Published in Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March 2020
It was a meeting of Allison Nikula’s professional and personal lives that drove her to entrepreneurship.
“My grandparents were accessing care 800 km away from where my family lived,” the occupational therapist and founder of CareApp says.
“We felt disconnected… and I was seeing professionally that my personal experience wasn’t unique.”
Nikula had been working in the aged care sector and supervised a team of hundreds of care workers helping Australians across the community.
Those professionals knew the ins and outs of their clients lives and how to explain “not [just] their medical status and health, but ensuring they live really good lives”, but had difficulty sharing and recording this.
Other sectors like education had easy-to-use parental communication apps for keeping up to date with schools, but those needing other care were being left behind.
With a $5,000 investment to make a click-able prototype, Nikula designed an app to give loved ones a window into their families’ lives when they were with carers.
CareApp is available to nursing homes and other organisations at a price of around a cup of coffee per resident, per month.
The platform lets staff send messages, update photos and videos and share event information in a similar way to other social networking sites, but with the connection being between families so they can see real-time updates of how their loved ones’ weeks days and weeks are progressing.
“The role of technology in aged care is not one around replacing care — it’s around magnifying and enhancing the care that is being provided,” Nikula says.
CareApp launched prior to the royal commission into aged care and as investors and the community were coming to realise the lack of transparency that existed across the sector.
She says the timing has meant while care providers are being cautious to innovate, it is front of mind for them and investors have an increased appetite for funding new ideas for the sector.
This environment has seen CareApp receive its first funding round, closing out a $500,000 seed round at the end of last year led by Adelaide seed investors Southern Angels.
Investor and now board member Nick Heywood-Smith, who ran and last year sold allied health business Wellness and Lifestyles Australia, says his interest was piqued in the CareApp because there was nothing else like it in Australia.
“There was nothing really to show the families how they were doing, how the aged care facility was keeping them stimulated,” he says.
Heywood-Smith says Nikula has a strong focus on patient care which makes her well positioned to pitch the service in Australia and overseas.
“She is a natural sales person — from an angel investment point of view, that’s what we want.”
Two years on from launching the first tests of the app, the business is turning over $250,000 a year and looking to conquer the Australian market before heading to the US.
It will do this on the cusp of a technology boom in the caring space, where providers focused on ageing and managing conditions like dementia continue to flourish. “Age-tech” has had a particular surge in recent years in the United States, as startups look to cash in on a sector set to be worth trillions of dollars in the next five years, according to venture capital firm 4Gen Ventures.
Closer to home, organisations like Dementia Australia have signalled a long-term focus on building technology to help those with the condition have a better quality of life.
CareApp has also been trialled by Meals on Wheels throughout New South Wales, with board president Chris Watt saying the partnership has been a natural fit to record and share information about their clients.
“The good thing about it is that we’re seeing people so regularly, we can monitor them over time ¯ and people tend to tell volunteers pretty much everything,” he says.
For Nikula, 2020 will be a focus on the Australian market, though the call of the US is difficult to ignore.
“It’s just ripe for disruption — but first you have to go immerse yourself in that market for a period of time.”