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Portfolio Spotlight on TRACE: Investing in Community

TRACE is a mobile app that provides transgender and non-binary individuals with a supportive space during their transition. The start-up is owned and operated by transgender folks, including Co-founder and CEO Aydian Dowling. In 2009, Aydian uploaded his first YouTube video documenting his transition. As his journey continued, Aydian realized there was an opportunity and need to build a space for people who are often forgotten and misunderstood. Hopelab knows that platforms like TRACE have the power to save lives by creating and connecting communities that affirm and support their identities and we realize the potential for impact with investment support.

Evidence backing experience

At Hopelab, we are committed to advancing health equity and driving systemic change in youth mental health. While our investment in TRACE is not one in traditional mental health services, there is evidence that backs up Aydian’s (and many others) experiences, that for queer young people, digital platforms can be used to connect people with shared experiences and promote well-being. In our 2024 National Survey, building upon data trends from prior surveys released in 2018 and 2021, findings show that queer youth find opportunities for support and identity affirmation on social media.

Aydian’s story is well-known in the queer community. For 15 years, he’s documented his transition, surgeries, activism, and personal stories including the birth of his child on YouTube and he is an influencer with over 400K followers on Instagram. TRACE creates an affirming space where people in transition can document their journey and get access to important resources and notifications, and also celebrate milestones, where people can feel seen, and empowered in a supportive and safe environment.

Indeed, we believe that the fact that TRACE is not designed to be a health care intervention will enable it to achieve greater scale and reach. We know that when young people are struggling with their mental health and well-being, they seek support in a wide range of ways, including from family, friends, and social media. Within the trans community and other underrepresented groups, there is often a justifiable mistrust of the health care system. By enabling trans people to support and be supported by one another and their allies, TRACE is contributing to better mental health outcomes for individuals who might not otherwise engage with traditional mental health services.

Investing in community

In June of 2023, Hopelab announced a strategic partnership with TRACE as they began the design and implementation of the app for young people seeking gender-affirming resources. Along with several other portfolio organizations, TRACE Co-Founders, Aydian and Taylor attended the Eidos LGBTQ+ Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania to explore ways to bring an equity-centered approach to design and think of ways to create tools for, and with, queer folks. The week provided valuable insight from the Hopelab team into how to think about customer needs, value propositions, and creating a better product-market fit while improving value to their users. It also connected TRACE directly to the Eidos team. They are now partnering to better understand accessibility, sustainability, and health and wellness needs while developing the product user experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about TRACE check out their site. New features that incorporate learning from the Eidos partnership are rolling out soon.

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