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8 minute read

Business Heroes: This Singaporean Helps Families Better Access Caregiving Services for Ageing Loved Ones

While many pursue entrepreneurship to meet the financial bottom line, Gillian Tee is not cut out from the same cloth. Find out how her startup, Homage, seeks to provide better care for seniors in Singapore.

There are many reasons why some people choose the entrepreneurial journey. Despite the risks and challenges involved, they still choose this less-travelled path as opposed to being an employee living by the paycheck. 

Set up a business, take on financial risks and try to make a profit. An easy concept to grasp, but there’s more than meets the eye. Being an entrepreneur is tough, but do it well, and the financial gains are multifold. 

However, not all entrepreneurs are driven by profits alone, giving rise to buzzwords such as socialpreneurs and ecopreneurs. The former refers to a person doing business to contribute to the social good, while the latter is focused on creating and selling environmentally-friendly products and services.

These are the kind of people whose businesses have double bottom lines. Profits aside, they also want to make a positive impact on the world. 

We speak to Gillian Tee, co-founder of Homage, a healthcare start-up focusing on home-based care solutions for seniors. 

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Gillian Tee: A brief background

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a master’s degree in Business Administration, Gillian has spent 15 years in the States where she co-founded, Rocketrip, a successful technology company that provides a ticketing platform to help businesses reduce travel costs.

The company even attracted funding from the likes of Google and American giant investment firm, Bessemer Ventures.

However, she gave it all up and returned to Singapore to care for her ailing mother. In her capacity as the sole caregiver, Gillian discovered how difficult it was to access care services for the elderly in Singapore. 

One for the memories: Gillian with her mum on her graduation day. Image credit: Gillian Tee

While most people would just live through their frustrations, the entrepreneur in Gillian decided to do something about this problem. In 2017, together with two other co-founders, she started Homage to develop a mobile application to help families book, manage and pay for caregiving services for their ageing loved ones with just the touch of a button.

What were the main challenges you faced as a caregiver?

It was very challenging to find assistance, and there was little support in care planning, navigation and connecting the dots to finding the right carer. The entire care management journey was stressful. 

Oftentimes I’ll be in the dark about engaging existing solutions. It is often hit and misses, and there were lots of inefficiencies in the process. 

I realised then that there was an urgent need to harness technology to deliver a personalised and transparent care experience. One that could provide holistic service across both non-medical and medical care support. 

What was the missing link that you thought could alleviate the difficulties you faced?

I believe that combining the best of people and technology will deliver an improved experience to personalised caregiving support they needed wherever they are.

In today’s day and age where we have so many tools at our disposal, why were there still so many pain points experienced in navigating care services? The administration and coordination of logistical aspects can be highly stressful to primary carers who are often family members. 

So, a solution that can combine high-quality carers and the application of technology to solve these gaps was much needed. 

From the travel space to the care space, is solving problems a passion of yours? 

As human beings, we have limited time in this world. So, I wanted to spend my time fruitfully by building and creating and sustaining something positive. 

I have a soft spot for vulnerable groups. It’s extremely inspiring to me that more than 70% of our care professionals are women. I want to empower them to deliver care to those who need it most. 

I had a caregiver who took care of me and she was someone I loved deeply. She passed on when I was 11. In many ways, Homage is a tribute to her and a way for me to pay homage to her. 

Previously, you co-founded Rocketrip, a tech company based in New York City. How are the business goals different from Homage?

In many ways, the business travel industry has many parallels with the aged care industry. Both are largely untouched by technology and operate in a more traditional space that tends to be more resistant to change. 

The dream team: Gillian with her colleagues while working in New York. Image credit: Gillian Tee

However, the fundamentals that drive both business objectives towards sustainability must remain. With Homage, there is a greater sense of a social mission where one can do good and do well at the same time.  

Before embarking on the entrepreneurship path, you’ve worked at Amazon and Accenture. What made you want to strike out on your own? 

I was very curious about building new ventures and technology startups. I remember thinking to myself that I could apply my background in technology to create meaningful solutions that can solve real-world problems. 

So, I started researching more about private social enterprises and made the leap after spending some time exploring entrepreneurship. 

Read More: Business Heroes: How This S’porean Went From Having $3 in the Bank to Helming a Million-Dollar Company

What advice do you have for people who are considering a career switch?

Be excited about the unknown, rather than fear it. There is much that can be discovered to prepare you for the career switch decision, and whether it is the right step for you. 

Set up structured informational interviews with people currently in the industry or roles that you’re keen on. You will be surprised how many will offer their time!

Always learn from the challenges you faced.

Making a career switch? MyCareersFuture’s search tool allows you to filter jobs for mid-career switchers. Start searching now!

How did COVID-19 affect you personally and your business?

At the height of the pandemic, we saw a step-up in partnerships across the private and public healthcare sectors, where we came together to support initiatives. It was incredible to watch the team build a Covid-19 taskforce to aid efforts in the operation of home-based swab tests, run Covid-19 treatment facilities, and support community vaccination centres as well as mobile clinics.

Homage’s care professional interacting with seniors at a healthcare facility. Image credit: Homage

Covid-19 accelerated the uptake of our home and community-based services, across our non-medical caregiving and medical solutions. This is apparent for seniors and those living with chronic illnesses who face difficulties accessing professional medical consultations in hospitals and clinics due to a lack of mobility and dependency on family members.

As we had earlier invested in the capability to mobilise carers at a large scale through technology, we were able to deploy response efforts on a short timeline on the frontline. 

Is there any experience working at Homage that touched you?

One fond memory is how the team came together with one of our partner hospitals to work on safely transitioning patients home through a government-funded program. 

The first few patient profiles that came through were on government subsidies and knowing that they received the care and support needed at a critical juncture of their recovery was very heartening to me.

Do you have any regrets so far?

Absolutely not. I am glad that I made the leap into entrepreneurship. I have found a place where I am passionate about what I do, derive fulfilment and also effectively apply my skill set and experience. 

I still feel challenged every day and derive growth by doing. Building Homage has helped me become a better person as I’m working with a great team that helps in my personal and professional growth. 

I enjoy the process of building an impactful business. 

Read More: Business Heroes: CARRO’s Boss on Pursuing his Passion and Talent He’s Looking Out For

What kind of qualities does one need to pursue a career in eldercare?

You need to care enough to contribute and not shun challenges. Always seek ways on how care and support can be improved for our seniors. Transforming long-term care takes stamina and resilience, so be firmly rooted in your conviction.

Homage’s care professional guides a senior in an art-based activity. Image credit: Homage

What specific roles is Homage hiring for?

We are hiring for many roles across our countries in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. There are many open roles across software engineering, partnership development, finance and marketing.  

Check out job openings in Homage here.

What do you look for in your employees?

Because we’re in the care space, we hire people that connect to our mission and our purpose and are impact driven. As we’re a fast-paced startup, they must have a strong hunger to learn and grow as well as be resilient and adaptable to change. 

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