What Makes Ellie Mental Health a Top New & Emerging Franchise CEO Erin Pash was skeptical of using franchising to expand her mental health business at first, but now she's seen the positive impact it can have

By Tracy Stapp Herold

Co-founder and CEO of Ellie Mental Health, Erin Pash, is on a mission to make mental health services more accessible, and that's landed her brand at No. 65 on our Top New & Emerging Franchises list. Here, she explains how franchising is helping her reach that goal.

How did Ellie Mental Health get started?

I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in Minnesota, and my partner at the time and I wanted to be a better place for clinicians to work, break down some of the barriers to getting access to care for clients, and create a relatable brand that could help destigmatize mental health. So we opened three offices in St. Paul, Minnesota, and before we knew it, we had therapists who wanted to work there, and tons of clients coming through word of mouth. I now own 20 clinics in Minnesota, and since we started franchising in 2021, we have 500 clinics in 38 states set to open over the next couple of years.

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Where did the Ellie name and elephant logo come from?

We knew we wanted elephants from the get-go, because there's so much symbolism surrounding them. For instance, we talk about "the elephant in the room" when we talk about some of our darkest emotional secrets. And there's also the metaphor of the elephant and the rider— the rider being your rational brain and the elephant being your emotional brain. The rider has control… except for when it doesn't, because when you're riding a three-ton creature, you don't always have control. So we picked this symbol before we knew what we wanted to call it. And then we came up with Ellie, which is what my son's name would have been if he'd been a girl. So we always joke that the business is my girl baby. When we first opened, we called it Ellie Family Services, because back then, the community wasn't ready for "mental health" on a giant sign. The stigma was so different. But we always wanted to be"mental health," so we decided to rebrand when we opened our first franchise locations. During thepandemic, people realized the importance of mental health. We were already seeing increasingacceptance around mental health, but the pandemic fast-forwarded that probably five years into thefuture.

What led you to franchise?

When we considered what made us successful, we narrowed it down to three things: entrepreneurial spirit, passion for mental health, and being really grounded in a community. So finding people who could be our partners who have passion for their own communities was really important to us, especially when it comes to building trust. We went to talk to a lawyer and he said, "You're talking about franchising." We resisted at first because we both thought, we do not want to be the 'McDonald's of mental health.' We want to be locally owned by people with lots of passion. What we learned is, that's exactly what franchising is. It's about finding like-minded partners. Every single one of our franchisees we have hand-selected, and we go through a rigorous process of making sure they fit our cultural values and are in this for all the right reasons.

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So what qualities do you look for in your franchisees?

First, we look for people who are really grounded in their community, who want to make their community better and help their friends and their children find social-emotional health. Second, they have to be believable and have to actually care about mental health. This is not anabsentee owner business. Our very first franchisee sought out this opportunity because her son was diagnosed with ADHD and she could not find a therapist to help him. Someone like that who is passionate about mental health because it has impacted them first- or second-hand and is willing toshare that story is just so important to helping break down stigma and connecting with people. Lastly, we look for people who are business-driven, because this is not a business for the faint of heart.

And what types of people have been drawn to the opportunity?

It's kind of run the gamut. I really love that almost 40% of our owners are female or black, indigenous, or people of color. We've really made sure we have an eclectic group of people who fit those three qualities I talked about and also bring something unique to their own community — making sure that people feel like they can access therapy from like-minded folks in their own town.

Wavy Line
Tracy Stapp Herold

Entrepreneur Staff

Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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