Ottawa startup that aims to better serve seniors with socialization needs, secures $50,000 grant

An Ottawa startup has been awarded $50,000 by the Ontario Brain Institute for its new suite of products that aim to help elder care facilities become more social.

According to Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau, chief executive officer of Ottawa’s Welbi, more than 43 per cent of residents living in senior care centers suffer from social isolation. It’s an issue she witnessed when her grandfather ended up in a care facility outside of Montreal years ago.

Audette-Bourdeau, who attended Cégep de l’Outaouais before going to the University of Ottawa, wanted to find a way to use technology to better analyze trends in an individual’s regular routine.

“We can tell them who has participated or if there is changes to their habits. So, when ‘Bob’ is used to going to Bingo on Friday’s then stops showing up then we can help them identify that and help them to go check on him to make sure everything is fine,” said Audette-Bourdeau.

“There’s been lots of research to underline how important socialization is in retirement homes. We wanted to bring a solution that could personalize the experience of each resident that would make them really want to get out of their room.”

Welbi, which is based out of Invest Ottawa’s Bayview Innovation Center and already employs nine people, works on a monthly subscription basis with senior care facilities. It currently has two clients, but is in talks with dozens of others.

The service replaces old, paper-based systems for tracking residents and their daily interactions and involvement in activities. Audette-Bourdeau said, the problem with tracking these activities on paper is that paper has a tendency to pile up. A whack of paper sitting in a pile on a desk doesn’t really help officials to have a deeper understanding of their residents, she said.

“Someone would have to go through all that paper to establish that, over time, there was a problem,” said Audette-Bourdeau.

Welbi tracks involvement on a historical basis. Meaning, if one activity is replaced with another, the service can tell administrators how the new activity is being received and who is partaking in it. If fans of an activity stop attending, Welbi alerts staff to that, allowing them to check on the resident.

As an added benefit, Welbi also allows family members to check in on their loved ones while they are in a senior care facility to find out what they did during the day, what they ate and whether there were any notes left by staff, flagging incidents or issues requiring their attention.

The company’s approach to managing resident’s information has caught the attention of researchers, including the Ontario Brain Institute, a provincially funded not for profit organization. The institute has awarded Welbi with a $50,000 grant to allow the company to continue refining it’s offering and better market its products to senior living facilities across the country.

“The Ontario Brain Institute seeks to identify and support companies whose technology will benefit patients living with a brain disorder,” said Tom Mikkelsen, president and scientific director at the Ontario Brain Institute.

“Welbi will help retirement communities reduce social isolation by providing a rich and personalized experience to their residents and families, addressing a key need in the long-term care sector. As an entrepreneur Elizabeth’s successes with Welbi speaks well of her business acumen, dedication to help the community and bring about a positive change.”

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