Digital health start-up Friendlybuzz launches innovative CareCall platform connecting like-minded young and older persons
A COVID-19 INITIATIVE WITH LONG-TERM VISION
“Leveraging technology to empower older people to lead healthier and more meaningful lives has been a topic of interest to our team for a while. Together with my brothers Levi and Michael, and a circle of contacts, we regularly exchanged ideas on how to help older people. When the pandemic hit, we decided it was time for very quick action”, says faculty alumna Gila Marelus. Today, digital healthstart-up Friendlybuzz has a ground-breaking CareCall platform up and running in Belgium, the US and the UK, and the start-up is scaling fast.
FEB Ambassador and alumna of the Class of 2016 Gila Marelus is the Public Diplomacy and Economic Affairs Officer at the Embassy of Israel. She is also one of the founders of Friendlybuzz, a digital health start-up led by a diverse team of medical professionals, data scientists, engineers and academics on a mission to advance the health and wellbeing of older persons.
“We always believed that advanced technologies, such as AI, machine learning and automation, can result in very effective products and services to tackle gerontological issues. When we went into lockdown, our team quickly came together to help alleviate the isolation experienced by older people. They are generally more prone to suffer from loneliness and/or isolation and are very likely to be stuck in lockdown longer than young adults. We wanted to do something. That is how Friendlybuzz’ StayHomeStaySocial COVID-19 initiative came about”, Gila says.
A CALL TO MAKE THEIR DAY
The CareCall platform is an innovative product. Through a user-friendly website volunteers and older people can register and indicate their availability for enriching weekly phone conversations, in a safe and accessible manner. Non-computer-savvy senior citizens can also be registered by a third party, such as a care worker or a family member, and benefit from this evidence-based program.
SECURE, AUTOMATED, AND SCALABLE
“The innovative technology fully automates the process, enriches the experience, and ensures all is GDPR-compliant and safe”, Gila explains. The system automatically creates matches on the basis of data obtained from a questionnaire about their interests and background in the registration process, ensuring the best connections for meaningful conversations. It informs the users via email when their call is planned and it also contacts and connects them at the given time. “So people do not get each other’s phone number but are called by the system and connected after a short introductory message. They then chat about things they have in common, and inspire and empower each other. They talk to the same person every week, as studies demonstrate the most benefit where there is an intergenerational mutually inspiring and empowering relationship. Both sides learn from each other.”
Gila adds: “I am proud to say we went from idea to launch in about two months. In early April we decided to build the initiative and by June we were up and running. The team, the product and service, the website, our advisory board of academic researchers from all over the world … it was all in place.”
WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?
Friendlybuzz builds its activities on the latest scientific findings and academic research. The choice to introduce weekly calls with a younger person, for instance, is based on its proven positive impact on the life of older persons. All questions in the questionnaire were checked with experts as well.
Friendlybuzz’ board of advisors includes scientists from KU Leuven and the Universities of Cambridge and Melbourne, who have spent decades researching different aspects of gerontology.
“We are very happy with their support and guidance, because everything we do is evidence-based and shown scientifically to have great impact on the health of the participants. As a KU Leuven alumna I would not want it any other way”, Gila comments.
In addition to an academic board, Friendlybuzz has established an impressive roster of advisors. Its team includes representatives of the World Economic Forum, the US Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, the UJA Federation of New York, and others.
TALKING TO INVESTORS
The CareCall platform is currently active in Belgium, the US and the UK. Registrations are growing smoothly. In addition to sponsored billboard campaigns in the UK and Belgium and exposure on Belgian radio and local TV, users find the platform through word of mouth. Users also are satisfied and happy: dropouts are close to non-existent. “We are excited to see how things are going, and we are talking to investors”, says Gila.
Moreover, the platform is scalable and can be implemented worldwide. Governments in Israel and in the United States have shown an interest in bringing the programme to their citizens. So the start-up is now talking with investors, as well as looking at ways to further leverage technology in gerontological health care. Gila: “This project is growing much quicker than we expected and we see its impact; we are obtaining funding to continue to develop the company and our services. Feedback has been very positive. We definitely want to keep the platform free for the older people, so we are thinking about working with healthcare organizations, governments, and insurance companies.”
A SHIFT IN PERCEPTION
“We always saw the need and a market for technology advancement in gerontological care. We definitely do not want to eliminate the human factor from health care, but we do believe that technology can simplify health-care and make it more efficient. As the population grows older, the challenges to provide decent gerontological care are growing accordingly. A silver lining of this dark COVID19-cloud is that the world is opening up to digital solutions in health. We notice a shift in the perception of e-health, so the time is right to further build on our vision”, Gila explains.
It is a great example of finding inspiration amidst all the hardships of this year. “During lockdown I also saw inspiring things happening around me. People were rethinking what they were doing and using the extra time to get productive. It is inspiring to see people reach out to one another to support, help and use their talents to contribute to a better world”, she concludes.
Join and register or learn more via www.friendlybuzz.co.
Veerle De Grauwe