In this episode of Raising Tech, our host, Amber Bardon, has a captivating conversation with Ryan Galea, CEO of Icon, where he illustrates how Icon's all-in-one engagement platform is enhancing communication and boosting resident & family engagement
at Senior Living communities.
Formerly CareMerge and VoiceFriends, Icon gives your Senior Living community the tools to communicate and engage with your entire community including residents, families, and staff efficiently and effectively on a HIPAA-compliant platform. Discover how Icon can help reduce overtime at Senior Living communities by up to 10% and learn more about the benefits of using Icon by listening to the entire episode.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Welcome to Raising Tech. I'm your host Amber Bardon, and today we have a guest I'm really excited to talk to and learn more about what is going on at his company. Ryan Galea, welcome to the show.Ryan Galea:
Awesome, thanks for having me.Amber Bardon:
So, you are the CEO of Icon and for those of you who have not heard of Icon , it is a merger of two companies you probably have heard of, which is VoiceFriend and Caremerge. So, Ryan, let's start there because I know I get asked by a lot of our clients. What is Icon ? What does the merger mean? Can you just dive into that a little bit?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, absolutely. So Icon is the combination of the Caremerge Engagement platform and VoiceFriend. The business is truly focused on engagement and communication in the senior living space. The Caremerge brand now has been spun out into a separate platform that's focused on the clinical market. So specifically the EMR and EHR side of things. I think that, you know, the separation with a dedicated best of breed engagement platform now that can go head to head with some of the other solutions on the market and kind of reduces some of the market confusion that I think Caremerge was having as a business before coming from also being in the clinical space.Amber Bardon:
So Ryan, tell me a little bit more about your involvement. How did you come to the industry? How did you come to Icon ? Were you working for Caremerge or VoiceFriend or what's your involvement and how did you move into your role?Ryan Galea:
Absolutely. So my background is on the investing side of things. I worked in healthcare and tech investing for a number of years and so when I wanted to go out and do something entrepreneurial, given my background, it made a lot more sense to start where I was strong, which was going out and actually acquiring companies and bringing them together versus starting something from scratch. So in 2021, I launched a fund with the goal of going out and consolidating some of the fragmented technology in the senior care space. First acquisition we did was a company called VoiceFriend, which is a communication platform in 2021, and then we followed that up last year, 2022 with the acquisition of the Caremerge Engagement platform. And then in September of last year we merged the business together and rebranded them under the Icon brand really with the mission of really innovating the senior experience within senior living, providing tools to engage, inform and unite all stakeholders within that ecosystem more or less.Amber Bardon:
And I'm just curious, what was your interest in getting into the senior living space? It's a pretty unique space and a little bit of a niche space.Ryan Galea:
Yeah, no, it's a great question. It was a combination of two things. So I was working on Wall Street, probably was going to be there my whole life. I was enjoying it. But then my grandmother gotten sick and she had been sick for a number of years. She was actually in in Canada. But you know, the Canadian senior living system or senior care system faces a lot of the same challenges we have here. And I just saw firsthand due to the labor challenges that she just didn't get the care I think she deserved during those last few years of her life. Didn't make things worse, didn't accelerate her condition in any way , but just made that experience not as pleasant as it I think it otherwise could have been. And you know, I remember one of my conversations with her during that time and you know she was telling me about her stage advice was to life's too short. You've got to take advantage of the time you have, you don't want to have any regrets. So that really resonated with me. And so the combination of those two things led me to make the decisions, to leave what I was doing to do something more entrepreneurial. I always wanted to have an impact and felt that I would be regretful if I didn't do that in my life. And then given her experience, I thought what better than to try to get involved in improving senior care and that experience for other seniors like my grandmother. So it was like a combination of those two things and left and quit my job and started from scratch in 2021 on this new pursuit.Amber Bardon:
I was curious if you had a personal tie because actually we have a lot of entrepreneurs who come on this podcast who have gotten into this space because of a similar personal story. So I was curious if you had a personal story behind that and you do. Yeah , so for those people out there who are familiar with Caremerge, which I think Caremerge to me is kind of the leading known resident engagement app . So when I'm talking to my clients and I mention a resident engagement app and they're not sure what that is and I say, "oh, like Caremerge?" They usually know what I'm talking about. So one of the questions I've had a lot of our clients ask is what does this mean for Caremerge? Are things changing? Do they have to worry about differences? Is this going to enhance the service offering? Can you talk about that a little bit? And then one other additional question along with that is will there be an integration with VoiceFriend or what does that look like?