The past two years of the pandemic have presented unprecedented childcare challenges for parents. From childcare and school closures to online learning, parents have had to juggle a lot of new responsibilities alongside their day jobs.
Unfortunately, the workload was not evenly distributed. When childcare was hard to come by, it was disproportionately mothers who were impacted. As a result, over a million women dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic started and have yet to return.
These challenges were not new
When we set out to build Winnie six years ago, it was because as working mothers, we struggled to find childcare for our own young children. It was difficult to discover all the day cares that existed, let alone assess their quality or afford their prices.
As moms and as technologists we used our background building products at Google, Twitter, and other top tech companies to understand if we could build technology to solve problems in childcare. What we found were myriad opportunities for technology to drive much-needed innovation in childcare.
For example, spaces in quality day-care and preschool centers are hard to come by, but still, many spots go unfilled—leaving providers less profitable than they could be. This is mainly due to poor matching between what parents are looking for and available spaces—exactly a problem that marketplace technology can solve.
More recently, childcare providers have struggled with staffing their centers owing to a shortage of workers. To attract workers to the profession, we need to lower the barriers to entry and improve the careers and pay for the people already in the field of early education.
There has been a big boom in online learning, but there’s still very little educational technology dedicated to training and upskilling our early educators. This is another area ripe for technological innovation.
Finally, there’s an opportunity to automate and improve the many aspects of running a childcare business, such as enrollment paperwork, parent payments, staff payroll, and communication between parents and providers. Reducing administrative tasks can save childcare providers time and money.
To encourage this much-needed innovation in the childcare industry, we need to fund companies run by people who experience these problems firsthand. Unfortunately, female founders accounted for a mere 2% of venture capital funds raised in 2021, the smallest share since 2016. Of the 1,250 unicorn companies worth a collective $4.3 trillion, not one focuses on childcare.
There are reasons to be hopeful
Efforts to invest in women are growing. Recently Winnie was invited to take part in Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp, a weeklong mentorship program for women tech founders. Not only is Entrepreneur Camp free, once accepted into the program, but it meant personalized help and expertise from Apple’s world-class team that was valuable beyond dollars and cents.
For example, in a one-on-one session with Apple’s design evangelists, we made a major breakthrough with our app architecture that helped us develop an App Clip that we can deliver to unauthenticated users. This means users can access the functionality of Winnie without needing the app to be installed on their phone, allowing us to expand Winnie’s reach to more parents.
The pandemic showed us that childcare is essential to a functioning society. It’s time to invest in innovation that bolsters the childcare industry, and we can start by supporting, funding, and promoting the women and mothers who care deeply about these problems.
Anne Halsall and Sara Mauskopf are the cofounders of Winnie.