In homage to her elders, she’s tackling caregiving challenges with tech

In this first instalment of our International Women’s Day series, Gillian Tee shares how she defied naysayers to found Homage, a US$45 million-funded startup bridging the gap in healthcare.

By SGN | 16 Feb 2023

In the two years she spent in Silicon Valley, Gillian co-founded her first startup, Rocketrip, which was eventually acquired by Mondee in 2020. 

Moving back to Singapore in 2016 to be closer to her mother – who was entering her seventies and facing several health issues – Gillian wanted to use her skills to solve meaningful problems back home.

“I reached a stage in my life where I wanted to commit more of my time to family and community,” she says. “I wanted to apply my experiences in the US and build an impactful tech business in Singapore and the wider APAC ecosystem.”

Gillian with her mother at her Master’s graduation at Columbia University.

Bridging the gap in eldercare

As she sought to balance her career with caregiving duties, Gillian realised that there was a serious gap in eldercare services. And she was not alone.

Friends, relatives and acquaintances related their struggles to find reliable and qualified carers for their loved ones. Family caregivers were often burnt out, and hospital readmission was common due to poor post-discharge care.

Confident that tech could solve some of these problems, Gillian co-founded Homage, a platform that connects users with professional caregivers. While its concept isn’t hard to grasp – similar apps like Grab and Helpling allow the booking of drivers or cleaners – Gillian faced some pushback.

“There was certainly a lot of scepticism at the start,” Gillian says. “Many in the fairly traditional healthcare industry doubted that Homage was able to find enough local carers or prove that tech can play a beneficial role in long-term care.” 

Defying the naysayers, her team went on to build a regional pool of over 15,000 screened and trained care professionals that includes caregivers, doctors, nurses and therapists.

To date, funding has exceeded US$45 million, from investors such as Temasek-owned Sheares Healthcare Group, and Homage has delivered over a million hours of care across Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.

Gillian speaking with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who mentioned Homage in his 2017 National Day Rally speech.

We need to talk about ageing

Globally, population ageing is a phenomenon that can’t be escaped but is frequently ignored. In APAC, one in four people – that is, close to 1.3 billion – will be over the age of 60 by 2050.

“Ageing and eldercare are topics we don’t like to talk about,” Gillian observes. “With most countries in Asia becoming an aged or super aged population within the next ten years, there is a great need for more builders and problem-solvers in the age care space. We need to start becoming conversant with the key issues that will affect us all, from healthy living to care planning.”

What care recipients need, she says, is a more seamless and integrated care support ecosystem that provides access to care planning, financial planning, public funding, home care advice, and the best-suited care support. 

“I’ve met many primary carers, often family members, who experience these pain points while navigating care for their loved ones. What’s the best care arrangement? How do I pay for it? Is my home safe for senior living? Do I need mobility aids? The list goes on.”

She notes optimistically that, although the healthcare industry is relatively resistant to change and the digital health sector is still in a nascent stage, the pandemic has in recent years accelerated the adoption of more value-based digital care solutions.

Where high touch meets high tech

“Homage is a platform that combines high touch with high tech,” Gillian explains. “We screen, train and onboard our care professionals, then match them to care recipients by evaluating over 30 factors including language, skill sets, availability and location.”

Such quality matches build rapport and ease of communication, leading to successful care visits. “Prior to every visit, caregivers are also provided with the full care plan, all care reports and the profile of the care recipient, to set them up for success,” Gillian says. 

As a care platform, Homage caters not just to the needs of the ailing or the elderly. It also goes to great lengths to ensure the welfare of caregivers – their most crucial partners in making a positive impact.

“We mobilise thousands of caregivers every month and I love that our platform is able to empower them, ensuring they are able to earn meaningful income at their flexibility and control, on a schedule that meets their needs,” Gillian says. Homage offers income protection and insurance coverage, and caregivers in the field are strongly supported by a live operations team.

“We also place a strong emphasis on upskilling, or allowing our caregivers to grow their skill sets,” she adds. Working with healthcare agencies and accredited training partners, Homage ensures carers obtain necessary licences and certifications, especially for higher care tasks such as maximum mobility assistance and tube care.

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Homage uses tech to match care professionals with care recipients by evaluating over 30 factors such as language, skill sets and availability.

A homage to caregivers

As Homage expanded, it also became a tribute to the seniors that touched Gillian’s life growing up: her grandmothers, as well as a childhood nanny who succumbed to cancer when Gillian was 12. Gillian sees the startup as a way to pay forward the love and support she received by enabling better care for other seniors in need.

Gillian grew up under the loving care of seniors, including the nanny who looked after her from birth.

Mission aside, what motivates Gillian constantly is her team’s unwavering drive to do good, as well as the inspiring stories that arise from Homage’s pool of caregivers –  be it a supermum of four re-entering the workforce as a care professional, or male carers debunking stereotypes of the vocation.

Gillian is inspired and motivated by the team at Homage.

For a founder with a mind for business and a heart for people, this startup has turned out to be the ideal intersection of tech and impact.

“Together with a team that continuously helps me grow and improve, I’ve found a zone where I’m passionate and find fulfilment in what I do,” Gillian says. “With Homage, I can apply my skill sets and experience on a worthy cause, on a solution that touches lives every day.”

Interested to work in Singapore or start a business here?

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About Gillian

Gillian is co-founder and CEO of Homage, a Singapore healthcare startup that combines trained care professionals with smart technology to provide home- and community-based care. She was previously a co-founder of Rocketrip, a Silicon Valley startup that was acquired in 2020.

Connect with her here.

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