The employee benefit platform provides solution for caregiving crisis.
Anita Darden Gardyne and her siblings were the first generation in her family to graduate from high school. She excelled in her studies, eventually going to college and creating her own major, Economics in the Black Community, at UC Berkeley, and then earning an MBA from her alma mater. Now, she’s CEO and Chairman of the Board of Onēva, an award-winning employee benefit platform that connects caregivers with families in need of help.
Gardyne created her company in 2014 because she had a seven-year-old child at home, and she needed to care for her elderly mother at the same time. However, she could not find help. “There was no way to find easy access to trusted care for my kid or my mom, and caregivers who mostly look like me didn’t earn enough money to live,” she says. “There needed to be a solution for that.”
When Gardyne heard about the paltry wages the average caregiver makes—around $10 an hour—and other platforms that dictated how much caregivers would be paid, she decided to take the matter into her own hands. On Onēva, when caregivers who have been FBI-background checked sign up, they determine their wages and the schedule they want to work, and families can decide to work with them based on that and their skillset.
“I’ve always had a personal commitment to figuring out how to create a large number of good paying jobs for people who look like me,” she says. Onēva, which is a certified minority-owned business, started out as a consumer platform, but switched over to an employee benefit platform that matches caregivers to employees who pay for the service with their Flexible Spending Account (FSA) benefits.
Gardyne partnered with Microsoft Benefits, so the platform is available to Microsoft employees, along with employees at other partners. It offers additional care services like driving, massages, childcare, special needs care and housekeeping. She won a USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) patent for ‘Creating Trust and Safety in the In-Home Care Market’ in 2019, and the company was awarded Best Startup in Silicon Valley 2015 and was a TechCrunch Disrupt runner-up in 2017.
“We know there are great companies out there that want to support employees in having work-life balance and can contribute to that care,” says Gardyne, who is based in Oakland, California. “We believe very strongly in living rates, and we have wonderful folks here in Silicon Valley who can afford to pay our talented caregivers what they’re worth.”
When COVID hit in March 2020, Gardyne was getting ready to launch the newly redesigned Onēva platform. Throughout the pandemic, the company has grown to 15 employees and is projected to keep growing bigger. “Maybe folks who had parents in nursing homes saw things that made them want to bring their parents home,” she says. “We absolutely anticipate continuing seeing people who want to retire at home as opposed to a rest home type of facility.”
Insurance companies have approached Onēva because there is so much demand. On the caregiver side, the company is providing many new opportunities for laid-off bus operators, retail workers and teachers who lost their jobs because of COVID.
Even with all her success—Gardyne was previously Director of Finance for IDG Channel Services Group, Finance Director at Pacific Bell (AT&T) and Manager of Planning and Performance at Levi Strauss & Co.—she’s had her struggles as a woman of color. She cited the fact that Black and Latinx women combined only received 0.64% of total venture capital investment between 2018 and 2019, according to Fortune magazine.
“Sometimes we’re told that if you do this and this, it’ll put you on the right path to get funding and I keep doing those things, but it’s a stubborn challenge for me,” she says. At her own company, Gardyne ensures there is diversity and inclusion, and she chooses to partner with inclusive organizations as well.
“Diversity and inclusion are how we connect with one another and share information,” she says. “We need to be open to that. Demographically, in 1978 at the age of 15, I was able to see that the world is changing and there will be more people of color. If companies want to reach those customers, they have to be able to communicate with them.”
Gardyne foresees Onēva becoming a billion-dollar global company that will continue to provide for families and caregivers whenever they need help. “Our business model says that caregivers have to earn a living rate wherever they are in the world. That’s something we strongly care about.”