The University of Canterbury Startup Helps Seniors Go Digital

A new startup called GranSkills is created by University of Canterbury (UC) students Phoebe McCaughan, Amelia McLuskie and Emily O’Sullivan. It’s designed to provide one-on-one tutoring for the elderly to help them learn how to use digital devices for fun and communication.

The idea for GranSkills came up when the three friends were studying Law and Arts during the COVID-19 lockdown last year as part of the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) Summer Startup Programme.

The programme provides UC students with the ability to flesh out and enact their entrepreneurial ideas with mentoring and advice from industry experts.

“We realised there weren’t any personal tutoring services out there for elderly people and decided to set it up ourselves. Every time we hear about the success of our clients, it’s so heart-warming,” McCaughan says.

“Everyday technology that younger people take for granted like emailing photos, watching Netflix, video chatting or playing a card game online are all things that older people have got trouble. Ultimately we want to help seniors have a better life with stronger connections with their loved ones,” she says.

“We’re passionate about helping people out. It can be something simple, like setting up a FaceTime video call so they can see friends and family overseas. One client I taught recently was able to see his brother in the United Kingdom face-to-face for the first time since 1993.”

One client found the relatively uncomplicated use of YouTube to be a wholly novel and revolutionary experience, as it allowed them to access videos to learn new skills from home.

The trio is now working full-time, as well as fostering the growth of GranSkills. O’Sullivan is a policy advisor in Wellington, and McCaughan and McLuskie are both law clerks in Christchurch.

GranSkills has seen growth through advertising in a local newspaper, as well as referrals from Age Concern. They have also hired two new GranSkills tutors (also UC students) to keep up with demand.

McCaughan acknowledges that group lessons can be overwhelming for the elderly, so personalised one-on-one tutoring is the answer.

“Giving them the personalised approach means they can take their time and form a connection with the tutor. I’ve developed great friendships with some of the clients I worked with, and they seem to enjoy the company.”

In the long-term, the founders hope that GranSkills will become a service that is available nationwide.


Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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