Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, August 23, 2021
By Barbara Bry
When she was 9 years old, Lindsay Jurist-Rosner’s mother was diagnosed with a chronic condition, and Jurist-Rosner was forced to spend the next 28 years navigating the many aspects of a broken health care system, serving as caregiver, nurse, advocate and therapist. Her experiences led her to start Wellthy.com, a digital platform that offers personalized support to help families handle the logistical and administrative tasks of caregiving.
The COVID pandemic has made excruciating clear the challenges that families face across the care continuum — from child care to elder care — and entrepreneurs, like Jurist-Rosner, are stepping forward to solve these problems using technology, seeking innovative approaches and by forming new partnerships.
The care economy is a $648 billion opportunity, according to a recent report, The Investor’s Guide to the Care Economy: Four Dynamic Areas of Growth, by The Holding Co. The care economy is defined as the money that we spend for our loved ones, from their first breaths to their last. The report breaks down the care economy into four segments — infant and child care, household management (families want to “buy back” time), non-home long-term care, and aging-in-place and home-based care.
“We need venture capitalists to see this space as an investible market opportunity. This world hasn’t been seen as an opportunity for innovation and to make money,” said Patrice Martin, CEO and co-founder of The Holding Co. This is why Martin is focused on designing products, brands and services in this sector.
Investors and employers are paying attention. Wellthy.com has raised $50 million, and customers include many large employers that offer access to Wellthy.com as an employee benefit. The company’s next focus is international expansion and launching a community feature that allows users with similar experiences to interact with each other to share and learn.
Many of these companies are started by women because they are seeking to solve problems that they have experienced personally.
In San Diego, Alessandra Lezama started Tootris to connect parents and child care providers in real-time, to enable employers to manage child care benefits, and to offer child care providers a technology platform that frees them from administrative tasks. At Mission Driven Finance, Laura Kohn is addressing the real estate facilities side of child care by developing a financial instrument that provides funding for providers to build or expand.
“When we asked providers why they haven’t expanded, the top three answers were real estate related, I don’t qualify for financing or it’s too expensive,” said Kohn, co-founder of cREIT. She said child care providers are not usually real estate people so the financing puzzle can be daunting. This new financial product focuses on creating bonds for social impact investors to purchase and thus provide financing to child care providers, many of whom are low-income women of color in under-resourced communities.
“My husband and I told each other we were a partnership, but then we had children, and more tasks seemed to fall on me,” said Avni Patel Thompson who started the app, JoinMilo.com. The purpose is to develop a family management system using technology to replace whiteboards, Post-its on the refrigerator and Excel spreadsheets that families currently use to coordinate the many tasks involved in raising children. The goal is to reduce family planning tasks from 15 minutes to two minutes, she said.
More solutions. Dr. Helen Egger and Rebecca Egger, a mother and daughter, started Little Otter Health to provide families with tools and support to address mental health issues — from anxiety to tantrums. The company, which has a team of licensed therapists, psychiatrists and other specialists, provides a customized approach that uses assessments and quarterly mental health check-ups.
Entrepreneurs and investors are now stepping up to solve the challenges in the care continuum. But ultimately, the private sector can only do so much. The care industry faces a massive undersupply of workers — nannies, qualified in-home aides, employees in senior care facilities, and day care workers. This is unlikely to change until wages rise — which would also increase the cost of delivering service — so to make it work, it is clear that both the non-profit sector and government will have a role to play.
Families are our foundation. This is an investment in our future.