KDKA’s Kristine Sorenson updates this story with her video news report. The original story published n December.
For parents who work outside traditional daily schedules, finding part-time, flexible child care can be challenging to say the least.
Day care centers want firm, five-day commitments, whether you use all five days or not.
Enter Jessica Strong, a 36-year-old freelance grant writer from Stanton Heights, who also runs Whetstone, a co-working space in Sharpsburg.
This week, Strong and her business partner Priya Amin are launching Flexable, a two-sided concept that involves scheduling software for day care providers and a consumer website that matches parents with providers.
Strong hatched the idea for Flexable in reaction to her own not-so-great experience. Because her freelance work is highly variable, and relies on availability to meet client schedules, Strong tried and failed to find a flexible daycare for her 15–month-old son.
“I asked several day cares when I only needed two days a week,” Strong says. “They all said, ‘No way. How am I going to find someone to take the other three (days)?’ ”
Strong knew lots of people who work flexible schedules and might very well have matched up for those other three days. But the day care centers she talked to simply weren’t set up to accommodate families that way.
Meanwhile, Strong’s friend Amin had been through a similar struggle of trying to find flexible daycare. She was the one who encouraged Strong to pursue a solution.
The partners created Flexable’s software, which does it automatically and makes it visible on the website.
To make the idea a business reality, they applied to AlphaLab, the East Liberty startup accelerator.
“We really love big ideas and markets that are ready for disruption,” says Aaron Tainter, program manager at AlphaLab. “In their knowledge of the market and the overall trend, we were really compelled.”
Here’s how it works:
Daycares pay a monthly fee to license Flexable’s software. Administrators enter staffing and enrollment information into the software, which figures out where there are openings in classrooms that don’t violate child-to-teacher ratios. Parents visit the website and see where the closest daycare is that can accommodate their schedule.
Flexable will complete its 20-week program at AlphaLab this week. As part of the program. AlphaLab staff holds weekly meetings with each startup, connecting them to mentors and investing $25,000 in exchange for 5-percent equity.
During their time at AlphaLab, Strong and Amin used word of mouth and Facebook to assemble focus groups. They fielded 22 parent requests for flexible daycare arrangements, and were able to fulfill all 22 requests, Strong says.
Between August and October, the partners recruited more than 60 independent and in-home day cares to launch the program. All are in the South Hills and Wexford areas. Larger day care centers have indicated they are interested, Strong says, but are sitting out the early stages, waiting for proof of success.
Strong hopes to cover all of Allegheny County quickly, then take the idea national. Long-range plans include an app, much like Uber or fellow AlphaLab alum’s NoWait. With the app, a Lawrenceville dad with a client meeting in Bridgeville, for example, will be able to check the
With the app, a Lawrenceville dad with a client meeting in Bridgeville, for example, will be able to check the Flexable website to find a center in Bridgeville, where Junior can spend the day while dad works.
Tainter is more than an investor in Flexable. He is also a customer.
His work hours at AlphaLab are nontraditional. His wife is an eighth-grade science teacher for an online school. They can be at home with their 7-month-old son, David, much of the time – but not all of the time. They visited several day cares in hopes that one could handle irregular attendance.
“They either tried to fit us into a full-time schedule or a very structured part-time offering,” he says. “That didn’t work for us. We didn’t want to pay for days we didn’t use.”
The folks at Flexable hooked him up with an in-home day care that was willing to take David a couple days a week. The Tainters organize their schedules so the provider can plan around David’s attendance. The arrangement has been working well for several weeks.
David has a safe place to go while Mom and Dad work, and the day care has a little extra revenue.