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Provide (compliance software for child care providers)

Provide's software helps families access childcare by making it easier for child care providers to accept government subsidies.

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In no more than 3 sentences, please tell us who your idea is designed for and how it reimagines the new life experience.

Our idea is designed to help child care providers manage the heavy compliance burdens in their businesses. By streamlining the process of collecting government subsidies, obtaining licenses, and improving quality, we make it easier for providers to enter and stay in the market and serve more families. We also make it easier for them to accept the highest need families, who pay with subsidies.

Company Overview
Provide is a software-based back office that automates child care providers’ compliance. Our service increases providers’ incomes, reduces the time they spend on administration, and makes it easier for them to accept government subsidies. 

The Problem
Provide’s mission is to help entrepreneurs build stronger child care businesses. Child care providers offer a service that benefits their entire community, yet their work is systematically undervalued. Providers face complex regulatory burdens on top of long hours and low pay. These problems are more severe when providers choose to serve low-income families who pay with government subsidies. Preventable administrative errors cause providers to lose thousands of dollars per year, discouraging them from serving the families who need them most. 

The Provide Solution
Our software includes three verticals: public funding, licensing & credentials, and expense tracking (to maximize tax deductions). Key functionality includes:

-Subsidy Processing. Providers use an online dashboard to quickly see the status of and update their families on the subsidy. Text message reminders ensure providers never miss an application deadline. Pre-filled forms ensure applications are complete and accurate. Our application wizard simplifies the process for new families applying for the child care subsidy.

-Licensing & Credentials. Checklists reconcile and prioritize the overlapping requirements of multiple agencies. Policy updates make it easier to track changes in rules. Pre-filled forms save providers time and ensure accuracy. Text message reminders ensure that providers monitor their compliance consistently and efficiently.

-Expense Tracking. Providers send images of their receipts via text message, which Provide then tracks and categorizes. This simplified process ensures providers track expenses regularly and completely, so that they can easily claim all the tax deductions for which they qualify. 

Provide is unique among daycare software. No existing solutions comprehensively address providers’ compliance challenges, despite heavy industry regulations. Moreover, unlike more complex enterprise software, Provide is designed to integrate seamlessly into the daily lives of small business owners. This includes being mobile first and relying on text messaging. 

We launched our prototype in Illinois in May 2017. To date we have over 40 home-based child care businesses enrolled in our service. We will begin charging for our service in 2018 when our Minimum Viable Product is completed. Providers will pay a monthly subscription fee, tiered based on the size of the business. 

Provide has obtained $96,000 in funding from the University of Chicago, including a $66,000 first place prize from the Social New Venture Challenge; $20,000 from the Tarrson Fellowship; and $10,000 from the Polsky Summer Accelerator. 

Market and Growth
Provide is a profitable, scalable investment opportunity in early childhood education, female entrepreneurship, and economic development. Nationwide, there are 1.1 million child care businesses serving 10 million children for a total market size of $460 million. Our initial target market is family child care providers, who operate a total of one million daycare businesses from their homes. We will then expand to daycare centers, a market consisting of 129,000 businesses. After validating the business model in Illinois, we will begin our national expansion by launching in five additional states by 2021.   

At what stage is your idea?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We began by doing interviews and research exercises with over 40 child care providers. We are piloting a text message only version of the service with over 40 providers. Based on those results, we invested in developing an online interface in summer 2017. We will begin testing and onboarding users onto this online interface in fall 2017.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We need to develop a better understanding of the key features of the user interface that will be required to make the product usable beyond early adopters, to a diverse group of small child care providers. We also need to develop a better understanding of parent's current experiences navigating child care government programs, and how we can make our product valuable for the parents it touches.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am currently the CEO of Provide and an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. My previous work experience is in social entrepreneurship, as the Director of Public Policy at BeneStream, a social enterprise. Before that, I worked in politics and issue advocacy.

This idea emerged from...

  • A student collaboration

Are you an expecting, new, or experienced mom?

  • no

Are you a healthcare practitioner?

