Caring for an ageing society

When Antonia and Nikolaus Albert’s grandmother suddenly became care-dependent the siblings quickly realised that arranging good care was a Herculean task. After battling fragmented services, a large black market and a lack of clear information, the young entrepreneurs founded Careship, a Berlin-based online marketplace for in-home senior care.

Story by Imogen Moore

In the spring of 2015, Antonia Albert (BSc International Business Administration 2012 and MSc Strategic Management 2013) and brother Nikolaus realised their grandmother had suddenly became care-dependent. ‘It was totally unexpected; although our family is super organised it was extremely difficult for us to find the right caregiver for her,’ Antonia recalls.

Big responsibility

‘It was a very difficult time for my parents,’ she says. ‘This is such an emotional topic and always involves huge change in the family. You realise that your parents need so much help, it’s a big responsibility to arrange everything. And it’s very hard for them to see their own parents become this way.’

The sudden need to arrange the support their grandmother needed to continue living in her own home created a steep learning curve. The siblings were far from their native Vienna where their grandmother still lives.

‘I worked in the start-up ecosystem in Berlin, in fintech, and studied International Business Administration at RSM before completing my master,’ says Antonia. ‘My brother studied mechanical and aerospace engineering and lived in Berkeley, in the USA. Neither of us had a background in care. Normally you can organise services pretty easily with the help of the internet but there were major problems.’

Finding the right caregiver

Antonia says it was extremely difficult to understand the whole situation: ‘What kind of insurance benefits do we have, how can we claim those benefits, what is the best way to combine services? Austria is similar to Germany, the system is completely non-transparent and it is very difficult to navigate through this market.’

Finding the right caregiver; someone who fits well, someone that their grandmother would accept was a significant challenge. ‘She suffers from dementia,’ Antonia says, ‘and because we wanted her to stay in her own home as long as possible it is really important that the same person comes every day. With traditional care agencies it is often a new person every time. Hiring a sole operator presents a new set of problems. There is a big black market out there, lots of illegal work.’

Physiotherapy, for example, or even care products like an emergency button in her home had to be organised independently. ‘Even though my parents are super organised everything went wrong,’ she says. ‘It was chaotic.’

Analysing the problems

After many long telephone discussions trying to understand and resolve the issues around arranging their grandmother’s care, Antonia and Nikolaus met in the US. Their meeting involved an analysis of their experience, what had gone wrong, and what they could do to find a better solution.

Part of the problem was simple geography. ‘Who really still lives in the same place as their parents or grandparents? There is a lot of movement going on,’ says Antonia. Compounding the problem of distance is the fragmentation of the European care market: ‘There are a lot of small players, it’s very offline and super local. We decided that we wanted to provide a better experience.’

And so Careship was born. With the idea sketched out, the pair’s first step was to secure funding. Too small for venture capitalists and too young to have enough savings for bootstrapping, they applied to a start-up accelerator, Axel Springer Plug and Play.

Not only were Antonia and Nikolaus invited to a pitch day, they were accepted. Nikolaus moved from Berkeley to Berlin and both siblings plunged full-time into the three-month programme. ‘They provide office space, mentorship and a €25,000 budget,’ says Antonia. ‘We used the time to develop our business model then pitched for more funding, this time to Atlantic Labs. After that we were able to hire a team and really get things going.’

A growing problem

Careship went live in January 2016 and just one year later was offered €4 million in funding by Spark Capital, one of the investors behind Twitter. Spark was impressed with the idea of addressing a real need and Antonia emphasises this point: ‘We’re not creating a market by inventing a new smoothie. In-home senior care isn’t a sexy topic, but it’s a real issue. The number of care-dependent people in Europe will double by 2050 and there aren’t enough caregivers. How will we take care of our ageing society?’

Unlike other online marketplaces that rely on high volumes of traders, Careship is extremely selective, using a combination of algorithm and in-person screening to ensure that the potential caregiver has the right stuff.

‘About 10 per cent of carers who apply are selected,’ Antonia explains. ‘But in terms of qualifications the barrier isn’t that high. We have qualified caregivers on our platform but we also have students. There are elderly people who are trapped at home because they can’t lift their foot over the front step. Anyone who wants to help senior citizens can apply, we just ensure only the best people are chosen.’

More information

This article was first published in RSM Outlook winter 2017 – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

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