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, absolutely. The primary goal of the merger, the rebrand, and what I'm trying to build with, you know, the investment fund I raised is to really reimagine the platform and take it to the next level we want to be and continue to be as Caremerge. I think had done very successfully, you know, be a symbol of innovation in this industry. And so whereas Caremerge is an engagement platform, we think the next natural step is what we call experience management. So we don't want to only give you the tools to engage your audience, but also the ability to measure what impact that engagement's having and then give you the insights into what you can do to actually improve that experience even further. And so we're investing very heavily in the platform with a lot of exciting stuff. I'm sure we'll talk about coming out later in this year, but really what the goal of giving you everything you need to offer your seniors an amazing experience, or as my marketing department likes to say, making the aging experience iconic. I think if you look at a lot of other consumer brands and senior living is really, it's a consumer product in a sense. You know , a lot of brands focus a lot of brand loyalty, brand reputation, you know , think of Apple, Lululemon talking about your dog, two dogs, myself and Chewy is a great example of an amazing consumer brand. They send us a letter, a handwritten letter every year on our dog's birthday, which is just a great touch. And you haven't seen that that much in senior living yet, but I think it's a natural progression as you know, the market gets more competitive and kind of matures. And so we want to give you what you need to kind of build that brand experience, that brand loyalty and kind of make a fanatical experience where people love your brand and not only the family members, but also the staff.Amber Bardon:
Can I ask you, when you're talking about that experience, do you have in mind the actual residents or their providers or both?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, so the way we think about it is to offer an amazing experience to the resident. Like there are a North Star at the end of the day, but every stakeholder involved is gonna filter up that experience. So if you don't have a happy staff member, for example, happy caregiver, there's no way you can give a good experience to the senior. So we're focused on the experience of every stakeholder. So whether it's the resident, the staff, their family members, providers, whatever it is, all those groups and giving you what you need to make sure that they're satisfied so that that senior has a good experience. You know, going back to my grandmother, it was really because the staff was not great work environment. They didn't really care as much as they could have if the company invested in making them happy and giving them that experience. So we think about it really holistically.Amber Bardon:
That's interesting. I was trying to imagine how that customized piece of that experience branding would work from all those different stakeholders.Ryan Galea:
Yeah , there's a lot of nuance to it, but ultimately if there's two things you're trying to do, attract and retain, whether it's staff, whether it's residents, whatever it is, those are the two things you're trying to do and the tactics to do that tend to be very similarAmber Bardon:
For those who are not familiar with Caremerge (and there might be some listeners out there), can you give us a high level overview of what it does? Because I know there's the resident engagement piece, which is really well known , but there's also an EMR platform side of it. So can you talk a little bit about that?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, the EMR platform, which is now what Caremerge, going forward what Caremerge is, and Icon is integrated with that platform still, and so we still have a very tight integration between the two, but Caremerge as is today now is a traditional medication management, electronic health record platform that's used by caregiving staff to manage the care of the residents within the community. So very focused, very much on the clinical side. So we want people, Caremerge is clinical now and Icon is engagement, and so that's really the distinction between the two. So, in terms of the engagement pieces that came with Caremerge, they had kind of a life enrichment program calendar management piece to it. So, everything you need to really manage your wellness and life enrichment programming. So tracking attendance, you know , participation, whatever it is. Resident portal , as you mentioned, the hub if you will, for all resident needs that they can access via a smart device. There's a family facing version of that as well, which is typically very useful in a higher acuity setting where the resident isn't going to be as engaged on the app, and then we have all different channels of communicating and sharing information. So whether that's interim tv, public signage, Amazon Alexa devices, whatever it is, any touchpoint you need to communicate and engage with your resident.Amber Bardon:
