An Eau Claire-based software startup company gained the attention of a venture capital fund specializing in fast-growing Wisconsin tech companies.
SMARTcare, which calls downtown Eau Claire co-working space CoLab its home, recently closed on a deal that gave minority ownership to La Crosse-based Idea Fund in exchange for financial resources to grow the company’s sales and support.
“We really need to grow our national presence,” said Scott Zielski, president and CEO of SMARTcare.
The company’s software, which handles much of the “back office” work of running a business that provides in-home care, already has customers in every state, except for Hawaii but is working to expand its list of customers.
Jonathon Horne, the Idea Fund’s managing director, complimented the company led by Zielski for the foresight to get into a growing industry.
“He’s really on the leading edge of where we think health care is moving,” Horne said.
Prior to SMARTcare, Milwaukee native Zielski and co-founder Bill Mattle both sold medical devices for hospital use, but the business colleagues saw the potential for a business involved in in-home care.
“Care is actually moving out of the hospital,” Zielski said. “Ultimately I think you’ll see more and more care delivered in the home.”
They learned of a computer program that a Las Vegas group had built to manage caregivers after becoming frustrated with existing software on the market.
“It was actually built in a home care agency because they were using products that didn’t meet their needs,” Zielski said of SMARTcare.
Senior Care Business Investments didn’t want to become a software developer, but it agreed to become a partner in such a venture with Zielski and Mattle taking charge of the business.
First developed over six years ago for internal use, Mattle brought SMARTcare to the commercial market in early 2018 and Zielski joined the startup on a full-time basis in autumn.
The cloud-based software and a companion app can be used on computers, tablets and smartphones to handle many of the day-to-day functions of running a business that employs caregivers for the elderly and others with in-home medical needs.
“It’s an end-to-end solution for running home care,” Zielski said.
Scheduling is the key part of the cloud-based software, but it also takes care of billing, requesting background checks, organizing personnel files, producing analytics on the business’ profitability and efficiency, and helping agency owners market their services to more clients. For example, Zielski said a small Florida agency that started using SMARTcare last year didn’t have to hire new office staff even as it grew from five caregivers to 55.
SMARTcare also is available for families who want to check in on the care that their loved ones are receiving — a feature that can even be used through voice-activated devices with Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa.
The Idea Fund first heard of SMARTcare about a year ago, Horne said, and is interested in the company because of its growth potential and a good leadership team with a track record in medical technology.
Established in 2016 to invest in Wisconsin-based early-stage startup companies, the Idea Fund has amassed $13 million from private investors and a state program.
SMARTcare is the second company the Idea Fund has publicly announced it has bought into.
On May 20, Idea Fund revealed it has bought SwallowSTRONG, a medical device used to treat a swallowing disorder, for $500,000 from Madison company Swallow Solutions. That is creating a new company called Swallow Therapeutics in La Crosse.
The Idea Fund is now invested in seven startup companies to date, Horne said, and the plan is to get involved in three to five more. Aside from the medical sector, the fund also is involved in tech startups in construction, agriculture, engineering and supply chain management.
“We want to be diversified,” Horne said.
After the first round of investment is completed, the fund will keep about half of its money reserved for businesses in its portfolio that need follow-up capital.
The Idea Fund has a planned life of 10 years, after which it will sell its stakes in companies with proceeds going to those who provided money to create the fund.