Holly Shure and Jan Phillips think of their business, the Elder Friends Network, as the Uber of elder care. It allows families who live far away from their elderly loved ones to book a visit for them with a trained friend to help keep loneliness at bay.
Loneliness can double a person’s risk for dementia and it can be as destructive to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, Phillips said.
The new network was one of five Durango companies to pitch investors Thursday at Fort Lewis College. The showcase was the culmination of their time in the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs. The SCAPE is an intensive 6-month program that provides $30,000 in seed funding and mentorship in such areas as product development, marketing and finance.
In three years, the program has launched 15 companies that have created 40 jobs, SCAPE Director Elizabeth Marsh said in an email.
Before asking for investment, Elder Friends Network launched a pilot program in Durango to test the need for these social visits. They recruited 16 people to make social visits and four elders.
The anecdotes from friends have been positive thus far, they said.
Leela Gill volunteered to be a friend and said she enjoys her visits and conversations with Mable Ashcroft, 93.
“She makes me laugh,” Gill said.
Finding elders has been a bit more challenging because nursing homes and other formal facilities can’t recommend people to the new company and many elders don’t have family in town.
The final phase of the pilot in August or September will include the online network that should help solve this problem.
Family members of the elderly can use the network to find and interview potential friends for their loved ones and schedule visits. The friends will supply family members with reports and observations about their relative to help track their wellbeing.
The founders plan to launch the company in Colorado Springs in the fall and expand into Denver, Boulder and Phoenix.
Friends will be paid $25 an hour and they will be vetted and trained before they start.
The company will receive 20 percent of the hourly fees. Its goal is to be cash flow positive by 2019.
Check back at durangoherald.com for stories this week on other SCAPE entrepreneurs