New startup helps seniors join the digital age

25 February 2021

Helping older people use technology to connect with their friends and family is the goal of a new business venture set up by three University of Canterbury (UC) graduates.

  • A new startup is helping seniors join the digital age.

    University of Canterbury (UC) graduate Phoebe McCaughan tutors a client as part of a new Christchurch startup called GranSkills.

Phoebe McCaughan, Amelia McLuskie and Emily O’Sullivan, recently launched GranSkills to provide one-on-one tech tutoring at home for the elderly. Based on individual needs, the service offers help with navigating tools such as YouTube, Netflix, video calling or using the NZ COVID Tracer app.

The three friends turned startup founders met at UC while studying Law and Arts. They came up with the business idea last year during the Covid-19 lockdown as a way to promote social connection.

“We realised there weren’t any personal tutoring services out there for elderly people and decided to set it up ourselves. Every time we hear about the success of our clients it’s so heart-warming,” McCaughan says.

“Everyday technology that younger people take for granted like emailing photos, watching Netflix, video chatting or playing a card game online are all things that older people might be having trouble with. Ultimately we want to help seniors have a better life with stronger connections with their loved ones,” she says.

“We’re really passionate about helping people out. It can be something simple, like setting up a FaceTime video call so they can see friends and family overseas. One client I taught recently was able to see his brother in the United Kingdom face-to-face for the first time since 1993.”

Another client found being able to use YouTube revolutionary, allowing her to access videos that helped her learn new skills.

Already the company has worked with 25 elderly clients and the team recently hired two GranSkills tutors, both UC students, to teach sessions. The three women have now graduated and are working full-time as well as running their business. McCaughan and McLuskie are both law clerks in Christchurch and O’Sullivan is a policy advisor in Wellington.

They’ve advertised GranSkills in a local newspaper and Age Concern has also referred clients to them.

McCaughan says providing a one-on-one service in people’s homes is key to their success. “Group sessions can be really overwhelming and if they’re not using their own device in the class then they might go home and feel at a loss.

“Giving them the personalised approach means they can take their time and form a connection with the tutor. I’ve developed really great friendships with some of the clients I worked with and they seem to really enjoy the company.”

Long-term, the trio hope to extend GranSkills to become a nationwide service with branch offices in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

“We’re learned that trust is key when you’re talking to people about technology because of all the online scams out there. So we’re trying to build a brand of trust in Christchurch first,” McCaughan says.

The three women spent 10 weeks working on their business ventures full-time as part of the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) Summer Startup Programme.

The programme provides budding entrepreneurs with mentoring and advice to help them fast-track their startups into successful businesses and social enterprises.

GranSkills was one of the finalists chosen to present at the Summer Startup Showcase event at The Piano on 4 February and won recognition from the judges on the night for Best Execution of the programme.

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