With Covid-19 Threatening Senior Living Facilities, 3 Triangle Startups Answer Call

K4Connect's tech in action.

The technology market serving seniors and senior living facilities has been growing for years, but Covid-19 puts an increased emphasis on the need for the elderly to have access to quality technology. Triangle-based startups Roobrik, Viibrant and K4Connect are all meeting those needs in these difficult times.

Carrboro-based Viibrant, which brings technology to connect senior living communities (we featured them in December), chose to provide its product Vibrant XE for free to communities for at least three months through the Covid-19 outbreak, said Viibrant Founder Patrick Smith.

“It’s our way of giving back because we want to help the communities communicate, and really we did it almost right when this outbreak started happening,” Smith said. “We came together as a team and said, what can we do to give back? And we don’t want anything in return.”

Smith said the Viibrant team is doing everything they can to help customers in this time of crisis, looking first to serving and supporting the senior living community. 

Roobrik, a Durham-based startup that aids seniors and their families to make more informed decisions when researching online about senior living facilities and home healthcare, is focused on listening to what its consumers are saying, said Roobrik Founder and CEO Nate O’Keefe. O’Keefe said there’s only been a little bit of fluctuation in Roobrik’s customer volume.

“We’re able to go back to our customers or clients in senior living and say, this is what we’re hearing from families that are going through assessments,” O’Keefe said. “They still need your services. They’re still actively looking for help.”

O’Keefe said during this crisis many senior living facilities have restricted visitation, so technology that enables more virtual engagement between the facilities and potential residents—such as Roobrik’s—could increase in need.

“With the caveat that there are still so many unknowns, we feel like we’re in a strong position,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve been very capital-efficient. We have a strong revenue base. We have an incredibly flexible and strong team that’s very capable of adapting to change—to adapt both in how they work and what they build.”

Raleigh-based K4Connect’s CEO Scott Moody said K4Connect saw the pandemic coming. As the leader of K4Connect, a startup that creates smart solutions for older adults and people with disabilities, Moody said he’s been working hundred-hour weeks for the past month to address the needs of senior living communities during this time.

Moody said that in late February, K4Connect launched COVID-911, a company-wide initiative to accelerate product development and customer communications to support them through this crisis. 

Residents in senior living homes, meanwhile, are facing new challenges every day from Covid-19. In addition to Covid-19’s potential increased severity on this group, seniors are being isolated from the physical engagement of their surrounding communities and loved ones. That makes K4Connect’s tech enabling communication more important that ever.

Employees in senior living facilities also face new challenges, as they must make difficult decisions such as whether they should go to work with even mild symptoms that could be related to allergies or a simple cold—or could be Covid-19. With a shortage of testing, it’s hard to know the difference.

K4Connect has continued its mission to keep senior residents engaged and informed along with smart home technology, which also allows monitoring to make sure a senior resident is doing all right based on their light or thermostat usage, Moody said. K4Connect offers 24/7 support and currently has a number of no-cost capabilities, including a virtual morning check-in for residents.

“You find a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, I have something you can use’, but inside the community, it’s like, ‘Who’s going to put this all together? Who’s going to download all these apps? Who’s going to train everybody? How do we know what people are doing?’” Moody said. “And that’s what we do. We bring all these great technologies together.”

Smith said that Viibrant, being a technology company, had a fairly easy transition to remote work. But there’s been an increase in customer need for services related to dining, like providing virtual menus for facilities as they’ve closed dining facilities and turned to to-go ordering and food delivery.

Still, Smith said the world and national economy will take a blistering impact from Covid-19, but some startups can offer hope.

“When when you have a crisis like this,” Smith said, “you’re going to find other tech startups that bring hope, that bring value, that bring a product, that bring solutions.”

Moody, who previously founded and led the company AuthenTec—responsible for the technology now used in Apple’s Touch ID—through the dotcom crisis and the Great Recession, said startups have two ways to look at navigating these times: managing during the crisis and leading through the crisis. Leading could ultimately be what defines the success of your startup.

“I believe—and our company believes—that if you serve others, if you do good, then good things will happen,” Moody said. “I think for any startup, they have to look at ‘how do I manage through the crisis,’ but probably more importantly is ‘how do I lead through the crisis’ and come out a stronger, better company, and often a changed company than we were at the beginning of the crisis. And so many people forget about that kind of leadership activity. It’s the difference between a manager and a leader.”

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About Suzanne Blake 83 Articles
Suzanne profiles startups and innovation for GrepBeat. She is also a junior studying journalism and political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reach Suzanne at suzanne@grepbeat.com.