Cheryl Otto sees it all the time: The small window of time when people are willing to seek help for substance use disorders often closes before help is available.

But Otto, a specialist supervisor at Rochester-based Recovery is Happening, said that is changing thanks to new software from St. Paul-based startup YourPath.

For about the past two months, the Rochester nonprofit has been using the startup's technology to verify insurance and perform assessments of those seeking help in Mower, Dodge and Olmsted counties.

Typically, recovery organizations schedule assessments weeks in advance, allowing time for clients to sink deeper into substance use. It's a problem YourPath is trying to fix.

The software is all about communication, facilitating virtual talks and completing assessments within 24 hours of a person reaching out, Otto said.

"That is completely unheard of," she said.

The organization is also now able to use the platform to onboard people with substance use disorders that have checked into Mayo Clinic emergency departments, Otto said.

Substance use is an ongoing issue in Minnesota, one that intensified during the pandemic.

More than 18% of Minnesotans reported binge drinking in 2020 — among the highest rates in the nation — while overall drug overdose deaths in the state increased 22% from 2020 to 2021, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. This was largely driven by the increased presence of cocaine, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and psychostimulants like methamphetamine.

A group of advocates and medical professionals turned entrepreneurs believe Minnesota's — and the nation's — substance use treatment ecosystem needs technology to make support and care quick and easy.

Backed by investor dollars, YourPath will soon sell its software to health providers and organizations aimed at improving digital communication with clients.

The software platform, RecoveryWeaver, is designed to handle administrative tasks for entities like insurance providers, treatment centers and health systems. It can also be a platform to connect those in recovery with support groups, social services or child care, said chief executive and co-founder Jordan Hansen.

The platform can link with electronic medical records to track the recovery process. By attaching analytics and machine learning to recovery data, providers can use predictive intelligence to intervene before disorders worsen, Hansen said.

"Without communication, [people struggling with substance use] are starting over every time," Hansen said. "If we share the records in a way that gives patients autonomy, and is also secure, we can really do a better job of supporting people for long periods of time."

Leaders at UnitedHealthcare (UHC), the Minnetonka-based insurance company, say that feature makes YourPath a promising tech company.

"They're connected with the communities that they're serving in a way that's unique and necessary to really engage the entire system of care around the folks they're helping," said Michael Roaldi, senior vice president of UHC's Medicaid line of business. Roaldi served as a mentor for YourPath founders last fall as a part of the UnitedHealthcare Accelerator, a four-month business development program for startups in the health care space.

UHC gives each company in the accelerator a $50,000 uncapped simple agreement for future equity note, or SAFE note, to lower financial barriers startups may have to join the program, said Clayton Burke, UHC's senior director of innovation. The health insurance giant evaluates more than 1,500 applications for the accelerator each year.

Apart from being a local company, Burke said he was impressed with YourPath's "organic results" they "materialized through bootstrapped community work."

Since its launch in 2020, YourPath has helped more than 4,000 Minnesotans struggling with substance use through virtual care, facilitating referrals and connections to other care providers, and getting those who need it the proper medication.

Initially, YourPath's consultants chat with those seeking help through text messaging. In the text threads, a person receives a customized link, which directs them to a more secure chat space for continued communication, as well as consent forms and an assessment. If a person is in need medical attention, YourPath's specialists schedule that. YourPath also has medical professionals on staff who can write prescriptions, Hansen said.

In 2022, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota used YourPath as an additional resource through its Blue Plus program for connecting Medicaid members to treatment options and access to recovery. Blue Plus is the health maintenance organization of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota that administers Medicaid on behalf of the state.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield partnership also funded the distribution of roughly 50 tablets with YourPath's platform at partnering locations, such as clinics, hospitals and county jails, Hansen said.

The St. Paul startup recently closed on $2.1 million in venture funding led by Minneapolis-based Bread and Butter Ventures.

YourPath plans to raise at least $2 million more later this year, Hansen said, to expand payroll, both on the clinical side and tech side, and push into Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin.