Award-winning innovator turns eating disorder treatment inside out

Award-winning Door 2 founder, Jan Clarke

Baw Baw Shire Council wishes to advise that this report contains material that may be confronting or triggering for some readers.

“It’s all about listening and giving people a voice,” says Jan Clarke, Startup Gippsland 2023 Pitch winner and founder of Door 2. There is emotion in her eyes and strength in her voice. “Door 2 is about hearing the ‘inside’ experience and helping people to articulate their own experiences and to lead their own recovery.”

Headquartered at Jan’s Drouin West property, Door 2 is an online eating disorder support service which is gaining renown for its innovative, inside out approach to treatment. The name comes from a discussion in which the traditional treatments to eating disorders were described as “being behind Door 1” while the approach of listening to the inside experience, was “what’s behind Door 2.”

The name stuck.

With 40 years’ experience in developmental education and a recognised expert in the field of eating disorder treatment, Jan’s journey began with her family’s battle to save her daughter Bronte from the grips of her eating disorder. Being thoroughly dissatisfied with the approaches to treatment in Australia, and after four and a half years of treatment in Canada, Jan set about finding a more effective approach that was focused not on control and confinement, but on listening and empowerment.

“I really sought to understand from the inside out, by talking to people, and to get them to tell me about their ‘inside’ experience,” says Jan. “We started a little drop-in centre. We rented this little house in Malvern, Victoria, chucked a little pencil case on the table and a couple bucks for tea and coffee, and it was just myself and one other person. It was just a small place to run a little hub from. Six weeks on and it was a mosh pit. Word spread that there was a place where people could go and be listened to, where you are heard, where you are seen.”

That humble hub quickly grew and became the Bronte Foundation, providing face-to-face treatment, education and support to families across Australia, as well as school and community education programs. In 2007 the Foundation was acquired by a major health network and in 2008 Jan semi-retired, continuing to consult across Australia but on a limited one-on-one basis.

In 2016, Jan – now fully retired – relocated to her ideal home on a scenic farm in Drouin West. “I went into a retirement filled with cows, puppies and ponies,” says Jan.

Unable to completely sit still, Jan continued to reach out in the local community, seeking opportunities to put her skills and knowledge to work. Eventually her thinking turned towards online platforms.

“My thinking was, was it possible to really engage with people as distressed as the people I work with, but do it online, remotely?” says Jan. “Could that actually work? And then in 2019, I discovered Women in Gippsland, and I had coffee with a woman who said there’s this place starting up soon, called Startup Gippsland, and you need to talk to them. So, I did.”

Jan took part in Startup Gippsland’s inaugural incubator program. Through that process Jan began to develop the kernel of an idea for an online eating disorder treatment service. “It was half-baked back then,” she admits. “It was not fully formed.”

Toward the end of 2019 a mother rang Jan to tell her about her daughter, Audrey – a young woman who, after six years of mainstream treatment had relapsed, and the family were in the fight of their life to save her.

For a time, Jan and Audrey worked one-on-one and in person and took advantage of the sanctuary that Jan’s Gippsland farm provided. This treatment, based on listening, trust, and agency for Audrey to lead her own recovery, proved successful and soon Jan was again receiving requests from other families in similar situations.

It was at this point that Jan refocused and began to revisit the online concept, experimenting first with FaceTime and then Zoom. Not long after, the pandemic hit and everything shut down. Like many people, says Jan, “I Zoom-ed through 2020.”

That experience in 2020, and the wider acceptance of telehealth that followed, convinced Jan that an online model could succeed.

In 2021 Startup Gippsland offered a tech accelerator program, and Jan signed up. Her progress, however, was interrupted by the shock of a bowel cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Jan managed to continue the program online despite the setback and, via Startup Gippsland, she collaborated with her mentor – David Humphries of Avocado Creative and Tiny Gardener – to develop the concept more fully, including a proposed pilot launch program.

That concept was Door 2, and it would win the 2021 Startup Gippsland pitch showcase for just-beginning innovative businesses.

Door 2’s pilot launched with 12 families and ran for an initial six weeks. At its conclusion, it was evident that the project was viable: all participants wanted to continue and word began to travel organically, driving more requests to join.

Looking for a way to make the program scalable and sustainable longer term, it was decided that Door 2 would explore a membership model.

In June 2023, Startup Gippsland put out a call to existing Gippsland businesses who already had a well-developed model but who were looking to expand via tech innovation. Jan returned and pitched her expanded Door 2 model at the 2023 Startup Gippsland Pitch Showcase in June. Door 2 won and Jan was recognised as Founder of the Year.

That award has seen Startup Gippsland provide support for Door 2 to scale their offering, and ultimately reach and help more people. Just some of the supports include business planning and advice, research and development assistance, coding expertise and Amazon credits.

Door 2 has since worked with the likes of the Royal Children’s Hospital, employed several successfully recovered participants as psychologist and mentors, launched a podcast, hosts weekly webinars and continues to grow their core support services inside Australia as well as internationally.

Elena Kelareva, Program Director of Startup Gippsland says it’s been wonderful to be able to support founders like Jan to turn their ideas into reality.

“From just an idea, Jan has created something that’s changed the lives of people all around the world,” says Elena. “We’re very proud of Jan’s achievement, and we look forward to helping many more local entrepreneurs to change the world from right here in Gippsland.”

Mayor of Baw Baw Shire Annemarie McCabe hopes Door 2’s success with Startup Gippsland’s support will inspire other local businesses to bring their innovative ideas to life.

“Door 2 is such a wonderful success story, and it is a great reminder of how much untapped expertise, imagination and innovation can be brought to life with the right support,” says Cr McCabe. “Startup Gippsland is an invaluable resource and one that we are proud to support alongside our fellow Gippsland Councils. It puts cutting edge startup support right here on our doorstep.”

“This business would not have existed without Startup Gippsland,” says Jan. “It was access to people in the program, and to my mentor David Humphries…that pointed me in the right direction and continued to provide support essential for me to keep on going.”

Door 2 is currently working with more than 200 people, providing online treatment and support – all from Jan’s Drouin West farm where she still lives with her puppies, ponies and cows.

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