The intersection of the rapidly growing incidence and diagnosis of autism, the availability of mandated funding sources, and a consensus around the efficacy of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy are driving significant growth in the market for autism services. This impressive growth is occurring in a market segment that is still in the formative stages of development, which creates compelling opportunities for behavioral healthcare executives to address the complex needs and challenges of a market experiencing massive growth and to lead the industry into maturity.
Broadly accepted best practices and benchmarks have not yet been established for ABA therapy providers. Similarly, while insurance payers are still largely focused on network adequacy, they will inevitably shift their focus to driving outcomes and limiting waste and abuse. This will create opportunities for ABA providers to distinguish themselves with clinical excellence and to perhaps become preferred providers, helping payers prudently manage this important benefit. Executives who can strategically and proactively drive this evolution are needed and are positioned to excel and to differentiate their companies.
Behavioral healthcare executives who have experience managing multiple care settings and delivery of multiple services are also well positioned to add value in the autism services market. Providers of ABA therapy offer care in a variety of settings, including in the home, in schools and in brick and mortar centers. Each setting, or combination of settings, presents unique business and clinical issues and opportunities and the industry is experimenting with various business and delivery models. In addition, children with autism often receive multiple therapeutic interventions in addition to ABA, including speech and occupational therapy. Navigating the complexities of multi-setting care effectively will be key for executives in this market.
Recruiting, training and retention of providers are also major drivers of success in the autism services market. The primary care professional in the most prevalent “tiered delivery” model is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who then supervises a paraprofessional who delivers most of the hands-on care. Executives in the space are challenged by a scarcity of BCBAs and the difficulty of creating a program and career path for junior paraprofessionals that can address very high industrywide turnover in these roles, which negatively impacts clinical care and constrains growth. Executives with skill in these critical human capital disciplines are needed and can have outsized impact in the autism services market.
Private equity investor interest
The opportunity to be a first mover and to create a market leader in a rapidly growing but early stage behavioral healthcare market has fueled an explosion of investor interest in the space, particularly among private equity investors.
The ABA market is highly-fragmented, comprised of thousands of rapidly growing providers, many of which are small operators, making the space ripe for acquisition, further enhancing private equity interest. The fragmentation in the market also presents an opportunity for players of scale to emerge through aggressive consolidation.
The opportunity to work with a private equity firm to create and then scale a platform in the autism services market could be compelling for an executive with experience in building a company through acquisition and who also can tackle the challenges of managing rapid organic growth in a maturing industry. Executives with those skills sets will be in heavy demand by investment firms.
Talented executives who are energized to contribute to shaping a fast-growing market that provides a much needed service to children and their families should consider opportunities in the autism treatment space. Private equity interest is further propelling this space forward and enhancing the opportunity for executives to create tomorrow’s market leaders.
Mitch Davidson is co-founder and managing director of Post Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has been investing in the behavioral healthcare space since 2012 and partnering with talented industry executives through its executive-first strategy.
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