Clayful in Fast Company’s 2023 Innovation by Design Awards

Clayful has been named an honoree by Fast Company’s 2023 Innovation by Design Awards in the “On the Rise: 0–4 Years in Business” category.

We are thrilled to announce that Clayful has been named an honoree by Fast Company’s 2023 Innovation by Design Awards in the “On the Rise: 0–4 Years in Business” category.

Alongside top industry designers and businesses working to solve the problems of today and tomorrow, Clayful has been recognized by Fast Company for its innovative and effective approach to addressing the youth mental health crisis through on-demand, chat-based coaching. As one of the most prestigious recognition lists in the industry, it is no wonder we are so moved and inspired by Fast Company’s acknowledgement of Clayful’s achievements. 

Among other factors, Fast Company awards businesses for the high quality of their designs, the innovative ways in which they are breaking new ground, and the depth of their cultural impact. Below are some of the attributes that made Clayful a winner in Fast Company’s 2023 lineup. 

Innovation: The story behind Clayful’s one-of-a-kind platform 

Kid: “I have never chatted with a coach before.”
Coach: “That’s brave to try something new.”

CEO and co-founder Maria Barrera had an epiphany while reading a New York Times article about the rising suicide rates among 8-year-olds: the mental health system was broken. There were too many kids and too few providers. Those who desperately needed help were getting left behind. The NYT article inspired Maria to quit her job and launch Clayful alongside co-founder and Chief Experience Officer Melissa Pelochino. “I had no idea what this was going to look like, but I knew that I needed to be part of the solution,” Barrera said. 

Maria started talking to as many people as possible: teachers, kids, parents, and counselors. She soon realized that schools were often an access point for kids' mental health services and counselors had neither the time nor the capacity to reach the growing number of kids in need of support. 

Maria and Melissa started thinking outside the box. What if they created a platform that had a broad reach, but was customizable to every kid? Leveraging their background in Ed Tech, Maria and Melissa created the bare bones of an online coaching model, tested it out on a handful of kids and knew they were onto something big. The model was soon scaled up to a platform that could serve thousands. 

It wasn’t long before schools partnered with us and the first cohort of Clayful Coaches was hired and trained. Kids were eager for connection and their challenges surfaced quickly: anxiety, friendship, academics, grief. A one-of-a-kind platform was born. Today, Clayful is growing exponentially in part due to recognition from broad reaching lists like Fast Company’s prestigious Innovation by Design Awards. 

Design: Clayful meets kids where they are at 

Kid: “I’m feeling really stressed.”
Coach: “I’m here to listen.”

Everything we do at Clayful is intentional and by design. We set out to address the youth mental health crisis with the goal of providing every kid a mental wellness coach to chat with. Within this framework, our practices revolve around principles of accessibility and equity.

Our design is based on meeting kids where they are at: in and outside of school, online, and on their schedule. Partnering with schools provides access and equity to all students, regardless of family means or geographic location. We use chat-based coaching, a platform that dovetails seamlessly with kid and teen culture. 

Chatting with Clayful Coaches happens before, during, and after school on any device, meaning kids can chat with a coach before a problem escalates. On-demand coaching means kids get immediate support- connected to a Clayful Coach within 60 seconds- just when they need it most. Thank you, Fast Company, for recognizing how our design is uniquely positioned to help kids access the help they need. 

Impact: Clayful is committed to making a difference

“i really appreciate what the Clayful team is doing in today's world because this stuff is life changing and life saving"

To date, thousands of kids have access to Clayful in in school districts across the country. Students come to us when they’re feeling frustrated, sad, lonely, or stressed. Throughout the chat, Clayful Coaches listen, provide strategies to de-escalate big feelings, manage stress, and practice initiating hard conversations.

In Clayful schools, chatting about feelings is something that everyone does, not just the 5% of kids who talk with a counselor weekly or those with the financial means required to meet with a private provider. Mental wellness is  normalized and the stigma around asking for help is greatly reduced. 

We often hear from kids: “You are the first person I have ever talked to about this.” and “Thank you- someone finally understands me.” This type of impact is priceless and it fuels the heart of our mission and practice. A huge thanks to Fast Company for recognizing that Clayful makes mental wellness accessible to a generation of kids who truly need it. 

See the full list of awards at

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