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Flexable helping match parents, child care providers

| Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Alex Jones Photography
The women behind FlexAble are Priya Amin and Jessica Strong.
Alex Jones Photography
The women behind FlexAble are Priya Amin and Jessica Strong.

Anyone juggling parenthood and a job has found themselves suddenly without child care. The sitter cancels or the meeting time changes, and the scramble to secure coverage begins.

Many working moms and dads also have child care needs outside “normal” 9-to-5 business hours, whether they're forging a freelance career or working evening or weekend shifts.

Two Pittsburgh women, both with first-hand experience dealing with child care dilemmas, have developed a solution. Priya Amin and Jessica Strong are creators of Flexable, a website designed to link parents with available caregivers.

“Everybody deals with child care falling through or just child care issues in general,” says Amin of Mt. Lebanon, mom to Ronin, 6, and Kirin, 3. “There is no good way to find care at a moment's notice. There also is more demand for flexible schedules.”

Strong has worked as a grant writer, nonprofit director and entrepreneur and is the founder of Whetstone Workgroup, a co-working space with drop-in childcare in Aspinwall. She also is mom to Margo, 9, Abel, 6, and Althea, 2. When she left her full-time job to care for her kids, she planned to continue grant writing in her “spare time,” an idea she calls “laughable.”

“No one told me that was insane,” says Strong of Stanton Heights.

In 2015, Strong met Amin, a former product and brand manager at corporations such as IBM and Nestle who also left her career to raise her children while working for herself in marketing consulting. Amin also struggled to find a caregiver outside of typical work hours.

Knowing if they were having these problems, other parents were as well, the two devised a plan and were accepted into Innovation Works' AlphaLab startup accelerator program in 2016.

Months of research showed many traditional larger day care facilities are less open to filling spots last-minute as they prefer more predictable day-to-day schedules. Yet many parents do not want to commit to paying for a set number of hours every week when they may or may not need the coverage, Amin says.

Independent child care providers, such as nannies, baby sitters or stay-at-home moms looking to make extra money by watching more children, as well as smaller day care operations, often have more flexibility. Yet these caregivers often have difficulty letting families know they are available.

Flexable helps both connect. Child care providers set up professional profile pages and add their availability. Parents join for free and create profiles then add others to their network. They can see when their preferred caregivers have availability for last-minute, on-demand or back-up care and which providers are recommended by their friends.

As a self-employed single mother, Mary Beth Green of Highland Park often needs care for her son, Braden, 6, outside the hours traditional day cares offer. She's relied on Flexable to cover weekend and evening hours when needed and says the site offers her peace of mind.

“It's a relief because child care is a necessity for me,” says Green, a technology commercialization consultant.

Green says she hopes to see even more providers, particularly those located in the city, register with the site. She likes that the site can connect parents and caregivers who might live in the same community but wouldn't otherwise meet.

“You might have a neighbor two blocks away who is a qualified care provider,” she says. “Flexable fills the general need for child care, but it also builds community.”

Danielle Tharp runs Family Tree Daycare, a state-licensed business, from her Murrysville home. She began working in child care shortly after the birth of her daughter, Dasia, now 11.

Prior to finding Flexable, Tharp, also mom to David, 9, relied on sites like Care.com and CraigsList, as well as social media and flyers to find families in need of her service.

“I really relied on word-of-mouth,” she says. “Initially, it was very challenging promoting and marketing the business on my own.”

Flexable has helped her connect with parents who have needs outside typical day care hours, she says. Tharp is able to care for up to six children at a time though she rarely has that many, making it easy for her to meet the needs of someone who only requires occasional care.

“Flexable is meeting a very specific need in the industry,” she says.

The site is in its beta phase and currently has a database of 100 caregivers. Strong and Amin have launched an Indigogo campaign to help expand their technology, reach more care providers and develop an app.

They already matched dozens of families in Allegheny County, but the goal is to grow far beyond Western Pennsylvania.

“Our hope is to go national,” says Amin.

Details: flexablecare.com or find them on Indiegogo.com

Rachel Weaver is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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