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Tech of the Town: Parenthood as an Innovation Frontier

The Helm’s Managing Partner, Erin Shipley, explores the next wave of companies impacting the future of motherhood.

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Each month, Tech of the Town takes a deep dive into the technology trends we are most excited about through the specific lens of our monthly theme. 

In 2017 there were approximately 3.8MM births, a 30-year low, down 2% year on year from 2016.  The average cost to raise a single child is $236k over 17 years, which does not include the cost of college or private schooling. In fact, from 1985 to 2012, the cost of childcare for families with a working mother rose 70%. Research shows that this cost has a direct impact on workforce participation for women with children. At the same time, the average out of pocket cost for a family who pays for the care of an elderly parent is $140k over an average of 4 years. And parenthood is a more costly proposition than ever before. Across every identifiable area, there is an opportunity for improvement and a need for new products and services that meet the needs of modern parents.

From 1985 to 2012, the cost of childcare for families with a working mother rose 70% Tweet

When thinking of “motherhood,” notions of fertility, conception, pregnancy, and early childhood care often come to mind. Yet “motherhood” can encompass so much more; namely, parenting and educating children as they age, stepping up as “chief medical officer” of the family in many cases, and navigating the evolving relationships between aging parents and adult children.

Luckily, entrepreneurs are increasingly tackling the entire spectrum of these issues. Carrot Fertility and Modern Fertility are tackling access to fertility services by offering more affordable prices and resources for women trying to conceive, while Milk Stork allows working, nursing mothers to ship breast milk home when they have to travel for business. Winnie offers new parents a built-in network to connect with other parents and to find invaluable information about everything from which restaurants in their city are the most kid-friendly, to how to get stubborn toddlers to nap. And on the opposite end of the parenthood spectrum, there are companies like Kithward, which helps aging parents and their children find better options for elder-care facilities and services.

The reality is that motherhood—and parenthood more broadly—is a topic so complex and expansive that it becomes challenging to categorize when thinking about the potential impact of innovation. This is reflected in a host of companies extending beyond traditional frameworks of motherhood and building with a more inclusive understanding of the diversity of roles, expectations, and actors in modern families in mind.

Among these myriad opportunities, some of the most exciting new companies are building for parents starting from the time they become pregnant and focusing specifically on parenthood in early childhood. The fact that so many incredible companies are being built within this narrow classification alone speaks to a mentality shift among entrepreneurs and investors. Here are just a few of the companies that we see having the potential to be particularly influential in supporting parenthood from pregnancy through early childhood.

Finding your village

As the old adage goes, “it takes a village” to raise a child. Increasingly, however, as mobility takes people away from family for jobs and the average age of new mothers shifts later, new parents are starting and raising families without that built-in support. New companies are leveraging online and offline communities to create inclusive spaces for education, socializing, and sharing among both peer groups and professionals in the maternal healthcare space.

Tackling community from two different angles, companies like LOOM and Mahmee are building trusted brands for new parents looking for support and resources.

Mahmee: Mahmee was founded by Melissa Hanna to change the way that postpartum maternal healthcare is administered. Mahmee’s comprehensive care platform provides personalized, ongoing support for new parents. Beyond gaining easy access (via an evergreen resource library) to trusted, medically sound advice about common issues new mothers face, mothers can also direct message and book appointments with specialists including lactation experts, doulas, nutritionists, and sleep consultants. And what’s more, they are able to offer comprehensive postpartum maternity care to patients by integrating their entire care team so that communication and collaboration are easy. Mahmee creates enormous value for both primary stakeholders: new parents who need access to resources and support in the first year of parenting and integrated health systems that see reduced risk and cost by providing affordable postpartum maternal care to patients.

Why it’s a game changer: For most traumatic health episodes, the medical system in the US provides patients with a comprehensive care plan. Have a heart attack? Break your arm? You receive immediate treatment for the acute issue, and then weeks if not months of follow up with various specialists, doctors, physical therapists, etc. all working to get you back to the condition you were before the episode. Giving birth might be one of the only traumas the human body experiences where there is no episodic care plan. Rather, mothers are often discharged 24-48 hours after giving birth, with instructions to see a doctor 6 weeks later. The result? Stress and confusion from new parents, worse outcomes in breastfeeding, and higher rates of costly and unnecessary hospital readmissions. Mahmee offers hospitals a scalable, affordable care platform for expecting and new parents, that patients are able to access for free. Through a trial with Children’s Hospital LA, Mahmee was able to reduce readmissions for babies with neonatal jaundice by over 60%, making the need for a service like theirs all the more evident.

LOOM: Loom is the brainchild of co-founders Erica Chidi Cohen and Quinn Lundberg, who have made it their professional mission to create spaces for reproductive empowerment. Chidi Cohen is a doula, whose first book, Nurture, offers an integrated approach for expecting parents, while Lundberg brings a masters in Public Policy to her role as Loom’s Chief of Social Impact. Their first physical location in Los Angeles offers classes and services along with a variety of tracks that range from Considering to Wellness to Loss. Loom is community-driven and highly inclusive, with a focus on “eliminating stigma and shame from all reproductive and parenting discourses.”

Why it’s a game changer: Ask new parents about their experience with traditional Lamaze and mommy & me classes and most will tell you that there is serious room for improvement. This experience can be especially acute for the growing number of two working parents, single parent, and LGBTQ parent households who are looking for communities that are built with inclusivity as a core tenant. Loom provides a roadmap for what a parenting community for the 21st century can look like, with meaningful resources that reflect the full spectrum of the conception and early parenting experience, including topics like pregnancy loss and fertility challenges, that are often taboo.

