It is often said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and for Nicole Paolozzi, founder of OndeCare, her past life as a single mom working a demanding job in Chicago planted the seeds for her current company’s success.
“Back then, when I was traveling to the UK every six weeks, I used to dream of a taxi dispatch service that would drop off someone I implicitly trusted—a retired teacher or nurse or paraprofessional—to watch my child so I could balance the demands of my career with my home life,” Paolozzi says.
Years later, the dream resurfaced. Though the situation changed, her need for quality caregivers was as imperative as ever. With her mother-in-law in a wheelchair and her father-in-law diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Paolozzi moved her family back to Ohio to help support them as they aged.
“We were failing them miserably,” Paolozzi continues. “The available resources – the home care agencies couldn’t help. I was calling the fire department to go pick my father-in-law up off the floor and I thought to myself, ‘there has to be a better way.’”
When her father-in-law passed away, Paolozzi set out to deconstruct the problem she had been mulling over.
“You have to learn the depth of the problem before you can build the solution.”
She used her experience from previous jobs to evaluate market potential and competitive analysis. Through her research, Paolozzi realized an improved marketplace solution was the answer. From there, she began to create OndeCare—short for On Demand Care.
OndeCare is a one-stop app that matches families with professional, in-home care for their loved ones of all ages and needs while creating worthwhile caregiving jobs. The platform empowers caregivers to set their schedules and pay rates, offering flexibility and providing a platform to promote their services. The app does the heavy lifting—pairing open assignments with users’ requirements, automatically inviting bidding opportunities and providing 24/7 guidance and support. A concierge team manages each client-caregiver assignment and helps navigate any challenges or changes that may arise.
As for Paolozzi, she is wary of being deemed an entrepreneur. Not only does she insist she’s an accidental entrepreneur, but she clarifies further, pointing out that she’s actually an operating entrepreneur when asked about her experience as a tech startup.
“Technology is a way to improve processes and I used the solutions available to me to make it happen,” she explains. “While we are a tech-enabled marketplace, OndeCare is a service organization.”
Taking Care of Business
Paolozzi might be particular about how the details of entrepreneurship apply to her, but her background in Six Sigma—a data-driven business strategy that focuses on reducing uncertainties to solve process problems and eliminate defects—made her ripe for the startup world.
Paolozzi even built the first iteration of OndeCare herself, purchasing a basic instance and augmenting the MVP to suit her needs.
Paolozzi’s journey to scaling the OndeCare platform is a testament to the power of network connections. She was first introduced to JumpStart when working with her husband at their business consulting firm and creating market opportunity assessment training for economic development organizations. Her work with ecosystem players like Team NEO and the Youngstown Business Incubator put her in the same circles as JumpStart.
After a few attempts applying for funding from local lenders, Paolozzi worked with a JumpStart advisor to perfect her pitch, prepare for capital and secure an innovation grant from GLIDE. From there, Paolozzi joined national programs like Techstars and gBETA which helped her connect to investors on her target list.
“From JumpStart to GLIDE to Techstars—those were the stepping stones for OndeCare,” she explains. “We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have those resources.”
As a woman tech founder, raising the venture capital necessary to expand her platform is a systemic challenge. A 2021 report from Springboard found that on average, only 3% of VC funding goes to women-led startups. Black women founders receive even less. But women-founded companies in VC portfolios often outperform those founded by men, generating a 35% higher ROI than their male counterparts.
“You can get disenchanted and angry if you let yourself,” she says. “If I focused on the facts and let those get me down, I would have closed my doors years ago. Instead, I accept the reality, reframe my thinking and consider what’s positive.”
Currently, Paolozzi leverages JumpStart’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence services to talk through sales, digital marketing needs and reducing her customer acquisition costs. At the end of last year, OndeCare launched in the DC metro area, and she is finalizing an agreement with a regional health insurance payer so OndeCare can be offered to their Medicare Advantage members.
Paolozzi believes the future for tech startups in Ohio is promising, especially as more investors are taking notice of the region and bringing venture capital to the state.
“My view is what’s good for Columbus is good for Cleveland,” Paolozzi suggests. “Let’s not engage in a competition until there’s real money to compete for.”
But just like the success rates of women entrepreneurs raising VC funds, she doesn’t give much attention to rivalries.