The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019

Gillian Tee: Connecting seniors in need with professional caregivers

Gillian Tee co-founded Homage, a start-up which connects professional caregivers with seniors who need help.
Ms Gillian Tee, 37, is co-founder and chief executive of Homage, a start-up that connects professional caregivers with seniors in need. The care Ms Tee received from her nanny and grandmother when she was growing up inspired her to give back to senio
Ms Gillian Tee, 37, is co-founder and chief executive of Homage, a start-up that connects professional caregivers with seniors in need. The care Ms Tee received from her nanny and grandmother when she was growing up inspired her to give back to seniors. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Entrepreneur Gillian Tee has a soft spot for seniors, as the main people who took care of her growing up, besides her mother, were her grandmother and an elderly nanny.

Her late nanny, a Malaysian woman in her 60s, raised her lovingly till she was 10. And in Ms Tee's teens, her maternal grandmother provided her comfort through turbulent times in the family.

"My grandmother and nanny had a big impact in my life," said Ms Tee, the youngest of three girls. "Their unconditional care and warmth shaped me to be who I am today."

Ms Tee, 37, is the co-founder and chief executive of Homage, a start-up that connects professional caregivers with seniors who need help.

Her affinity with the elderly is one of the reasons why the former technology consultant gave up her career in New York City and Silicon Valley to build her eldercare start-up here.

The decision was not easy, she said. In Silicon Valley, she had co-founded Rocketrip, a successful start-up to reduce travel costs which had raised US$32 million (S$43 million) in funding.

A first-time entrepreneur then, she had to learn from scratch how to build a start-up.

But after 15 years of living abroad, Ms Tee decided to move home in 2016 to be closer to her 71-year-old mother. "I didn't notice my mother ageing," she said.

"I wanted to care for her, while making sure she still had her independence and dignity," added Ms Tee, who is not married and whose two sisters live abroad.

 
 

Intrigued by the way the United States was using technology to improve senior care, she decided to explore a similar model here.

An ongoing survey by Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Ageing Research and Education and the Ministry of Health revealed that more Singaporeans aged 60 and above have difficulty carrying out daily living activities such as eating and showering.

In 2017, about 4 per cent of them reported difficulty with one or two daily activities, up from 2.8 per cent in 2009.

In 2016, Ms Tee co-founded Homage to make a positive social impact on Singapore's ageing landscape. The three-year-old start-up uses smart technology through an app to connect caregiving healthcare professionals with seniors.

 
 

"It is hard to find a trusted caregiver. I wanted to pay it forward, seeing I never had the chance to make sure my nanny was well taken care of as she suffered from bone and breast cancer," she said.

Homage has grown from having five caregivers to hosting more than 1,000 local caregivers on its online platform. To reach out to more people, Ms Tee has, over the years, worked with more than 20 partners, including private and public healthcare organisations, community partners, nursing homes and hospitals, to provide services such as dementia care and transport to and from medical facilities.

In February, Homage expanded overseas. It is now operating in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, with plans to expand to four more states in Malaysia by the end of next year.

"I wanted to combine technology and the best professional care services to bring about a social change and make a positive impact," Ms Tee said.

"Homage is also a tribute to my mother, grandmother and nanny, who have given me so much in life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2019, with the headline 'Connecting seniors in need with professional caregivers'. Print Edition | Subscribe