As folks age, they often rely on family members to help with chores, run errands, drive them to the beauty parlor or doctor, prepare meals, even sometimes reprogram their remote controls.
But what do older adults do when family isn't around to lend a hand? Richmond, Virginia, startup Naborforce, has come up with a solution to connect older people to a network of vetted and insured community members it calls “Nabors.” These Nabors are largely empty nesters, schoolteachers and retirees who are eager to help on demand.
Founder and Chief Executive Paige Wilson says such Nabors are people “seeking purpose and connections in their own lives.” They also can earn some extra income.
Naborforce beat out six other startups during the third annual Consumer Technology Association (CTA) Foundation Pitch Competition, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs. The focus of this third annual Shark Tank-like event was finding tech solutions to address social isolation and loneliness and helping bring people together.
"Isolation has become something all too familiar to us this year due to the pandemic,” says Steve Ewell, executive director of the CTA Foundation. “But it's not a new issue.”
Ewell pointed to a 2018 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that 22 percent of Americans often or always felt lonely or isolated. The consequences can be dire. The health effects of loneliness rival smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity, leading to increases in mortality and dementia, he says.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the pitch competition took place virtually March 31, rather than in January in Las Vegas, where it had been held during the CES tech trade show. Each of the contenders shared a brief pitch via video, followed by a short question and answer session with a trio of investor/judges.
Family inspires idea for company
Wilson came up with the idea for Naborforce eight years ago after her then-78-year-old mother, Joy, broke her hip. Her mom needed help with “lots of little things to keep her independent, connected and continuing to live a life filled with joy,” Wilson said during her pitch. Wilson was busy back then with her career and raising a teenage daughter.
"I found there was a total lack of resources in that space between full independence and medical care,” Wilson says. “She didn't need an aide or a nurse yet. What we needed was another me.”
The number of “me's” is dropping. She noted that the number of family caregivers compared to older adults needing care is forecast to drop from seven to three by 2050. A 2013 study on the growing care gap from the AARP Public Policy Institute found that ratio of potential family caregivers to adults 80 and older was 7 to 1 in 2010, and it would likely fall to 4 to 1 by 2030 and decline further to 3 to 1 by 2050, simply because of the demographics of aging boomer and Generation X generations and fewer younger people.
Affordability for clients is selling point
The cost for an older person or family member to book a Nabor is $25 an hour during the week and $30 an hour on weekends with discounted rates for monthly packages. Nabor visits require a one-hour minimum, then time is billed every five minutes.
As a marketplace, Naborforce takes a cut from what it pays Nabors and charges clients. About three-quarters of the company's revenues come from monthly recurring plans, with a rebook rate greater than 90 percent, Wilson says.
Older adults can book a Nabor through a client portal or by calling the office. Matches are automated through the company's platform. And though same-day visits are possible, people usually request a Nabor at least a few days in advance and some as far as a month ahead of time.
A client often, but not always, will get the same Nabor. The system allows a client to designate “favorite” Nabors who likely will be matched again if the Nabor is available when needed. But a client cannot request a specific person, though it is possible to ask for a male or a female Nabor.
Naborforce is looking to expand beyond its current markets in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, Wilson says. It also is seeking growth through strategic partnerships and possibly through companies offering the service as an employee benefit.
People's Choice winner focuses on mindset
Separate from Naborforce's win, the audience watching the pitch competition voted for another startup, Dance4Healing, as the recipient of its People's Choice award. The Sunnyvale, California, company helps improve the outlook of cancer patients and others through dance, art and music, leveraging technology when those patients can't leave home.
Amy Li founded Dance4Healing months after she conquered stage 4 of a rare cancer called nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Her company's pilot project was a cancer care venture with Stanford Health Care's Supportive Care Program. It was deemed so successful clinically that a decision was made to expand the company's scope to include both eldercare and patients with chronic illnesses.
Other Dance4Healing partners include Dance for PD, the American Heart Association and AARP.
For the CTA competition, eligible companies had to be based in the United States, have raised less than $10 million in investments and have less than $500,000 in annual revenue.
Apart from the recognition that comes as the winner of the competition, Naborforce will have interview opportunities through the CTA and has a chance to become part of AARP Innovation Labs’ portfolio, which includes mentoring, research and other resources. The company also will have the opportunity to compete in AARP Innovation Labs’ Grand Pitch Finale, which will happen in the fall.
CTA Foundation Pitch Competition runners-up
Five other companies also gave their pitches during the March 31 competition:
• Chekmate of Washington, D.C., is a dating app that uses verified selfies to match prospective dates with their pictures and eliminate fake profiles.
• Human AI Labs of San Diego extracts facts and thoughts using artificial intelligence (AI) to help people store their memories through an AI representation of themselves.
• Immersive Cure of Medina, Ohio, is a virtual reality kit targeted at older adults. Curated nature- and travel-related virtual reality experiences aim to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
• Gameboard of Boulder, Colorado, uses a combination of physical and digital pieces to recreate the experience of playing tabletop games on a hybrid console.
• QBuddy of Ithaca, New York, matches people virtually with quarantine buddies who share similar interests to help them feel less isolated.
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is author of Macs for Dummies and coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.