Happy Hour No. 31: Little Otter
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we are thrilled to be hearing from the mother-daughter founders of Little Otter during our first Happy Hour in-store since 2020. Little Otter is a digital mental health platform for children and families. Dr. Helen Egger and her daughter Rebecca Egger founded this first of its kind app in 2020 during a time when the need for mental health support became more urgent than ever. Previously, families would have had to wait weeks for help, but with this entirely virtual approach they are matched within a few days. Little Otter treats the family holistically with services for children, teens, and parents. Join us on Friday, May 20 from 5:30–6:30pm to hear Dr. Helen and Rebecca Egger share the origin story, what it’s like being women in tech, and their unique perspective on success. Tickets are free and drinks are on the house. RSVP to reserve your spot!
Q&A with Dr. Helen & Rebecca Egger
Dr. Helen, you spent 30 years in child psychiatry, and Rebecca, you have a background in computer science, physics, product design, and graphic design. What sparked your vision for Little Otter?
Helen: I have had the vision for Little Otter for about 10 years. Little Otter is based on my expertise in early childhood mental health and my experiences at Duke and then NYU leading child mental health departments. I realized that the amazing work being done in academic medicine was not reaching children and families. But, it wasn’t until Rebecca who had built an amazing career in tech, product development, and business development said: Mom, I am the person to do this company with you! And that was the moment that changed everything. What really makes our partnership work is that we each have areas of expertise that are complementary. And this makes Little Otter special in the digital health realm. Many digital health companies are founded by tech experts; others by health experts. Rarely is a company founded by equal partners with expertise in tech and health!
The other reason that we founded Little Otter is our own experiences. I am the mom of four children. When he was 13, our second child Sasha, became acutely psychotic. It turns out he has a rare brain illness called autoimmune encephalitis which is an autoimmune disease that presents psychiatric symptoms. It has been a very long and hard road for Sasha and for our family. I realized how we were able to get Sasha the care he needed because I was a doctor and could advocate for him and us. But, I also realized that few families had the privilege I had and it’s not ok that every child doesn’t get the care that Sasha has received. And his illness has impacted our whole family. That is why we say that you don’t bring a “problem child” to Little Otter, you join as a family and we take care of everyone in the family. We know from our personal experiences that this kind of comprehensive and integrated care is what children and families need.
There is nothing else out there like Little Otter. What makes Little Otter different?
We’ve redesigned the way that families and children get care from the ground up, focusing on early intervention and prevention along with providing high-quality care. We brought Rebecca’s experience in tech and product design together with Helen’s experience in digital health, epidemiology, and care, to make high-quality care scalable for all families.
What has it been like starting a business together? How has your relationship evolved?
It’s been really fun to work together! What other founders have known each other for over 30 years. :) It’s a privilege to see each other in a different light beyond just mother and daughter. Now that we live in the same place it’s even easier to stay on the same page.
There are always bumps in the road, especially for startups and small businesses. Is there a particular roadblock that ended up being a great lesson or a blessing in disguise?
If it wasn’t for COVID Rebecca would have never decided to move back to Durham so soon.
If you had to show a friend the best of Durham in one day, what would you do?
We have lived in Durham for 20 years! It has been amazing to experience the change during this time. We love Durham so much that we are doing our first Little Otter all-company meeting in Durham! We have more than 80 people (employees and their families) joining us for three days. We are so excited to show off Durham: a Bulls Game, the Durham Food Hall, a visit to a local brewery, Duke Gardens, and the Nasher. If it was a Saturday, we would go to the Farmers’ Market to buy veggies and flowers and bread. And of course, a visit to Vert & Vogue. For both of us, we have gone to Nadira and her amazing team for amazing clothes that make us feel beautiful and confident for so many of our most important moments—graduations, talks, and family celebrations.
And, as it is Happy Hour, what is your beverage of choice?
Rebecca: Whiskey on the rocks.
Helen: I am a seltzer woman but if I am drinking, I am a whiskey woman!
With over 30 years working in child psychiatry, Dr. Helen Egger was keenly aware of the widening gap between the academic advances in mental health and the accessibility for families. In fact, she notes, “70 percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single child psychiatrist.” She launched her first digital children’s health initiative while serving as chair of NYU Langone’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry.
At the time, her daughter, Rebecca Egger, was working in San Francisco in business development and product management at The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Initially, she joined her mother as a consultant and helped create a business plan. Rebecca saw her mother’s vision and wanted in. Together, this mother-daughter team launched Little Otter in May of 2020. They hope to be serving families nationwide by the end of 2022.