One of the big trends that I see with our clients, and especially when we're working on new construction projects is wanting to have integration across multiple types of platforms with an ultimate focus on life safety and wellness for residents. So I think, and I've said on this podcast before that we're not too far off from a point in time in which a potential family member or resident will ask the community questions like, "what technology do you have in place to keep me safe? How will you know if I fall, how are you going to make sure I get up in the morning?," and so that ties in a lot of different types of systems from emergency call systems to engagement systems, you know, to things like what VoiceFriend is doing . So how do you envision Icon approaching that and being a solution oriented product for those types of situations?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, I think the big thing about it, and you kind of touched on it, is there is a lot of different approaches you need to have in the cookbook to be successful. I think just by nature of the type of resident you're working with, what's gonna be effective in safety, wellness, whatever it is, is gonna be a little bit different, and that's why we have really gone all in on being omnichannel and that was the big part of bringing on the VoiceFriend part of the suite. VoiceFriend's always been very strong in what I would call more legacy communication. So you know, voice calls and text messages and so VoiceFriend can be used for phone-based safety and wellness check-ins, whereas the camera suite can be used for Alexa-based wellness and safety check-ins. And I think the next natural step is actually now integrating that with the PERS nurse call systems, which hasn't been done really yet, but I think it's kind of the natural next step is to bring that really full circle and have the last piece of communication that we're not touching yet.Amber Bardon:
Yeah, and there's such an interesting opportunity in independent living and a little bit more in the assisted living because a lot of this technology has been focused more in the skilled application, but as we know, skilled is becoming less and less important to a lot of communities with more of a focus on the IL side. And I think a lot of communities have not typically thought of providing these types of services to IL because by definition they're independent. But if you can do it in a really unobtrusive way and in a way that can make them have like a peace of mind without feeling that they're being monitored, it's interesting to think about what the possibilities. And along those lines, I wanna touch on one other type of technology, which is smart homes. So, I know a lot of the resident engagement apps out there don't touch smart homes, and I spoke to Nancy, a long time ago, when she was the CEO of Caremerge, and she had kind of mentioned that that wasn't the direction that the company was going, but I know that's been a couple years and I do see a big need for that sort of holistic app to control all these different components. So I'm just curious, do you have any plans or anything you can share around any smart home type functions or integrations?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, so I think it is on the ladder . So we want to be the hub and the way, and which is why I think Caremerge is really attractive. When I was looking at what to use as the foundation of the platform we're looking to build is that, you know, there were very data forward and it was really easy for them to integrate with pretty much anything you can think of. And so I think there's some phenomenal companies out there in the consumer sector that are building the best smart home technology already. I mean Amazon is doing a ton of stuff there and we're never going to be able to build the smart home tech that Amazon can build, but we can leverage it in this setting. And so by nature of our platform, having the easy ability to integrate, we'll be able to integrate with all off-these-shelf smarthome products that are getting to be pretty solid at this point. And so allow you to leverage consumer -grade products in this setting and be able to integrate that data with your whole holistic resident experience platform.Amber Bardon:
Oh , that sounds really exciting. Is there anything else you want our listeners to know about Icon or anything going on with the company or information you want to share?Ryan Galea:
Yeah, I think I'll share that at its core Icon, we're trying to be more than just the collection technologies . We're trying to be the testament to the power of what you can do by creating a seamless and remarkable ecosystem, if you will, in senior living. So we're not just trying to give you technology, we're not trying to solve problems, we're trying to really shape and experience and foster, inspire, connect everybody in that ecosystem, building that digital bridge to ultimately do that. I want everyone to note that the last year we spent really building that foundation, integrating VoiceFriend with the Icon product and setting us up for success, but we're not resting on our laurels, and we are innovating very aggressively now and I think we are gonna be making some pretty dramatic leaps over the next six to 12 months, and I think coming up in Q4, you're going to see for the first time some of these really interesting, exciting things and it'll give a great preview into the direction that we're heading. This market's ever changing, technology's ever changing and we want to be at the front of it.Amber Bardon:
Where can our listeners find more information about Icon ? Where can they stay up to date on all these exciting innovations coming out in the next few months?Ryan Galea:
Absolutely! GoIcon .com is a great place to check out . We post a lot of content that kind of foreshadows what's coming out if we haven't publicly talked about it yet. I try to do a monthly webinar that listeners can tune into where I'll share a bit about what we're building, preview some of the tech. We did a great one on AI last month where I previewed, we integrated ChatGPT into the VoiceFriend product, and so I gave you a little sneak peek into what that might look like. And then also feel free to follow me on LinkedIn, I try to write a blog post for two every couple weeks about what I'm seeing, what we're thinking about doing next.Amber Bardon:
Fantastic! Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I certainly learned a lot and had a lot of my questions about the merger answered .Ryan Galea:
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me!Amber Bardon:
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