Where Floreo is taking VR Next
The future of virtual worlds that teach life lessons across the spectrum
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I wrote this piece about our journey at Floreo. So much has happened since then as our company continues to gain momentum and find new ways to support neurodiverse Learners. From our profile in the New York Times about how we are reshaping VR and telehealth, to closing our Series A funding round, to our first payer partnership with CareSource, we have seen the promise of our vision—a world that is open and accessible for every neurodiverse person—translated to real world results.
Just before the start of Autism Acceptance Month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that concluded that the prevalence of children diagnosed with autism is growing. In 2020, roughly 1 in 36 children under the age of 8 received a diagnosis, up from 1 in 44 two years prior, according to the CDC findings. In 2000, the figure was 1 in 150 children. In its report, the CDC said that because the pandemic led to an undercount of diagnosis, its latest figures do not likely capture the total figures. So our work could not come at a more important time.
Over the past year, Coaches across 152 organizations in 25 countries made a difference for their Learners. Thousands of hours of Floreo lessons were used around the world. This includes our first-ever pilot in Ireland with Setanta School, an extraordinary private school for children with autism.
Floreo is at the vanguard of the intersection of telehealth and the metaverse, so it is incredible to welcome two new members to our Board of Directors who bring a breadth of experience and innovation to our Floreo family. They are:
- Tanya Watson is President of Bad Robot Games the venture backed gaming arm of JJ Abrams' Bad Robot Studios. She's a well known long time gaming leader and former Epic Games executive who was Executive Producer for their launch of Fortnite, one of the most popular games of all time. Tanya also co-founded and was CEO of Squanch Games, an early VR games developer. She began her career at Microsoft in their Xbox gaming division.
- Dr. Bimal Shah most recently was COO of Homeward Health, a Series B stage startup focused on improving access to rural communities. Dr. Shah is a physician and business leader who prior to Homeward was Chief Medical Officer of Livongo through its growth stage from Series B to IPO and subsequent acquisition for $18B by Teledoc. He has practiced as a non-invasive cardiologist for 15 years and remains an Assistant Professor at Duke School of Medicine.
As Floreo’s founder, I am committed to ensuring that Floreo is a powerful resource for providers and families—-leveraging our technology to expand access as well as improve the efficacy of therapies. Part of our value proposition is that we are a force multiplier for therapists and professionals working within the neurodiversity space. As our catalog of virtual lessons grows, it addresses more difficult to teach skills. Floreo also opens up telehealth as a delivery option which provides more flexibility for families and providers. And our data indicates that Learners learn at a more accelerated pace with the addition of virtual reality to their therapies.
One of the most important recent developments was receiving approval from the American Medical Association for the first CPT code for VR-based mental or behavioral therapy. Our CPT 3 code was the first step in our roadmap to enable widespread use of Floreo. In doing so, we hope we are lowering the barriers for other great VR innovations in the future.
We also see great promise in our Floreo Immersive Learning Program, a unique opportunity for schools to bring Floreo into their classrooms for neurodiverse students. In collaboration with Meta, the program is for neurodiverse students ages 13 and above and includes free Meta Quest 2 headsets for classrooms, in addition we are providing a Floreo Classroom Bundle through the 2023/2024 school year for participating schools. And we’re so excited that 28 school districts have already taken advantage of this program.
This year, we saw how our new pathways of learning could help adults. Through our work with the State of Tennessee, Floreo’s technology is supporting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities by teaching skills related to taking public transportation and job skills, among other lessons.
We are also very excited about the research study we are doing with Cortica, a fellow portfolio company of the Autism Impact Fund. This study is being done within a number of Cortica’s centers in Southern California and will provide additional data demonstrating the efficacy of Floreo’s VR technology.
This will add to the substantial evidence we’ve gathered over a number of years that speaks to the impact that Floreo has on Learners. As our long-time client Michea Rahman stated in the New York Times article, Floreo “is probably one of the best or the best social skills tool I have ever worked with.” (She added that 85 percent of her patients are Medicaid-based.)
We are also seeing real-time economic effects in our space, including staffing challenges among many therapy providers and an increasingly stressed funding environment. That directly impacts the individuals and families for whom therapeutic interventions are so vital. That’s one reason our seventh year will be a tremendous inflection point for our business and the far-reaching potential of our platform.
While this expansion is important for the growth of our business, its potential to positively impact more lives is what energizes our team. Many neurodiverse individuals face challenges with securing and accessing employment due to a range of factors, including inadequate skills training. Given the alarming data that shows, approximately 85% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, this work is particularly urgent.
Our mission and the work we are doing has never been more vital. And our relationships with so many stakeholders—therapists, payers, academic medical centers, schools, social welfare organizations, state and federal governmental agencies and technology partners and families—are enabling us to participate in a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem.
As we continue our journey, I am also so grateful to our employees who do the heavy lifting and bring our vision to life. What began as a small basement project seven years ago has grown into the most important and rewarding professional endeavor of my career. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress and we also invite your feedback. Thank you for being a part of our community.