  • no

Are you a current employee of UCB Pharmaceuticals or Sutter Health?

  • no

How would you describe this idea (in 2-3 sentences) while in an elevator with someone?

Provide is a software-based back office that automates child care providers’ compliance to increase their income, reduce the time they spend on administration, and make it easier to accept families on the child care subsidy. Our mission is to help entrepreneurs build stronger child care businesses. We use text messages, interactive checklists, and simple online case management tools to help providers manage subsidy processing, licensing & accreditation, and expense tracking.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Child care providers provide a service that benefits their entire community, yet they face low wages, long hours, and a high regulatory burden that make it difficult to support themselves and to serve the families that need them most.

How has your idea improved or evolved throughout the Refinement Phase?

Provide launched it's first prototype service in the spring. For providers throughout Illinois, we offer text message reminders to help that stay on top of upcoming re-determinations with their clients on the child care subsidy. We also help them with expense tracking - they send us pictures of receipts and we categorize them. In July, we launched a more hands on pilot focused in Dupage and Kane counties in Illinois. This pilot was meant to help us test the demand for and operational processes of our more high touch service, where we actually speak with subsidy agencies on behalf of providers to help them resolve problem cases. What we have learned thus far is that across the board there appears to be more demand for our low-touch, more 'automated' service. The less steps we ask a provider to take to use our service, the easier it is for them to engage. Our high-touch service relies not only on economies of scale (getting a certain volume of providers on the service so that we can batch service inquiries) but also on the engagement of the subsidy agency, and at this stage we believe there is insufficient demand and enthusiasm on either side. We will continue the pilot to the end of the year and then shut it down in 2018 to focus on our core, automated services. We've also learned about how our users engage with us. Something that kept coming up for us was a disconnect with our providers on what it meant to submit a receipt via text. I scheduled a mentor session with Becky Michelson to discuss some of these engagement issues and she suggested keeping our instructions very visual. One idea in particular that came out of this was to text our users a sample receipt image so they understand what we need from them when they submit receipts. We plan to implement this in our onboarding process for new providers moving forward, and will test it out on current users in the meantime.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We are currently in the process of developing metrics to quantify our success in increasing provider incomes and making it easier for providers to accept the child care subsidy. Specifically, we want to make sure that what we're measuring can clearly be linked to the provider's use of our software. The nature of our software will allow us to collect some of this data organically, while the rest will have to be gathered through surveys and provider interviews.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

After the challenge our immediate next steps are to begin testing our minimum viable product with our current users and begin incorporating those findings into continued software development. From there, we plan to tackle customer acquisition (developing digital strategies and channel partnerships) and willingness to pay (quantifying the value of our product, communicating that to our users, and actually testing pricing).

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

Few existing solutions share Provide’s focus on compliance and the micro-businesses that make up the bulk of the market. Much of the available software focuses on administrative tasks like curriculum and invoices and primarily target large day care centers. Providers can access low-tech support services such as shared services alliances or Child Care Resource & Referral agencies; we hope to work with these organizations to help them reach more providers and make service delivery more efficient.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chelsea Sprayregen and Hannah 

The refinement phase closes on Nov 5 at 3:00pm PST. Please reach out to me if you have any questions at all.

Photo of Hannah

Hi Kate Rushton , our submission is up to date at this point. Is it required to submit a user journey? I explained what we've learned during the refinement phase in the submission - user journeys were something we had developed much earlier in our process as we were already well into prototyping when the challenge began. However, I can definitely submit one - just curious if it is required. Thanks.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Hannah,

The mandatory thing is the answers to the refinement questions. Our refinement toolkit is more of a general guidebook for all ideas and we understand that some parts are more relevant for some projects more than others.

If you do have time, I would be very interested in your answer to the following questions (I mentioned them below):

What do you see as the role of Sutter Health/UCB in the development of Provide? Could Provide be used by someone with a chronic disease and needs to book childcare to go to a medical appointment or take an hour’s rest?

Have a lovely weekend!


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