Co-Founders Ferrona Lie (1Y 2021) and Andrew Mueller (2Y, 2021) discuss their venture, Near, a tech concierge that supports older adults.

Near: Using Tech to Improve Quality of Living for Older Adults

By Ferrona Lie (1Y, 2021; She/Her) & Andrew Mueller (2Y, 2021; He/Him) 

In my second year at Kellogg, I found myself registering for a class with a pre-determined team of friends — with social goals trumping academic. I came in ready to work on my friend’s barbeque product (Shoutout BBQ Basket @Greg!!) and ready for a fun quarter working on an interesting concept. Little did I know that pushing myself to pitch a different idea I personally cared about during the first class would turn into a startup venture three quarters later, and an incredibly fruitful experience.

Developing their new venture

It just so happened that another classmate was passionate about the problems facing older adults and wanted to team up. I bailed on the BBQ fam and took a chance to work on an arguably less sexy concept working with seniors — and it has turned into quite a journey! We finished New Venture Discovery with our classmates’ stamp of approval, awarding us the most (fictional) investment dollars, and our first advisor in Professor Lisa Schumacher. Shortly thereafter, we were accepted into New Venture Development — the follow up course where ideas for startups become a reality. The momentum continued, and we were chosen as one of eight finalists from 223 applicants in 37 countries to be a finalist in the Stanford Center for Longevity Design Challenge.

After several iterations on our business model, the problem we ended up focusing on was this: many older adults are uncomfortable using technology, despite its incredible abilities to connect and protect us as we age in our homes. Older adults struggle with determining which devices to choose, how to set them up and maintain them, and how to best use them to benefit their lives. And with home care labor shortages projected while the population over 65 is expected to double, technology that reduces the burden of care provides an incredible opportunity to fill this gap.

Across our 80+ customer interviews, we saw that people were both unaware of the benefits of many tech devices but, importantly, they were unwilling to try without help, and without first feeling confident with the devices they already had.

So, we got started.

Launching Near

Near is a tech concierge for your parents. We provide personalized device recommendations and 1-on-1 tech coaching to help older adults stay connected with their family and friends.

While we had a lot of confidence, there was a need for our service based on research & interviews, we hadn’t validated any assumptions with actual customers. In our first week of New Venture Development, our professor, Rick Desai, pushed us to find an actual customer and begin testing offers in the real world. This challenge forced us to ignore any self-doubt or COVID-related hesitations, and to our surprise, it worked! A simple Nextdoor post took off, and the responses from the Evanston community were overwhelming. We know that we have hit a nerve, and now it’s all about refining our offerings, adding value in between in person visits, and working through family members to add value to them with actionable updates.

So what’s next? Near is preparing to take on seed funding this spring to accelerate our solution and grow our team and continue vetting best-in-class tech products that can add value to our target demographic. We’re very excited about the road ahead!

While we currently serve the Chicagoland area, we are looking for ways to grow! If you have feedback, a parent or grandparent in the Chicagoland area, or any questions, please reach out to andrew@feelnear.com!