Papa takes off with a simple concept
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.