Paige Wilson likes to say that her startup company Naborforce is “inspired by Joy.”
It’s a slogan that honors her mother, Joy.
“She was a vibrant woman,” Wilson said.
Though she was widowed twice, Joy worked hard and raised two children.
“She was something of a consummate entrepreneur herself,” said Wilson, who grew up in Midlothian.
When her mother’s health declined, Wilson was her primary caregiver for several years.
After her mother died in 2014, Wilson said she started to think about her own impact on the world. Wilson had studied economics at the University of Virginia and had worked for 30 years in the corporate world, mostly in management-level finance jobs.
“I got to the point where I questioned what my purpose is,” she said. “What is my legacy? Is it raising money, or is it more?”
So in April of this year, Wilson left a job in investment banking and became a member of Startup Virginia, a nonprofit business incubator in Richmond that provides mentoring for startup businesses. She started building her own startup company designed to provide one solution to the many problems posed by America’s aging population.
In August, Naborforce started operations in Richmond in a pilot phase.
Much like other “gig economy” companies such as Uber and Lyft, the idea behind Naborforce is to use technology to easily connect and match people who are looking for a service with other people willing and able to provide it.
In the case of Naborforce, the clients are seniors in the community who need help with nonmedical daily tasks such as making meals, basic household chores and transportation to and from appointments, or just a visit and some conversation for a few hours. The workforce consists of people in the community looking to provide that kind of help.
Wilson has dubbed them “nabors.”
“Our value proposition is pretty simple,” Wilson said. “For seniors, the main thing is we’re enabling them to live life the way they want by providing trustworthy, community-based caregivers.”
Seniors or their family members can sign up for Naborforce at the company’s website, naborforce.com. People interested in becoming nabors also can sign up as contractors. The prospective nabors need to pass a screening, a background check and do an interview.
Naborforce is a for-profit business. It charges a flat fee of $25 per hour for weekdays and $30 per hour on nights and weekends, but an introductory discount rate of 20 percent off is being offered now.
There is a one-hour minimum charge. After the first hour, the charge is pro-rated to five-minute increments. The nabor takes a share of the fee, but nabors can choose to donate some or all of their pay to charity.
So far, about 200 people in the Richmond area have expressed an interest in becoming nabors, and Wilson is working through the interview and selection process.
“They range from graduate students, to empty nesters, to young retirees, to stay-at-home moms,” she said.
Several dozen seniors have signed up for Naborforce so far, Wilson said.
Among them is Pat Patterson, a Henrico County resident who, at age 86, lives independently but has macular degeneration, which affects her eyesight. So Patterson had to stop driving in 2015.
Patterson said she knows she can rely on her children or grandchildren to drive her to appointments and help her at home when needed, but Naborforce has enabled her to be more independent with her schedule and not be a burden on her family.
“It is my security blanket that I know I can pick up the phone and call her service, whether it is to say: ‘Hey, could someone come in and help me tidy up my house,’ or ‘I want to have some friends come over for dinner — could you come and help me?’” Patterson said. “It is awesome.”
“It is not something you use every day, but it has changed my life,” she said.
Recently, Patterson was visited by nabor Colette Diggs, who drove her to do some errands including visiting the bakery and flower shop.
Diggs, who lives in Goochland County, said she signed up to be a nabor because she has always enjoyed helping people, especially seniors.
“When I read what Paige was doing, it seemed like it would be a personal fit for me,” Diggs said. “I am an empty nester, and it is very flexible.”
“For me, it is not so much about the money as it is spending time with people and enjoying their company,” she said.
The market for such services as Naborforce is potentially enormous, Wilson said.
“Ten thousand baby boomers are turning 65 every single day for the next 10 years,” she said.
“Nine out of 10 of them are going to want to stay in their home, and they are going to need support to do it,” she said. “The problem is, we are running out of family caregivers.”
Wilson said she sees the main source of nabors as other baby boomers who want to help out and earn some extra cash without having to do full-time work. Naborforce is not meant to provide the same services as professional, full-time home-health care, she said.
Nabors can do such tasks as helping with light chores or meals, getting groceries and driving. They will not do heavy household chores, provide bathing or administer medications.
“So we are really bridging the gap between when somebody is fully independent and when they start needing regular medical care,” Wilson said.
Wilson said one of the most important aspects of Naborforce is companionship, because loneliness is a serious problem among aging Americans.
That aspect has been especially important for Gerry Boehling, who lives in a retirement community in Bon Air.
Boehling, 86, whose wife passed away last year, said he is blessed with a large family. He has six children and many grandchildren. However, all but two of his children live outside the Richmond area.
He now gets regular visits from four different nabors — two women and two men. They help out with making meals or taking out the trash, or driving him to the store.
“I am like a lot of people who are single and living alone,” Boehling said. “One of the things I like is the companionship. You get lonely at times, and it is nice to have somebody to talk with and exchange ideas.”
“If I am in the grocery store with one of my nabors, and I see somebody I know, I will introduce them as my nabor,” he said.
One of Boehling’s nabors is Holly Aldridge, a full-time mom of two teenagers who signed up to be a nabor and now works about six to 10 hours a week. She visits Boehling several times a week, helps him with breakfast and some chores, and chats with him.
“His kids do a ton for him, but he lives on his own and he needs more help than they are able to give,” Aldridge said. “I take some of the pressure off, and it makes the time they have with him more relaxing.”
Matt Thornhill, managing partner of the SIR Institute for Tomorrow, a think tank and consulting firm in Richmond, said Naborforce is a “home-run idea.”
“The execution of it is what will determine whether it is successful, but that is true of any small business or startup,” he said.
Thornhill, who has been studying the issues surrounding an aging population for 15 years, said the senior care marketplace is “a category that is ripe for disruption.”
“How we take care of people as they grow older is going to be transformed over the next 10 years as boomers become the next generation over 65-plus,” he said. “They want to live on their own terms and in their own home for as long as possible, and they are going to look for providers that can help them do that.”
Another problem, he said, is that about one-third of baby boomers do not have enough money saved for retirement.
“They are going to need help, and they will not be able to afford help, at least not the cost of living in an assisted living facility,” he said. “The bottom line is, we are going to have to help each other.”
Naborforce’s experience so far in its Richmond-area pilot has proved that it can work, Wilson said. The question now is how to scale the service.
To improve its technology platform, Naborforce has partnered with Workpath, a Richmond-based company that provides technology to helps health care organizations distribute work opportunities to their labor. Workpath, founded as Iggbo in 2015 and rebranded earlier this year, has shifted away from its focus on connecting patients, phlebotomists and laboratories to concentrate on selling the technology it built in-house to use.
While Naborforce does not provide medical care, the Workpath technology translates well to the kind of distributed workforce system that Naboforce has, said Eddie Peloke, Workpath’s CEO.
Naborforce is using Workpath’s technology to organize and dispatch its network of nabors.
“What we are providing are the tools behind the scenes to help Naborforce manage their labor and communicate with customers,” Peloke said.
“It has been really cool because Naborforce is a local startup,” Peloke said. “We still think of ourselves as a local startup.”
“I like the community aspect of it,” Peloke said of Naborforce. “The idea of neighbors helping neighbors is really cool.”
Wilson said she hopes to expand Naborforce’s geographic reach but now is focused on continuing to build its presence in Richmond.
“We have our eye on a couple of other cities in the Mid-Atlantic,” she said.
After a long corporate career, Wilson said she has had to learn a lot as an independent entrepreneur. Her experience at Startup Virginia has helped a lot, she said, particularly her interactions with numerous other entrepreneurs who are members of the incubator.
“I have never worked harder, but I love it,” she said.