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Alumni break down barriers to counseling with innovative approach

July 30, 2014

  • News Image
    PorchLight Custom Counseling gathers new ideas through Lewis & Clark's Incubator+Launch program. Photo by Lacey Jacoby '16.
  • News Image
    PorchLight Custom Counseling gathers new ideas through Lewis & Clark's Incubator+Launch program.
  • News Image
    PorchLight Custom Counseling gathers new ideas through Lewis & Clark's Incubator+Launch program.

If a single parent needs counseling while working two jobs, it can be hard to find a practice. Many clinicians only operate during business hours; some charge fees that may be out of reach.

After discussing counseling services that were missing in the Portland area, the founders of PorchLight Custom Counseling—Justin Cox M.A. ’12, Llew Richards M.A. ’13, Mica Richards, Holly Roland M.A. ’12, and Siddarth Venkatachalam M.A. ’12 —had an idea to offer their many counseling specialties at affordable rates, around the clock. Llew Richards is experienced in children’s therapy. Roland studied creative writing and practices therapy through art. Cox is dual credentialed in chemical dependency and mental health. All wanted to meet the needs of their community, whether or not they were paid for their work.

They designed a business model where the team would meet clients at home, offer therapy via videoconference, and charge fees scaled in proportion to a client’s income. If someone needed an appointment at 4 a.m., PorchLight could set one up.

Rather than compete with other counseling services, the members hope to build on networks they’ve developed through internships and professional work. They plan to trade referrals with other clinicians and raise awareness of their services at self-help and community outreach programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. They hope to become grounded in the communities they serve.

Armed with an innovative idea, the members of PorchLight then looked for ways to communicate and sustain it over the long term. But they were counselors, not businesspeople.

“We had the idea that we’re doing this great thing and people will want to come because we care about it,” Llew Richards said. “The truth is, regardless, we really have to focus on how we’re going to get our name out there, how we’re going to present ourselves, and how we’re going to get people to come in and check us out.”

Last spring, PorchLight entered the Incubator+Launch Seed Fund, a program through Lewis & Clark’s Center for Entrepreneurship that offers funding and advice to start-ups. Michael Kaplan, the center’s managing director, and Brian Detweiler-Bedell, the center’s academic director, worked directly with PorchLight to hone its approach to marketing and branding. Kaplan and Detweiler-Bedell taught the team to distill their business idea into a short “elevator pitch” focused on a problem and solution. After the team finishes developing their idea, PorchLight will pitch to a panel of potential investors with the chance to secure up to $20,000 in funding for their venture.

But more important than the money, Richards said, was the opportunity to share ideas with other Incubator+Launch teams in roundtable discussions.

“One of the things Incubator+Launch offers is a culture of collaboration,” Richards said. “Each person’s strengths and each person’s progress helps you along as well.”

The PorchLight team’s next goals are to build their brand, find office space, and start making appointments. Discussions throughout the Incubator+Launch program supplied the team with a clear marketing approach, technology services, and legal advice. Through the process of collaboration and self-discovery, PorchLight also got its name.

“It represents community,” Roland said. “Literally, you’re welcomed into our space. The light can be metaphorical for stepping out of the darkness and lighting new ideas.”

Caleb Diehl ’16 contributed to this story.

Counseling Psychology Center for Entrepreneurship

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