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Startup Story

Who will look after us? Family Proud simplifies caregiving

Family proud group photo.

Age tech startup taps military resolve to coordinate family health crisis responses

On any given week in the U.S., some 43 million Americans will spend at least 25 hours taking care of elders or children and adults with special needs.

“That’s one in five adults as caregivers. These are people who manage medication, rides, bathing, hospital visits, relay messages, and coordinate care for a loved one. Yet for caregivers and their support network, the group texts and email chains we use for family health crises don’t address caregiver burnout, guard privacy, or guide you to the best actions for your loved ones’ well-being,” says Clay Treska, cofounder of Family Proud, a platform designed for care that makes it simple to give and receive support through persistent digital communities, called Care Circles. The app streamlines communication, surfaces resources through personalized “next steps” recommendations to families.

Founded in 2018, the veteran-led, San Diego-based startup currently serves families in twenty states. With its location in the largest city on the U.S.-Mexico border, between several well-known Coast Guard, Marine, and Navy bases, Family Proud has developed an early client base among the region’s vibrant Latino and military communities. This July, Google selected Family Proud as one of the startup recipients of the Latino Founders Fund, receiving $100,000 in non-dilutive funding, Cloud credits, deep mentorship, and hands-on programming and support from Google. The founders will use the funds to expand their core offerings: solving family caregiver paint points.

“Think of healthcare treatment as a spectrum. At one end, you have what health insurance can cover. At the other end are potentially some nonprofit agencies who can provide wraparound services to families with specific conditions. In the middle, there's still a huge void of family caregiver needs left unaddressed,” adds startup cofounder Jaden Risner. “That’s where Family Proud comes in. We are a platform built for patients and families by actual patients and families. We solve the pain point of families having a connected social space where they can activate their support network to receive the right support at the right time.”

The coming caregiving crisis in an aging US population

“Family Proud’s tools are developed for today’s families, who give equal weight to both in-person and remote family caregiving. The caregiving space is overdue for digital tools that truly engage families and friends and boost the wellbeing and outcomes of patients,” says Risner. According to a study by AARP, in just five years, from 2015 to 2020, the number of unpaid family caregivers in the United States jumped up by over 10 million people.

“Look at those numbers. That’s tens of millions of unpaid caregivers in this country,” adds Risner. “To address this, Family Proud offers private, secure, and action-oriented communities of support.” By 2030, every U.S. baby boomer will be 65 or older. To meet the family caregiving needs of a graying America, apps like Family Proud have emerged as a wave of “age-tech” devices and platforms, from start-ups and industry alike, attract investor attention and reimagine the infrastructure of caregiving in the years to come.

Where military momentum meets medical support

The veteran cofounder duo met in San Diego—where 1 in 10 residents are veterans, nearly twice the state average. Treska served in the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant and counterintelligence agent with multiple tours of duty before earning an MBA at the University of California San Diego. A reservist, and graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Risner served with the Navy piloting helicopters through multiple overseas deployments.

Their military service is intertwined with their understanding of patient and family caregiver needs. “For me, I'm a two-time cancer survivor. I'm also a Marine veteran. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2009. I went through what's called a tandem bone marrow transplant with high dose chemotherapy, inpatient for about four months, that ultimately saved my life,” says Treska. “And while I was there, I became very passionate about advocacy because when you're in-patient, that's really, not everybody makes it out of the in-patient setting.”

During the course of his cancer treatment, Treska went on to become a triathlete, a patient advocate, and a healthcare executive in clinical oncology. As chief strategy officer Treska prioritizes patient advocacy at Family Proud. “For me to save my life, my own patient journey was a mix of luck and advocating for myself. And I realized whether it was the layman or just the regular family that doesn't have any resources, there's a lot of people whose lives can be impacted and saved if they have the right resources or if they know how to access them,” says Treska. “We are on a mission to connect patients to healthcare resources, and to foster a network of support so that no patient feels like they’re battling illness alone.”

In his CEO role at Family Proud, co-founder Risner knows firsthand how operational readiness can drive well-being. As part of his military leadership roles as a Naval aviator, Risner expanded support networks for hospitalized sailors–until one day he had to call on the team for himself.

“In one of my deployments, my mother had a heart attack, and I was confronted with the struggles of remote care. It took nearly two weeks to get back home to her, where I became the family caregiver,” adds Risner. “I leaned on my family and my unit to make it through that time.”

As the Family Proud staff reveals in a promo video, that mix of military momentum and family caregiving infuses much of the app’s team.

