Spokane Journal of Business

Golden Sherpa platform planned to help people find senior living

Spokane’s Golden Sherpa to launch app this summer

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-—Alla Drokina
Margie Bensching founded Golden Sherpa to help clients find the right elderly care after her own experiences helping aging parents.

When faced with the decision of finding aging parents a care facility, adult children might find themselves navigating a seemingly insurmountable process of contacting referral companies, elder care management companies and even the facilities themselves for more information.

Golden Sherpa Inc., a new platform being created to bridge crevasses between clients and providers, is set to launch this summer, says Margie Bensching, president and CEO of the service.

“We’re bringing the provider and consumer together,” Bensching says.

Bensching, who has a background in market research and business development, initially began thinking about the industry while helping an aging parent. She says she heard co-workers echo her concerns about post-retirement care for their parents when she was working as a market researcher at The Spokesman-Review newspaper years ago.

After researching the senior-living care and referral companies, Bensching realized she wanted to contribute to the industry, potentially by helping clients tour care options. Her brother, Mark Elszy, now co-founder and chief revenue officer of Golden Sherpa, advised her to create a solution that can help people “while she’s sleeping.”

Bensching found that many of the resources in the industry still relied on outdated forms of communication. She thought a platform in the form of an app and website would help time-starved professional adult children—typically between the ages of 50 and 65—easily find information to assist their aging parents with finding a bed in a facility.

The platform is intended to be time saving and cost efficient by helping clients and providers narrow down options and match with one another. Initially, there will be no fee for the clients to sign on. Providers will be expected to pay a fee without any commission costs. Certain providers, such as smaller adult family homes, may avoid working with referral companies, because of the commission fee, Bensching contends.

On both the consumer and provider side, there will be an initial survey that helps both parties find exactly what they need. Detailed information on the provider side will save clients the surprise of being interested in a home only to, say, find out that they cannot meet payments. Providers also will include information about staff ratio, accommodations, activities, and the level of care they offer.

Bensching stresses that certain clients might require regular nurse services, while some are more independent. Such details help distinguish one facility from another and to identify one that meets the client’s needs and lifestyle.

For instance, if an elderly client enjoys gardening or dancing and is fairly independent, the search helps find residential care that fits accordingly.

A Sherpa is a member of an ethnic group of Tibetan people known for guiding trekkers through the Himalayan mountains. Similarly, Golden Sherpa will act as a guide for a seamless move into a caring environment, she says.

“What they need to get them up that final last leg is a Sherpa, somebody to help them with the pitfall. We want to help you with the pitfalls,” Bensching says, “It’s a guide through the tough parts.”

Bensching has even hired a photographer to take shots of facilities that are lacking in professional photos. A client can browse the platform easily with no commitment, but there will be an option to schedule a call or visit.

In Spokane, there are 152 adult family homes, which take fewer residents, she says, and 50 assisted-living facilities, which typically accommodate more residents and can be more involved with day-to-day programs for the elderly to participate in.

Benching’s goal is to feature at least 10 percent of each category of the aforementioned retirement communities in the Spokane area on the Golden Sherpa platform by summer 2020.

It has been a year, as of January 2018, since Bensching began taking steps to start the platform, and she says patience has been the most difficult part. Many providers have expressed their support for the platform and have asked to partner with Golden Sherpa, Bensching says.

Spokane is the base camp for what Bensching says she hopes eventually will be scaled to a national level. Bensching wants to use geospatial technology, which identifies the client’s location, to help adult children find facilities for their parents in communities outside of Spokane.

Chief technology officer Manish Bhansali, corporate attorney Roger Marion, and Bensching’s husband and chief financial officer Daryle Bensching comprise the rest of the Golden Sherpa team. Golden Sherpa has been accepted into Gonzaga University’s New Venture Lab, a student organization assisting local entrepreneurs with business ventures.

Sherpa has no employees, but as of February, Bensching will work with the team of Gonzaga students, who will help with platform testing, product development, marketing, and customer targeting before the platform is ready to launch.

The initial launch will only be part one of the platform as Bensching wants improved and upgraded versions to follow. These versions will include information about provider contracts, especially what adult children and seniors should be aware of before signing a contract, and a ranking of the providers, solely based on customer surveys.

About 70 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 65 eventually will require some form of long-term care, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics.

Bensching contends she wants to fill a demand for services and create a niche that doesn’t yet exist.

Through market validation, a process comprised of interviewing one’s target business market to gauge client feedback and meeting up with providers, Bensching has gathered input about the platform from those who have been working in the industry for years.

In response to market validation, Amanda Witthauer, owner of Amazing Serenity Adult Family Home, in Colbert, says, “I am excited to see this platform and application finally get developed. We need this in the senior-living industry.”

Witthauer asserts the application will save time for both the consumer and the adult family homeowner.

When Bensching was just entertaining the idea of creating a business, her husband urged her to take a few business classes. She began early last year with a Business Model Canvas Class at StartUp Spokane, which she recommends to anyone with an idea for a business startup. There, she received helpful feedback about her business model.

Bensching credits meeting early on with Becky Tiller, of Spokane-based Tiller Care Strategies, for helping her grasp a better idea of the industry. Tiller, who has been working in the senior-living industry for around 30 years, allowed Bensching to shadow her team and scope out different providers. With Tiller’s recommendations about providers in the area, Bensching was able to target several of them.

Tiller is listed as a key partner for Golden Sherpa, and a link to her services will be included on the platform.

After finishing a 14-week Ignite Northwest program, a technology-focused business accelerator, which helped Bensching find resources for her business and test it out, she entered StartUp Spokane’s Entrepreneur program. Those key steps enabled Bensching to present her platform to Mind to Market, a program at StartUp Spokane which connects entrepreneurs with coaches to help them scale business ideas, prepare a pitch, and receive financial modeling assistance, on Oct. 22, before winning a Safe Award from Mind to Market on Jan. 27.

“My customer is the client. The person looking for placement. I don’t want to get a commission. I want it to be your fit, and I’m just giving you that information,” Bensching says.

Alla Drokina
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Before Alla started as a reporter with the Journal in 2019, she freelanced for The Pacific Northwest Inlander mostly covering culture and food. A breakfast enthusiast, she appreciates the simple things in life like cozy nooks, mystery podcasts, and 90s sitcoms.

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