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Singaporean Start-up Homage Wants to be the Uber for In-Home Eldercare

Helping the older generation age gracefully and with dignity is the driving force behind its foray into the gig economy

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 23 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Singapore’s status as an enterprising young state with a thriving innovation and tech start-up scene is undeniable, but one challenge the Lion City must contend with is its rapidly increasing ageing population.

As the size of the older demographic expands to 900,000 by 2030 (as this article in Today Online reports), assistive technology will play an increasingly important role in the country’s unfolding narrative. Homage, the web and mobile platform that connects professional caregivers to the elderly, recognizes this need to give seniors the independence and control they need to age at home gracefully, and with comfort.

“This is ultimately what we want for ourselves, our parents, our friends, and families,” says co-founder and CEO Gillian Tee, whose entrepreneurial journey has always been about creating businesses “that improve livelihoods and help people gain a better quality of life.”

At the heart of Homage, Tee’s second start-up after founding New York- and Silicon Valley-based technology company Rocketrip, is the need to give esteem and control back to the process of aging. “People often lose their voice and autonomy when they age. We want to provide seniors the options to remain in an environment of their choosing, while at the same time—and equally important—train and curate caregivers and turn them into ‘micro-entrepreneurs’, providing these professionals an opportunity to earn 50% higher wages and enjoy a flexible schedule of their choosing,” shares Tee.

Hacking home-based care

Launched in 2016, Homage started with only Tee and co-founder Lily Phang, an expert in healthcare and clinical management in Asia. The co-founders spent their first year on the ground learning what the needs of the seniors and families were, “even initially offering free caregiving services to really understand the best type of holistic home care the elderly need,” says Tee, adding that building the business from the ground up meant “really rolling up our sleeves and being very hands on in all aspects of operations. Lily even helped some of our seniors change diapers!”

Growing its clinical operations team, whose members have a combined over 30 years of experience in nursing and clinical operations, has helped in problem solving and improving every aspect of the Homage service. However, Tee points out, “we still retain that type of mentality of being detail-oriented, not leaving any shell uncovered as well as not backing down from challenges.”

“Hacking home-based care and making it mainstream” seems to be working well for Homage, which recently raised a seed round of $1.2 million from 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, and SeedPlus. This is on top of the initial grant it got from the DBS Foundation, which Tee shares is “hands down the best grant provider we’ve worked with.” She adds, “While many grants have intensive time commitments tied to them that might not be the most beneficial to early-stage start-ups, DBS has a deep emphasis on social enterprises and deep technology innovation. They have the business and financial know-how, so they truly understand what really helps move the needle for a business and the grant is low maintenance and they provide the most value from start-up standpoint.”

Empowering The Gig Economy

Before assuming anybody can be a caregiver at Homage, Tee stresses the platform’s “less than 10% acceptance rate,” which bespeaks the company’s “deep emphasis on the professionalization and training of its care pros.”

Interested applicants undergo a rigorous selection process that includes a background check, CPR certification, Tuberculosis screening, reference check, certified caregiver training for the non-nursing trained, personal interviews, and onboarding sessions conducted by Homage’s clinical care operations staff, physiotherapist, and nurse manager. “We also employ only locals and permanent residents because it’s important to relate to local seniors. We keep our quality high in a way that we know we can trust our own parents with our Homage Care Pros,” says Tee.

The bridge between such high-quality care pros and Singapore’s elderly is technology. Homage uses web and mobile engineering to automate a lot of the inefficiencies associated with finding, matching, scheduling, and delivering care. “The best chat and communication tools we use everyday on our phones are brought together to let families and seniors have the control and visibility into the care delivery process at all times. We try to bring together the best of caregivers and technology, to provide the best care experience for the families and care organizations that work with us,” she says.

With Singapore’s Ministry of Health announcing this year that 30,000 more healthcare workers will be needed by 2020 due to its ageing population, Homage finds itself in a good position in a market where there has long been a dearth in young entrepreneurs building products for a demographic that really need it.

“By 2030, one out of four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. In a decade, for every senior aged 65 and above, there will only be on average two working adults to support each elderly. This makes a model like Homage very needed not only in Singapore but in other parts of Asia with the same demographic trends,” says Tee, adding, “Homage will continue to invest heavily into caregiver training, curation, and care quality. We’re also looking to continuously use technology to improve the caregiving experience for both the families and care professionals, making it so hassle-free that the part of coordinating and arranging care fades into the background. What will stand out is the increased personal well-being of our families.”