Approximately 53 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP. The percentage increased from 18% in 2015 to 21% in 2020, and the rise is projected to continue.
After navigating the hurdles of being the primary caregiver for her mother before she died, Jessica Kim, a serial entrepreneur, thought there had to be a better way. She and her cofounder, Steven Lee, built an online platform and app, ianacare, that provides a free way to coordinate support within your social circle and easy access to benefits personalized to your employer and insurance companies’ plans.
When her mother’s pancreatic cancer returned for the third time, her parents moved in with Kim. She became the primary caregiver to her mother. Kim, a working mom, had three children under 10. She had to handle nursing responsibilities, like draining her mother’s stomach several times a day and managing insurance claims and finances for her mother, all in addition to being a parent.
“It [caregiving responsibilities] was unpaid and super stressful,” sighed Kim. “Seeing your mom suffer in that way was super emotional in a very sad and depressing way.” She didn’t know what resources and support services were available to help. And, after a few months of juggling it all, she quit her job. Kim didn’t realize that she wasn’t alone in her dilemma: 32% of employees left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities.
After two years, Kim’s mother passed away. “I was just so frustrated!” she exclaimed. Because of her own unmet needs and recognizing the size of the market, she saw this incredible gap in the market as an opportunity. As a two-time serial entrepreneur, “I knew the funding was there,” she emphasized. “I know how to do direct-to-consumer marketing and what technology can produce.”
Kim and Lee had met when they were advising a female founder. It was during the time Kim was a primary caregiver. She advised on user experience and growth, and he advised on tech and ops. They worked well together. When Kim’s mom passed, Lee asked if she wanted to join him in a startup he was working on.
Kim didn’t want to work on an e-commerce site; she wanted to figure out how to fix the broken caregiving system. Much to her delight, “… he goes, okay, I’ll dig in with you, and then I’ll see if I can catch up to your level of conviction,” she said. He had watched his grandfather battle Parkinson’s.
In late 2018, she and Lee dug in full-time to see if they could develop an impactful solution. They had complementary skills. Kim is very human-centric, which can be hard to scale, and Lee is an M.I.T. tech geek who knows how to scale things. They are values aligned. But still. Kim had heard a statistic that six out of 10 startups fail due to cofounder issues, which scared her.
She wanted to ensure that this pair didn’t fail due to relationship problems, so she developed a series of 75 questions to improve their odds of successfully working together. The intent of the questions was to go beyond values and complementary skills. It was to raise awareness of each other’s underlying assumptions and expectations and understand how each would approach challenging issues.
In 2019, they launched ianacare (I Am Not Alone Care). Kim became CEO and Lee COO. The pandemic accelerated the awareness of the need for the platform. It encourages, empowers, and equips family caregivers with resources and technology to quickly and easily ask friends and family for support in coordinating meals, rides requesting care, child care, pet care, household errands, etc. While the average team size is 25 to 30 people, some teams have 200 supporters. The app is free.
In 2020, Anthem, an insurance company with 68,000 employees, said coordinating tasks among caregivers’ social circles is a critical layer. Still, it wasn’t enough because friends and family could not be there 24/7. Anthem wanted its employees to type in a zip code and get a Yelp-like experience for finding food security, transportation, care, and rehab centers in their area. It also wanted expert content on physical health, mental health, care management, work/life, finance/legal, and basic needs.
“What we realized was that thousands of resources and services already exist, but they are highly fragmented and difficult to find,” said Lee. “The power of technology allows us to bring large systems together, enable simpler connection and coordination and deliver highly personalized experiences at scale.”
ianacare works with employers and health plans to integrate their benefit package levels into its platform in a very user-friendly way. So if something is provided in the gold plan but not in the silver plan, users only see options for their plan.
Anthem renewed the service.
“Unless you’ve gone through caregiving, you don’t fully understand how complex the needs are and how many people are doing this,” said Kim. “So 70% of caregivers suffer in silence.” More than three-quarters of caregivers (79%) do not have access to caregiver support benefits at their workplaces, according to the Homethrive 2021 Employee Caregiver Survey results. This lack of awareness is the biggest obstacle to growing the service, so ianacare is building the case.
People don’t realize that caregiving employees represent 18% to 22% of the U.S. labor force. “It’s a rotating 20%,” said Kim. It includes maternity, child and elder care, illness, and much more.
Caregiver support is an overlooked gap in healthcare and employee benefits: 61% of caregivers are women, and 40% are people of color. Estimates show that 40% to 70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Since women tend to be primary caregivers, this benefit would especially help keep women from leaving the workforce. That point was driven home by the pandemic.
Employers who hope to address mental health challenges adopt DEI initiatives that incorporate innovative programs that support caregivers to reach these goals.
Research is proving how effective support can be. HealthCore conducted a clinical trial of working family caregivers at Anthem. It found that those with access to ianacare’s platform reported an 83% increase in productivity, a 30% decrease in stress and burden, and 96% reported feeling supported by their employer.
ianacare has raised $16.4 million to date, including:
- $1.3 million pre-seed led by Founder Collective
- $3 million seed round, including Slow Ventures, Indicator Ventures, and CueBall
- $12.1 million Series A led by Greycroft, SemperVirens VC, Able Partners, 8VC, and Brown Angel Group
How are you addressing the needs of your employees?