UR Community Cares, Inc. co-founders Michelle Puzzo and M.D. Birmingham have created a charity that digitally connects volunteers to elderly and physically disabled people who are homebound.
The two spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about their startup process.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept?
MICHELLE PUZZO: I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years and I’ve done home care for the last 10 years. The idea started with me recognizing there was a lack of resources for patients who couldn’t independently do tasks.
I had this idea of helping every community to get connected to help. So, we developed a digital platform that connects volunteers to the elderly and/or physically disabled.
M.D. BIRMINGHAM: Michelle found me online. She saw I was local and I had founded a company, so she knew I had experience as a production engineer who has developed patents and licensed proprietary products. When she told me about what she wanted to do, my production engineering company took her concept and we collaborated to help it manifest from an idea to developing steps to actually make it work.
NAN: Did your entrepreneurial experience help in terms of knowing what steps to take?
M.D. Yes. I’ve written my own patents, so I’m familiar with the process of taking an idea and building it out step by step.
NAN: How does the process work?
MICHELLE: An elderly or disabled community member who needs home assistance creates an online profile on our website, where they can specify the services they need, such as housework/indoor assistance, yardwork/outdoor assistance, or companionship. They can request one-time assistance or multiple visits. Our site then matches the community member with a registered volunteer (age 15+).
Community members and volunteers are linked by zip code, so we connect residents in every town. Our database also encourages the community to make deeper connections by enabling users to schedule repeat visits with the same member and volunteer.
NAN: How are people engaging with the services?
MICHELLE: We’re using social media and word-of-mouth. We’ve also been networking and traveling around the state to get the word out by visiting senior centers, civic organizations, high schools, and state colleges and meeting with human service directors in different towns.
We’ve already grown to 30 towns. With increased awareness, we’re hoping we’ll be able to grow into all the towns in Connecticut to start connecting people within each town.
NAN: How are you the funding the organization?
MICHELLE: Our funding comes from fundraisers and private donations. We just got our first grant in January, which was exciting.
M.D.: It’s important to note that UR Community Cares isn’t designed to be a money generator because all use of our platform is free. Any money generated is used for operational expenses.
MICHELLE: Right. There are a lot of operational expenses, particularly for website design and insurance costs. Every volunteer and community member is background checked. Depending on what state you’re in, that can cost $35 to $100. Right now, we have a hundred people on the website: it’s about 50/50 community members and volunteers.
NAN: What’s next for UR Community Cares?
MICHELLE: Our biggest goal for 2020 was to complete our business partnership initiative, which enables a business (group) to sign in as one profile that can delegate the distribution of community deeds to its company (group). The business profile enables connections to be one group to one community member or group to group (community members). The goal is for Connecticut town residents to directly help one another with a one-to-one connection.
Also, this year, we plan to add a new driving feature as a service, so some of our volunteers will be able to drive our community members to doctor’s appointments and things. Right now, based on our insurance, we’re limited to Connecticut. When we increase our funding, we hope to grow into every state in the U.S. Our overall goal is to be nationwide.
Another long-term goal is to have a joint venture with a healthcare platform, AARP, or government. We’re working on the next step, which would be expansion to provide services for group to group connections to connect communities.