Affordable Care

In 2018, the majority of US household have two working parents. And yet, federal maternity leave policies have not kept pace with this new reality. The only federally mandated maternity leave policy in the United States is the Family Medical Leave Act which guarantees new mothers up to 12 weeks of job protection for unpaid leave. This law only applies to companies that have more than 50 employees within 75 miles of your location. Only 12% of non-government employees have access to paid maternity leave benefits. In fact, an estimated 43% of highly qualified women with children leave the workforce. One reason for this? The US has a childcare crisis. Across the US, the average annual cost of center-based infant care for a single child is over $17,000, while the median household income for a family is between $57,000 – $59,000.

Only 12% of non-government employees have access to paid maternity leave benefits Tweet

Companies like Pogo Rides and WeeCare are leveraging technology to provide access to high quality, affordable options in care and transportation for parents.

WeeCare: Jessica Chang, the founder of WeeCare, saw an opportunity to take the highly fragmented home daycare market and update it by empowering caregivers and educators to create sustainable home daycare businesses. A marketplace where parents can discover trusted and affordable in-home daycare, WeeCare also offers daycare management and communication tools to daycare providers which helps them to run their businesses more efficiently.

Why it’s a game changer: There is not enough affordable childcare for children before pre-school age, and in-home daycares are often difficult to find and vet due to outdated systems of management and parent communication. In 2017, approximately 27% of children were living in a single parent household, and among married couple families, over 61% of them have both parents working. Platforms that offer easier discovery of safe, qualified and affordable daycare options create much-needed supply for parents struggling to balance work and consistent childcare.

Hop Skip Drive & Pogo Rides: Companies like Hop Skip Drive and Pogo Rides are stepping up to create a reliable system of trusted and affordable transportation for children. Southern California-based Hop Skip Drive, which focuses on an ecosystem of vetted drivers, has done an amazing job of validating the value proposition of an Uber-like service for kids. With a taxi-like offering ranging from $15-$18 per family per ride in Los Angeles/Orange County, San Francisco, and Denver, they also offer a carpool option. Alternatively, Seattle-based Pogo Rides Pogo focuses on affordability by leveraging the existing “inventory” of parent/caregiver drivers in a local parent community. This allows those parents willing to transport other children the opportunity to offset costs and earn additional income through their carpooling marketplace model.

Why it’s a game changer: Parents spend hours every week driving children to scheduled activities, but carpooling can be challenging to coordinate and unduly burdensome on some caregivers. And while the ridesharing ecosystem more broadly is robust and available in most geographies, there is an issue with trust that prevents most parents from feeling comfortable utilizing companies like Uber and Lyft to transport their children, especially before they are teenagers. Eventually, we will see a fully fledged transportation ecosystem that incorporates both taxi, carpool, and potentially even autonomous transportation options for families in need of support, and we believe that it will be the companies that build their brands on reliability and trust from the start that will dominate this new child passenger ecosystem.

Trust and Transparency

As millennials become parents, it makes sense that the same expectations they have of consumer brands in categories like food and clothing would extend to the product options they look for as parents. There is an especially large opportunity in food and nutrition in early childhood, where a few big brands like Nestle and Gerber – who have dominated shelf and mindshare for decades with little update to the quality of their offerings – are starting to see their market share slip. New parents are looking for convenience, value, and transparency across ingredients and nutrition, and options across lifestyle choices and children’s food allergies.

Companies like Yumi and Bobbie are building the next generation of consumer brands for modern parents who want the same quality and selection for their babies that they can find for themselves.

Yumi: Yumi, co-founded by Angela Sutherland & Evelyn Rusli, is baby food reimagined. The company offers over 60 healthy, nutritionist-approved baby meals that use organic ingredients and superfoods and get delivered directly to parents at intervals they select. The company’s mission is rooted in offering higher quality foods for babies and children alongside exceptional convenience for parents. Parents can choose from plans that offer as few as 5 and as many as 20 new meals per week.

Why it’s a game changer: The baby food industry does over $50 billion in sales globally per year, however when measured by the ounce, sales of baby foods have been slowly declining year on year as parents look for alternatives to highly processed, store-bought baby foods. For parents who don’t have the time or desire to be making all of their baby food from scratch, however, services like Yumi offer a trusted and convenient alternative.

Bobbie: Founded by Laura Modie, Bobbie’s mission is a better baby formula. Their focus is on nutrition and ingredient transparency, creating an organic baby formula option while stripping out the unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients found in most mainstream formulas. The company, which is pre-launch, will be offering a direct to consumer alternative to the current grocery store/pharmacy formula options.

Why it’s a game changer: While breastfeeding can be an optimal form of nutrition for babies, there are barriers to access for many families, including the often undiscussed reality that many women struggle to produce enough milk to make breastfeeding alone a sustainable option. Other families simply find that formula is a better fit for their needs. Unfortunately, the baby formulas that are available are increasingly coming under criticism for poor nutritional value and misleading claims.

As we look beyond postpartum and early childhood care, what other areas do we see an opportunity for new innovations in the future? Expanding the landscape of employee benefits to include childcare – especially for companies who are committed to retaining female talent. Reimagining real estate and living configurations that can capitalize off creative resource efficiencies to maximize value and meet new needs for both single-parent households and aging parent care. New services that make highly fragmented and complex systems like adoption more modern, efficient, transparent and affordable for families. These are just a few of the areas we are interested in, but there are so many more. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build companies that benefit families broadly, and we are especially excited about companies that prioritize access and affordability over luxury and exclusivity so that more families can benefit from better products and services.

Erin Shipley is the Managing Partner at The Helm.

 

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