Goodbye Nanny Cams, Hello Chirp: How One Waterloo Startup is Giving Peace of Mind to Caregivers

AC Voice Tech client Chirp was started with one question: Is it possible to effectively monitor an aging adult without asking them to wear a stigmatizing device or install intrusive cameras?

October 6, 2020

For the first time in Canadian history, people over the age of 65 outnumber those under age 15.

Not surprisingly, the reliance on informal caregivers to support loved ones is a never-increasing area of focus and concern for governments across Canada and around the world.

Although aging adults may spend time in hospitals or residential care facilities, they overwhelmingly prefer to stay at home as long as possible. But the support needed to make that happen often comes at a high cost. Family caregivers are at increased risk for stress, depression and a variety of other health complications that lead to a poorer quality of life.

What keeps most caregivers up at night?  The fear their loved one had a fall.

As one caregiver put it: "I’m afraid for Mom getting to bed. She doesn’t always answer the phone, so I am concerned all night until I can finally reach her in the morning. During this time, I don’t know if she even made it to her bed, or is still in her chair unable to stand, or is stuck somewhere in between."

The Government of Canada states that falls are the number one cause of injury among older Canadians, with 20-30% of seniors experiencing one or more falls each year.

Over one third of seniors are admitted to long-term care following hospitalization for a fall—causing 85% of seniors' injury-related hospitalizations and 95% of all hip fractures—costing the nation $2 billion in direct healthcare costs each year.

Between 2003 and 2008, injuries due to falls increased by 43% and deaths due to falls rose by 65% in Canada.

The grim stats are sobering. With half of all falls causing hospitalization occurring at home, many people feel that home monitoring solutions are the answer—but they’re cumbersome and invasive.

AC client Chirp shares that the startup began with a question: Is it possible to effectively monitor an aging adult without asking them to wear a stigmatizing device or install intrusive cameras?

The answer may surprise you.

Let’s rewind to 2019

Experienced product manager and future Chirp Co-Founder Justin Schorn was living in Waterloo and flying back and forth to school in Boston, MA. A few years prior, his first startup, a video management and analytics company named Aimetis, was acquired in 2016.

“I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I really enjoy startup life,” Justin smiles. He’s easy to talk to and his passion for innovation is palpable. “I was looking for something that was technically interesting but that could also have a big impact.”

He did a school project that gave him the very idea he was after.  

“At school, we were asked to help non-profits with a project. I was on a team at a senior living community that wanted to improve residents experience,” he explains. Justin knew what he had to do: create tech-enabled solutions for the rapidly expanding aging population.

Historically, the standard of care has been a “personal emergency response system” or PERS device—a pendant worn around the neck with a button that notifies a call centre. Understandably, PERS are far from a wearer’s first choice due to their stigma. Of course, no one wants to make a loved one feel embarrassed, so what is a caregiver to do? Some caregivers install cameras in lieu of or in addition to PERS—but let’s get real—who wants to be watched and lose all privacy inside your own home?  

Justin had these questions, too. In search of answers, he joined forces with Shannon White and Parthipan Siva, two innovators who shared his passion for using technology to tackle unsolved challenges.

Their solution:  build a contactless device that uses privacy preserving sensors to remotely monitor the wellbeing of aging adults. It’s unobtrusive and low-effort for the care recipient and tracks their mobility, detects visitors, and looks for emergency events such as falls and calls for help.

Caregivers get peace of mind through real-time notifications and weekly activity reporting sent to their smartphone. If anything goes wrong, users can ask a voice assistant like Alexa for help.  

After joining the Accelerator Centre’s Voice Technology Accelerator Program, the team was able to set up shop to get to work. The first device and app were built over many non-stop days and shipped within six months. A second batch of 35 devices were shipped a few months after. And that was just the beginning.

Accelerating safety and piece of mind

Chirp joined the Voice Technology Accelerator Program, a specialised stream of The Accelerator Program, in late 2019.

“The AC mentors have been great,” shares Justin. “There’s too many to thank. Kevin Hood, the Sales Mentor, has been super helpful in many ways. He even tested the product and found bugs! Sorry, Kevin,” he laughs. “On one occasion, he nudged us out of pure product development mode to start planning the distribution strategy before we waited too long. We listened. He was right.”

“Ellyn Winters-Robinson, the PR and Marketing Mentor, helped come up with our company name and even found a beta user for us,” the Co-Founder recalls.

While in the first cohort of the Voice Technology Accelerator Program, Chirp benefitted from more than our own in-house expertise.

“The Voice Technology Accelerator Program has been incredibly valuable to us. We had the chance to be connected directly to Amazon, which helped accelerate our product development. It was a game changer.”

After completing the program summer 2020, the Chirp team wanted long-term support. They decided to continue in AC programming and joined The Accelerator Program. Chirp also received the AC JumpStart grant, gaining $30,000 and additional mentorship hours to help boost the business.

“The AC has been an integral part of Chirp’s journey. We’re actively working towards a future that excites us every day, with a product that will change and save lives. It’s a hard-to-beat feeling,” he smiles.

What does the future that you’re working towards look like? We’d love to help you build it. Learn more and apply to the Voice Technology Accelerator Program today.

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