Why this founder created a Tinder-like site for personal carers

29 Aug 2019

Austen Burns of Personal Carer. Image: TechWatch

Personal Carer is one of 12 finalists in the upcoming Invent 2019 competition. TechWatch’s Emily McDaid spoke to founder Austen Burns to find out more.

Warrenpoint-based Austen Burns knows from personal experience how important it is to find the right carer. Burns has cerebral palsy and has always found creative ways to cope with his condition, such as doing horse riding to build muscle tone and gain physical strength.

Now, he is using the skills he picked up from his degree in computing at Queen’s University Belfast and a master’s in marketing from Ulster University to change the status quo in how people find carers.

Through his website, Personal Carer, people with disabilities or who require extra assistance, such as the elderly, can find experienced carers in their area.

Typically, people work with a care agency to find personal assistance, but agencies will always takes a percentage of the payment to cover their high overheads. They also often don’t allow the customer to choose which carer is sent out to them.

“It was clear to me that a more personal approach was needed,” Burns said.

“My website gives the individual the power to search for and choose a carer who has particular skills or the best personality match. It’s actually similar to the search methods used by dating sites. This approach makes it easier to find a suitable person and means both the carer and individual can build a better working relationship.”

‘Cutting out the middleman’

It’s clear that Burns’s solution is aimed at improving lives. But from a business perspective, the launch of Personal Carer is well-timed.

Over the past several years, the NHS has moved away from the approach of providing carers to people with disabilities and older people, instead giving ‘direct payments’ – a budget that they can use themselves to employ carers. It gives people more choice in how they are cared for, but it also gives them the added responsibility of finding the right person.

“That’s where my website really helps people. It alleviates the pressure off families who need to find a suitable carer,” Burns said.

The website already has more than 500 registered carers and more than 200 end users.

‘This all leads to a more transparent, consistent and better service for carers and those who need them’

It’s clear that Burns has gained many skills through his various interests and pastimes.

“I’m quite into disability sports – I have competed with the Irish Paralympic equestrian squad,” he said. “I ride horses regularly and do dressage competitions. For instance, I recently competed in the Riding for the Disabled National Championships.”

When he’s not on horseback, Burns said he’s mainly focused on work. “Most recently I have been working in IT and communications with the Centre for Independent Living NI. They help people get set up with social care and enable people to live independently.”

Looking to the future, Burns said he has three main ambitions with Personal Carer.

“First, to give disabled people more choice and control over the care and support they receive. Second, to make it easier to find affordable and good care, and third, to improve the livelihood of carers by making care a more rewarding job, both professionally and financially.

“By cutting out the middleman, carers will earn more of what the client pays. Ultimately this all leads to a more transparent, consistent and better service for carers and those who need them.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch.

Personal Carer is a finalist in the annual Invent competition run by Catalyst, aiming to showcase the best and brightest innovators that Northern Ireland has to offer. Invent 2019 will take place on Thursday 10 October in Belfast, where 12 finalists will battle it out for a £33,000 prize fund.

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland