Three years, three markets and a pandemic later, Richmond-based startup Naborforce is refocusing its efforts on connecting Charlottesville-area neighbors in need with those who can help. 

The startup aimed at aiding elderly people and their families expanded its market to Charlottesville in late 2019. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Though founder Paige Wilson initially questioned whether her company would survive, she is pleased to see it grow into new markets — most recently expanding to Raleigh, North Carolina.

First founded in 2018, the Naborforce platform connects aging people with its network of employees, or “nabors,” who provide help with non-medical tasks like errands, transportation and help around their homes, along with social engagement. 

Wilson — who left a career in finance to launch the venture — conceived of Naborforce after her own experience caring for her elderly mother. In balancing a career and parenthood with checking in on her mother, she noticed her mother needed help with some daily activities not covered by traditional home health aides and that her mother would not ask for help with those tasks.

“I could tell that my mother felt like she was a burden. I didn’t like that she felt that way,” Wilson said to Richmond BizSense at the time of her company’s launch. 

After her mother’s death, Wilson decided to set her sights on helping elderly folks stay in their homes a little longer before needing more full-time care. 

“I went through it with her, and I started looking at the demographics — the number of people over 80 is tripling and families are getting smaller. There’s less chance for family to be caregivers,” Wilson said. “We see the difference. It’s not just the seniors. It’s the families. They can’t do it all. They either don’t live in town or are stretched with family or careers.” 

For Charlottesville resident David Rosene, Naborforce gives him and his daughters peace of mind as they coordinate care and company for his 88-year-old mother who has dementia. 

He said the attention to detail and note-keeping that Naborforce’s freelancers do and share with each other makes it easier to monitor his mother’s mental state to track it over time and ensures that each Naborforce employee is aware of their client’s conditions.

“They contact me to let me know when someone is coming, there are notes from caregivers that are visible to other caregivers and clients to track conditions,” Rosene explained. “I’ve had people from home health agencies not know she even had dementia. [Naborforce workers] are good with communication among themselves and communication with me as the primary caregiver. It’s a breath of fresh air. We don’t have to worry.”

While Rosene and his family use Naborforce now, he stopped earlier on in the pandemic. Wilson said that happened with a number of her Richmond and Charlottesville clients.

“We did what every startup is supposed to do with pivoting when COVID started. We moved to virtual visits and no-contact errands,” Wilson explained. “But that’s not necessarily what clients needed. Despite the pandemic, many aren’t so isolated that they didn’t have family or friends checking in on them.”

Wilson noted that when the pandemic first happened, revenues dropped about 90%, but with more science surrounding COVID-19 and vaccine rollout, much of her clientele has returned.

“The core reason for our existence was to help elderly people stay in their homes. When COVID first hit, the people most at risk were seniors,” Wilson said. “We just couldn’t do that. No one knew how the virus transferred at that point.”

Once more information was gained on the virus, safety protocols came into place.

“Nabors would go inactive for a time if they were exposed to people or a kid came home from college,” Wilson explained. 

As for who works as a nabor, Wilson said her team hires people who enjoy giving back to the community and who would otherwise be doing similar tasks for free as a volunteer. Oftentimes, Naborforce’s freelancers are younger retirees or “empty-nesters” with a caregiving nature.

“It’s less about a job and more about connection and purpose,” Wilson said. 

Amid the ongoing pandemic, Wilson said Naborforce still handles some contactless errands like grocery shopping, but it “isn’t trying to be Instacart.”

“While we were trying to support people staying in their homes, we knew underlying it all was combating loneliness,” Wilson said. “We knew the companionship was underlying everything we did.” 

Rosene notes how lonely the pandemic has been for elderly people and how his mother in particular is very social. Factoring in dementia, he said, “you just can’t leave her unattended.”

Meanwhile, Wilson is managing her more than 400 clients and nearly 300 employees between Richmond and Charlottesville as she launches her new Raleigh market. 

“This is a chance to fill that space before you really do need to go to a long term care facility,” Wilson said. “People don’t want to go to senior living facilities if they don’t have to.”