Photo: Rhithm
Photo: Rhithm / Facebook

Sure the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the tech titans aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.

In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In launched The Future 5 across 11 major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. Read our round-up of Dallas’ rising startups from last quarter here.

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Mental health among students and youth has been a constant topic of discussion among teachers, psychologists and parents. When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, the conversation became even more imperative. Studies have also shown mental health is a growing problem that can hinder a student’s academic progress.

Even though the pandemic highlighted the connection between mental health and academic performance, many within the industry were already aware of this problem. Childhood friends Josh Knutson and Jake Gannon began tackling this problem in 2019 by launching wellness app Rhithm

Based in Fort Worth, Rhithm aids schools in evaluating and managing mental health in the classroom. The platform asks five wellness questions that can be answered and measured with emojis and notes. The results, displayed on a dashboard, also provides insights and trends that can be compared to other classes, schools or districts.

“We launched with one campus and then by the end of the semester, we were serving six or seven campuses in that district. And I hadnt even reached out to those other campuses — it had just grown organically from teachers and counselors and admins sharing it.”  

Knutson and Gannon came up with the idea for Rhithm after reconnecting at their 10-year high school reunion. After chatting, they both realized they wanted to do something different, together.  

“Most co-founders and partners meet somebody in college or you meet somebody working or something like that,” Gannon told Built In. “There was more than that. With Josh and I from the beginning, it was always about trust and this legacy that we already had together of a lifetime of knowing each other.” 

Knutson had a background in psychology and was working in child development, while Gannon owned a software company, but wanted to focus on something bigger that had a greater impact. 

In a book of ideas, Knutson pondered highlighting moods by using emojis. This caught Gannon’s attention. After discussion back and forth about children’s mental health and concepts that could be marketed, they eventually set the stage for a wellness platform that could be used in education. While both working their day jobs, the co-founders brought their concept to their home base: Denton Independent School District. The district was open to the idea, and the two founders launched the platform at an elementary school in August of 2019. It didn’t take long for other educators and admins to see the impact of the platform, and it started to take off from there. 

“We were still just testing to see if this was a viable solution that the market would latch onto and provide value to them and actually help kids,” Gannon said. “But we launched with one campus and then by the end of the semester, we were serving six or seven campuses in that district. And I hadnt even reached out to those other campuses — it had just grown organically from teachers and counselors and admins sharing it.” 

And while administrations and teachers saw the need for social and emotional learning (SEL), the need for a tool like Rhithm increased once the pandemic hit. Long-term solutions at affordable costs became a must, and the platform was there to fulfill that need.

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Rhithm started in Texas but has since expanded to 27 states across several school districts, also allowing the founders to focus on their startup full-time and reach more students and educators. 

What also makes Rhithm stand out is how the platform caters to educators, not just students. During the pandemic, teachers also struggled with their mental health and retention rates declined.

“The staff have to be supported as well. Educators, administrators, they have to be in the seat doing their jobs and our tool serves them as well,” Gannon said. “This is not just for kids, this is for educators to be supported too because if they cant communicate their needs and be served upon, how are they going to be retained?”

Rhithm and its product have proven successful and caught the attention of Securly, a student success and safety platform based out of California. Securly acquired Rhithm in April to combine their platforms to provide a “comprehensive student wellness solution,” according to a statement. Gannon said Rhithm will also be able to serve the 12 million students Securly works with.

“Joining forces with Securly gives us a unique opportunity to accelerate our mission of empowering educators to more effectively elevate the next generation of humanity,” Knutson said in the statement. “Rhithm’s assessments and directed content combined with Securly’s powerful and life-saving solutions will allow us to deliver unprecedented value to schools in supporting their mental health, social-emotional and well-being initiatives.”

Rhithm will continue its mission at scale now that it has been acquired and is part of a larger customer base. Its team will also continue with its operations and keep up with the company’s mission statement. Gannon said that now it’s more important than ever before to discuss your mental well-being and that Rhithm can always be a resource. 

 “Our job is to save and serve,” Gannon said. Were grateful to do the work that we do every day and wed love to meet anyone whos interested in meeting us.”

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