The market for finding high-quality elder care is nowhere near perfect.
A common complaint from families is that hired caregivers aren’t engaged enough and too often don’t want to be there. And these families often pay high rates of around $30 an hour to find a caretaker through an agency, but the caretakers themselves might bring home as little as $12/hour after the agency takes its huge cut.
These are problems that Raleigh-based startup CareYaya Health Technologies hopes to address with its platform. CaraYaya will participate in the 10th cohort of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP)—aka RAP X—which kicks off next week in Wilson.
CareYaya founder and CEO Neal Shah knows the struggles of finding quality, affordable in-home care all too well after he found himself juggling work and managing care for his grandparents and wife, who became sick with cancer.
He realized he wasn’t alone: the home elder-care market was broken, and without low-cost options the burden was placed on family members.
“I knew there was a need but I didn’t realize how bad and how big the need was where people were like, ‘Oh, I can have my life back. Somebody I can trust is actually here helping my mom and I can go run errands,’” Shah said.
He saw a massive opportunity to begin CareYaya as a low-cost, high-quality solution at the end of 2020 as a project at UNC’s Department of Computer Science. Gavry Eshet of UNC Computer Science and Autumn Konz of Duke Neurology are the other members of the founding team.
CareYaya launched more formally around five months ago, matching families with caretakers in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. CareYaya has also ventured into the Greensboro and Winston-Salem markets and hopes to expand across the state before plotting national growth.
With most caregivers available through the platform at just $15 an hour, CareYaya enables families with fewer financial means to still find quality care for their family members.
“The critical thing is you’re also relieving a tremendous strain on the family member,” Shah said. “These are often people who are in their mid-life, juggling the responsibilities of a job and kids in addition to caretaking for another family member.”
Tapping into under-utilized caregivers
The caregivers using the app are often getting paid more than they would through a traditional care agency. They can also schedule work on their own time, without committing to 20 hours or more a week.
What’s also innovative about CareYaya is the types of caregivers it attracts. College students in pre-health professions are often passionate about healthcare but cannot devote the 20-plus hours a week typically required by a traditional care company.
UNC students have proven to be CareYaya’s largest source of caregivers, Shah said, and these are students that might not have been able to get the hours they need for their future careers.
“What I believe is a great caregiver population is hiding there in plain sight,” Shah said. “The existing care industry is completely ignoring it.”
Some of CareYaya’s most highly reviewed caregivers—the startup calls them “joygivers”—have told Shah that they were rejected for part-time care jobs because they couldn’t commit to a 25-hour-a-week schedule.
Shah said that currently CareYaya is focused on keeping its platform as low cost as possible because he wants everyone to have access to it. That’s why the business model relies on purely voluntary tips. It has worked so far, generating around 8 percent in tips, while still letting low-income families find the care they need.
CareYaya has also been exploring VR headsets and content for the elders that it serves. Many of the seniors are homebound, especially during the pandemic, and among other things the VR content enables them to “see the world” virtually, reducing stress and anxiety and giving them something to look forward to. The startup is actively talking with corporate partners to subsidize the VR headsets.
Growth on multiple fronts
Currently, CareYaya has around 60 families who are users and more than 200 caregivers on its platform, mostly students at colleges in the area who found out about the startup by word of mouth. And the platform is growing every month with some key Triangle partnerships, Shah said.
Duke Health’s Well Program regularly refers families to CareYaya. The startup also has worked with the nonprofit Dementia Alliance of North Carolina. Shah also hopes that participating in the RAP X cohort will open new avenues of growth.
Over the next three months, CareYaya hopes to add new hires to its bootstrapped three-person team, including someone in PR and marketing, as well as raise a seed round to help the company scale.
Shah said CareYaya is in a unique position as the demand for at-home care has skyrocketed during the pandemic as families hope to avoid sending their loved ones to a Covid-prone facility.
“No one wants to go now,” Shah said. “People are doing anything possible to stay out.”
This shift is consistent with what has been CareYaya’s mission since it started: provide affordable elder home care for all families that desire it.
“If we could deliver better care—cheaper, more convenient and high quality, then why should anyone ever have to go to institutions?” Shah said.