To make the transition from servicemember to startup founder, Risner and Treska attended veteran-specific accelerators such as Bunker Labs, a national accelerator and longtime Google for Startups partner organization that helps military veterans and military spouses launch startups and build community. Risner attended several courses at the San Diego hub and is featured in Bunker Labs’ most recent Asian-American entrepreneur series. “The hands-on support helped me formulate Family Proud’s business model and focus on what makes us distinct in the digital health space,” adds Risner.

Burnout prevention: What Family Proud’s customers see in the app’s social connections

As the number of family members supporting elders swell, caregiving is taking a toll on their mental and physical health. Agencies that serve caregiving families know the ongoing dangers of burnout and are actively looking for ways to prevent it.

“Organizations are a user acquisition channel for us. We are currently focused on partnering with organizations that have communities centered around care and caregivers,” says Risner. “We provide them technology to allow families to support one another and enable the organization to better serve them, as well.”

The Family Proud app’s curated social network tools also provide a protected platform for families to receive the social support that remains key to preventing caregiver burnout, which runs rampant among families providing long-term support. “Families and patients in hardship can connect to other families who are going through, or have been through, similar hardships and share lessons learned. They can talk to someone who truly understands,” Risner adds. “Based on each family’s medical situation, Family Proud suggests next best actions and also directs caregivers to relevant wraparound services.”

Now available for Android and iPhone, Family Proud has found early market footing with agencies that directly serve families impacted by chronic illness—wellness centers, elderly care orgs—and through state-level umbrella organizations for family caregiving-intense conditions.

“Another feature for families who onboard through an organization pathway is opting to connect to the greater Family Proud network. They will have access to the additional Care Circles and support resources that are part of an organization,” adds Risner.

Family Proud also respects a family’s bottom line. “We help offset out-of-pocket medical expenses through ‘care asks,’ which are care registries for needs and care products,” says Risner. “Consider that a third of all crowdfunding platforms go to cover medical costs. People want to give.” GoFundMe medical is not a sustainable support situation so Family Proud is filling that gap.

From servicemembers to startup founders: The programs that launched Family Proud

When Risner and Treska began formulating Family Proud back in the 2010s, they were just two of the approximately 200,000 service members who transition out of the military each year. Although data around veteran-led startups remains sparse, around a thousand veteran-led startups launch each year in the U.S., with veterans representing less than 3 percent of employees at venture capital firms, according to a 2021 Deloitte report.

“I get asked a lot, ‘You run a healthcare technology company, but you don’t have a background in technology or healthcare?’” says Risner. “Like I learned in the military, to launch Family Proud, I had to accept I didn’t have the experience initially, but you do it with humility, realizing you’re not the subject matter expert but would like to become one.”

Over the course of two years, Risner picked up an MBA from the University of California at San Diego, schooled himself in health tech through conferences and webinars, made his first hires, and coded the first web-based iteration of Family Proud, leveraging a yearlong partnership with a local university’s graduate computer science program. Later, the team transitioned the app to a mobile-based app using Firebase.

“There are more people out there than you think who want to pay it forward. From the start, I was able to grow a strong community around Family Proud, which helped me build a path forward while not having to reinvent the wheel,” says co-founder Treska. In 2021, Family Proud was selected for the third cohort of Google for Startups Founders Academy.

“With Google, I had the chance to meet other founders and improve our strategies for marketing to partner agencies,” said Risner. “All of Family Proud runs on Google Cloud products. We started out using web-based React and Firebase and eventually transitioned to mobile with React Native. That allows us to scale and provide the analytics needed by key decision makers in growing communities. For organizations, Family Proud now captures and analyzes engagement data to identify barriers and unlock new opportunities for improved service delivery, engagement, and growth.”

“We need a tool like this.” Graying gracefully with Family Proud

In a graying United States, Treska reiterates that family caregivers face an impending crunch. By 2034, the elderly will make up one in five Americans, outnumbering the young under 18 for the first time in the country’s history. Those demographics mean an increasing number of working adults, already balancing careers and childraising, will find themselves caregiving for aging family members as part of the sandwich generation. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, a third of surveyed employees had left professional roles to care for an elderly person with daily living needs, while almost 25% quit positions to care for an ill or disabled spouse or family member.

In his strategy role, co-founder Treska hears this every day.

“When you have families tell you directly, over and over, that they need a tool like this, it becomes an energizing part of the mission. Many families are just beginning to understand how much caregiving will be a key part of their loved ones’ recovery,” says Treska. “Stronger Support. Better Care. That’s our motto, and we mean it. Family Proud started from a place of love. Our mission has always been to ensure no family need goes unmet, and that’s why every day, we strive to help as many people as possible, with all the love we have to give.”

Learn more about Family Proud