provide an integrative approach to treatment that addresses the root cause of anxious feelings. Our carefully curated experience includes mental health nutrition coaching, personalized and clinically backed supplement regimens, and tailored education and community that fit seamlessly into customers’ daily routines.

Funding Dollars: $175K (grants + funding)

What led you to launch this venture? Being healthy mentally is at the foundation of everything that we do, but the system to treat mental health challenges is completely broken. At Bekome, we’re focusing on anxiety to start because it is the #1 mental health challenge in the US, with 1 in 3 Americans being diagnosed with a disorder in their lifetimes and arguably more experiencing major symptoms daily without a diagnosis.

However, the system for care is set up for failure. There are only 125K licensed mental health professionals in the US – that’s about 640 patients per provider, but the per-provider burden is actually bigger if we included those in need of care without a formal diagnosis. Moreover, anxiety and its various sources and manifestations are different across everyone, but existing solutions tend to be one-size-fits all, which does work or some, but not all.

All of this is reflective of our own personal struggles with anxiety and mental health. Both of our mental health journeys have been decades-long and winding. We founded Bekome in recognizing how difficult our paths have been, the major gap in the market between access to care and need for care, and our opportunity to fill that gap.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our biggest accomplishment is the impact we’re having on our customers, who come back month-after-month to continue partnering with Bekome on their mental health journeys. Recently, we heard from a customer that our products are helping them to “feel more connected with moments of joy and happiness than [they] have in months.” Other customers say that we have “helped them more than anything they’ve ever tried” and that “for the first time ever, [they] finally know what “better” feels like.” This truly validates the WHY behind what we’re here to do.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Kellogg gave us the broad business foundation and analytical tools (who knew how important accounting would be?) to build this business from the ground up in a short time and the confidence to take the business full time upon graduation. Of course, It also gave us access to an incredible network of leaders and mentors willing to “give first” and offer guidance despite their busy schedules.

The design thinking and human-centered design portions of Kellogg’s entrepreneurship program were particularly impactful, and we were able to apply the concepts we were learning in class directly to test, shape, and grow Bekome, while tapping into an outstanding pool of professors who selfishly gave their time to advise us outside of class hours in areas from operations to marketing. And our co-founders met at Kellogg – so it’s safe to say that Bekome would not exist today without our MBA.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?

Vanessa: At the risk of sounding cliche, my entrepreneurial inspiration is definitely my dad. A lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, he gave me the courage and confidence to believe I could take a leap of faith and taught me by example the two things I believe are most pivotal to entrepreneurship: humility – Remembering that some of this is luck and you don’t know what you don’t know – and resilience. Being an entrepreneur is a really hard path. I watched in awe as my dad rebounded from some heart-wrenching “no’s” and reminded me that “It only takes one yes.” Now in the years since his passing, that refrain serves as a reminder to keep going when things get tough.

Shanna: I come from a long family history of business owners and always drew inspiration from their conviction and grit. I knew it was a lot of hard work, but equally rewarding to see the impact of your direct passion.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Kellogg’s entire New Venture series played a pivotal role in Bekome’s journey, from design thinking to testing to building a sustainable business.

Rick Desai and Sonali Lamba’s “New Venture Development” course was foundational to our ability to build bekome, encouraging us to dive in before we felt market ready and teaching us to identify, test and validate our riskiest assumptions. The insights we gained from this course and our practical applications of them actually gave us the conviction to undertake a substantial pivot during winter 2021/2022; we started as at therapy matching platform and moved now to being a novel nutritional psychiatry approach to anxiety. The lesson to map out and validate your riskiest assumptions early on has continued to serve as a guidepost for us as we navigate the early stages of product-market fit. Both professors have also continued to support us as invaluable mentors throughout our pivot and have helped guide the foundations of our upcoming fundraising efforts.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Troy Henikoff has made incredibly significant contributions to our entrepreneurial journey as both a professor and a mentor – we would definitely not be here without him.

In his class, New Venture Launch, Troy taught us to prioritize tracking metrics that matter and can serve as leading indicators of whether the business is going well or proactive steps need to be taken. We were pushed to do a deep dive into our financial model far earlier than most early-stage startups do, and this model has served as our roadmap to building a sustainable business from the start. In the few months since the course ended, our leading KPIs have enabled us to identify red flags early on and adapt our approach. We also appreciate that we learned and were able to demonstrate in New Venture Launch was instrumental to our acceptance into Techstars’ Chicago Summer 2022 cohort. Troy has been incredibly supportive and generous with his time – advising us on equity incentive pools, fundraising strategy and our financial model, and always willing to make warm intros for us.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? We are fortunate and grateful for the Chicago entrepreneurship and startup community, which has made a significant impact on how we got to where we are today.

The initial incubation that jumpstarted Bekome all happened through Northwestern University. These included a variety of Kellogg opportunities: the Zell Fellowship, Kellogg Founders Club, the Social Impact Department, the MMM Program, the New Venture course series, and more. There was also the Garage (NU’s on-campus startup incubator) and its various programs: Propel Fellowship, Residency Program, and the Jumpstart Pre-Accelerator Program.

We also had an opportunity to be selected for and participate in the Techstars Chicago Accelerator this summer, where we went through a 12-week intensive program propelling our business forward and learning from top startup leaders and legends in Chicago. This opportunity also allowed us to be exposed to and network with groups like 1871, P33, and more.

With the help of these various groups, we have survived major and minor pivots, surpassed goals and targets, obtained our first investment checks, and reached new clarity about our mission in serving our customers. We couldn’t have gotten off the ground and to where we are today without all of these various groups’ support, mentorship, and guidance!

What is your long-term goal with your startup? For our customers, in the months and years to come, we hope to grow our company into an end-to-end support system for our customers – one where they come to learn more, feel better, and track progress, so they truly feel in the driver’s seat of their own mental well-being journeys.

For us, we see this business as an opportunity to truly make a difference in reshaping the narrative of mental health as something attainable daily and core to our human experience. We want Bekome to become the “go-to” platform for integrative mental health. Who knows… maybe an IPO is in our future!


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.