Written by Deena Douara
You plan a trip for one week and there’s a wealth of resources available to you. Fellow travelers contribute to a vast database, post pics, share reviews and provide context.
But what if you were going somewhere new for years, and at your most vulnerable state?
Amazingly, Bojana Nedic says, there was no objective TripAdvisor-like digest for retirement options in Canada. So she and cofounder Andrew Colterjohn set out to create one.
The idea for Pearl’s Choice began when Colterjohn set out to find a home for his grandmother and was shocked to discover how difficult it was to find a comprehensive resource. It wasn’t possible, for example, to efficiently filter choices by simple preferences. Instead, his family took days off work to explore multiple options, only to immediately walk back out of some of them.
Nedic and Colterjohn had known each other since childhood and university, and Bojana had previously launched a health-care consulting company. Nedic’s background is in geriatrics and health-care research, and has also worked at a distress hotline, where she was shocked by the number of calls received from lonely seniors. Meanwhile, Colterjohn worked as an investment banker before quitting to travel and find a new path.
Once his grandmother (“Pearl” on Facebook) started to need more help, the pair didn’t have to search for a new business idea — the need had come to them.
“My life has been building up to this,” says Nedic, emotional. “It’s incredibly rewarding.”
Building out Pearl’s Choice involved scouring the Yellow Pages, 411 and the internet before making calls to gain as much information as possible, “city by city, town by town throughout all of Canada…. We’re more comprehensive than the Canadian Seniors Housing report.” Quebec is currently excluded.
Seniors have varied needs, explains Nedic, which complicates the process: Do they need a grab bar or toilet seat lift? Do they need wide doorways for a walker? What about cultural or dietary requirements and the social environment of a residence? Does the home allow pets?
“The biggest thing about retirement living is the social aspect and knowing they’re going to be safe,” says Nedic, addressing the stigma that exists for some around moving family into retirement homes. “When you know your loved one is somewhere safe, where they’re in a community of peers and they’re seeing other people for breakfast, lunch and dinner, someone’s going to notice if something happens — that gives families extra peace of mind.”
Nedic says their service has helped over 50,000 Canadians access resources, which is free to users.
She says families often start their search during a time of crisis, which can be stressful for everyone involved. Pearl’s Choice attempts to alleviate some of that by booking tours, identifying good matches and generally speeding up the process. She estimates they bring the process down from about two months to two weeks.
Nedic, Colterjohn, and cofounder Ian Lenihan received “fantastic support” from Seneca’s HELIX program, including help with mentorship, focus groups and the website.
“I didn’t know anything about running a business so they really filled that knowledge gap.” She says coming from the social services sector, sales and financing were a new challenge for her. “It’s one thing to have a great idea, but it’s another thing to be able to share that with people who can finance that idea.”
“I think I gained about a decades’ worth of knowledge in a year and half,” she says.
Pearl’s Choice has also been supported by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, ventureLAB BOOST, Futurpreneur and all three levels of government as well as informally through local community.
“The startup ecosystem is thriving in Toronto and we try to take advantage as best we can.… There’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration.”
“I feel very supported,” she adds. “I see more women, more different ethnicities, startups talking to each other from different industries and learning from each other. It’s a culture of sharing that hasn’t been seen before.”
“On any night there’s an event you can choose to go to, whether it’s women in tech or coding classes or free marketing seminars. If you’re a self-motivator there’s a plethora of things to do in this city; you just have to reach out and grab it.”