Papa takes off with a sim­ple con­cept

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Mar­cia Her­oux Pounds

Vet­er­ans, ac­tive duty ser­vice mem­bers and mil­i­tary spouses get a free, hot brewed cof­fee on Vet­er­ans Day at Star­bucks.

It’s a sim­ple con­cept: Se­niors in need of com­pan­ion­ship are get­ting matched with col­lege stu­dents in need of a job.

And yet, the Mi­ami-based com­pany be­hind it, called Papa, has been grow­ing rapidly — at­tract­ing new fi­nanc­ing and at­ten­tion within the in­dus­try since launch­ing in Jan­uary.

Papa has raised a to­tal of $3.2 mil­lion, with ini­tial fund­ing from an­gel in­vestors, said An­drew Parker, who co-founded the com­pany with Al­fredo Vaa­monde.

Among the in­vestors is ac­tor and pro­ducer Ash­ton Kutcher, a part­ner of Sound Ven­tures, which has made in­vest­ments in star­tups in­clud­ing Uber and Airbnb.

Sound Ven­tures par­tic­i­pated in a $2.4 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing round led by Ini­tial­ized Cap­i­tal, a San Fran­cisco-based ven­ture cap­i­tal firm.

“We be­lieve the Papa team has found a unique way to com­bat lone­li­ness and de­pres­sion in older adults. The idea seems sim­ple at first, but lone­li­ness and so­cial iso­la­tion are med­i­cally harm­ful – es­pe­cially for se­niors,” said Alexis Papa Pal Ir­win Isaacs plays chess with Papa client Emely Virta.

Deer­field Beach res­i­dent Bar­bara Marks, a mem­ber of Mi­ami-based Papa, chats with her “Papa Pal,” Alan Golan. Oha­nian, who co-founded Ini­tial­ized Cap­i­tal as well as so­cial news web­site Red­dit and is hus­band to ten­nis su­per­star Ser­ena Williams.

Papa op­er­ates in South Florida as well as in Or­lando, Tampa, Sara­sota and Fort My­ers. “Papa Pals,” as the stu­dents are known, pro­vide com­pan­ion­ship and trans­porta­tion for se­niors — not nurs­ing or health-care ser­vices.

“One mem­ber went to a wed­ding with a Papa Pal,” Parker said. “It goes be­yond ‘I’m here to care for you.’ ”

Parker, 30, got the idea for the busi­ness while part of a fam­ily care-giv­ing team for his grand­fa­ther. He hired a col­lege stu­dent to help take care of him.

An in­ter­est in health­care runs in his fam­ily — his fa­ther is en­tre­pre­neur

Randy Parker, who founded Sun­rise tele­health com­pany MDLive.

“Grow­ing up in that en­vi­ron­ment was quite in­spir­ing,” said An­drew Parker, who pre­vi­ously worked for MDLive as vice pres­i­dent of health sys­tems.

The ser­vices of a Papa Pal cost $20 for the first hour, the min­i­mum charge, and then 34 cents per minute, ac­cord­ing to Parker. The av­er­age length of ser­vice of a Papa Pal is 10 hours a month, he said.

Parker hopes to form part­ner­ships with Medi­care Ad­van­tage plans, which could lower the cost of Papa’s ser­vices for mem­bers.

While Papa doesn’t re­lease its mem­ber count, Parker said the busi­ness is grow­ing by about 30 per­cent a month, as it adds col­lege stu­dents and clients.

Be­ing a Papa Pal has be­come pop­u­lar with col­lege

stu­dents. Parker said about

2,000 stu­dents ap­ply a month.

As in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, stu­dents have the flex­i­bil­ity of work­ing hours around their classes and other com­mit­ments, and are paid an av­er­age of $12 an hour, Parker said. They must un­dergo a crim­i­nal back­ground check and get their driv­ing records and cars in­spected.

Though Papa par­tic­u­larly hires col­lege stu­dents in the health-care field — those who are study­ing to be nurses, doc­tors or so­cial work­ers — the com­pany is mostly look­ing for stu­dents who ex­hibit “em­pa­thy, trust and com­pas­sion,” Parker said.

He cur­rently has about

650 col­lege stu­dents avail­able for match­ing with se­niors. Among them is Alan Golan, 24, who said he likes the flex­i­ble hours of work­ing for Papa.

One of his matches is Deer­field Beach res­i­dent Bar­bara Marks, 67, who was seek­ing a fun com­pan­ion to make life more en­joy­able and take her to doc­tor ap­point­ments.

Marks is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to chem­i­cals, so she needed a com­pan­ion who wears no fra­grances and has freshly laun­dered clothes.

Golan said he has learned how to best ac­com­mo­date Marks. “Bar­bara and I get along great. She’s a very friendly per­son,” said Golan, who some­times cooks with her.

Marks, who has been a client for about a year, said be­ing with a Papa Pal “has been an in­cred­i­bly good ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve had some re­ally good peo­ple,” Marks said. Get free en­try at Florida state parks, in­clud­ing Bill Baggs State Park in Key Bis­cayne, on Sun­day for Vet­er­ans Day.

COUR­TESY OF PAPA, MI­AMI

STAR­BUCKS/COUR­TESY

SU­SAN STOCKER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

FILE PHOTO

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