After dealing with the loss of a grandparent who experienced social isolation in a senior living community, entrepreneur Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau wanted to help make sure other families didn’t end up the same situation.

In 2016, she co-founded Welbi, a software company that helps staff at senior living communities plan activities — like shopping trips or movie nights — to promote social connection among residents. During the COVID pandemic, Welbi saw demand for its services soar, and it expanded its workforce from three people to 21. Today, Welbi impacts the lives of more than 30,000 senior living residents.

Here's how Audette-Bourdeau and her team worked to make Welbi a success, along with her advice for entrepreneurs experiencing setbacks.

The pitch: Welbi helps staff at senior living communities personalize the experience for residents. The software allows staff to get to know residents better by suggesting questions and helping them fill out an assessment. Then it can match them with other residents who have similar hobbies, are from the same town or speak the same language. Welbi will make recommendations for events that new residents should join in order to maximize their engagement and get to know other people. It also allows staff in senior living communities to keep track of who’s attended activities and who hasn’t so that nobody’s forgotten.

The “aha” moment: After my grandpa’s health started to decline in 2016, my family moved him into a senior living community where he could meet other residents and where staff would look out for him. Sadly, the opposite happened and he ended up being socially isolated. He passed away a few months later. For me, that was an awakening. Even though the staff truly want to provide residents with a personalized experience, they don’t have the resources to do so.

How it got started: Welbi got started as part of Revera’s Innovators in Aging Program — we built a prototype and ran a pilot study in one of their communities. Now, Welbi is used in Revera communities across Canada.

How Welbi helps hard-pressed care staff: Senior living community staff are superheroes. They want to do everything they can for residents, but they’re overwhelmed. Welbi saves them about 25 hours a month of administrative time, so they can spend that time with their residents instead of sitting behind a desk.

Welbi digitizes everything that would normally be on paper, which makes it a lot easier to access. The software also automates most administrative tasks and reports. Welbi can generate a personalized calendar based on a resident’s likes and previous event participation. Before, staff would have to print a calendar for each resident and manually highlight events that they thought residents might like — and it’s tough to remember what 100 people like and dislike.

Keeping families up to date: Families of residents have access to on-demand reports about what their loved one has been doing, including if there has been a change in their habits or their engagement. It gives peace of mind to the family.

Early missteps: Welbi originally launched as a wearable technology that connected to smartwatches and sent alerts to caregivers whenever there was a change in the wearer’s habits. But we detected that the residents were either not wearing the bracelets or forgetting to charge them, so we couldn’t really provide the caregivers with the insights they needed. It just wasn’t working. Then we realized that the issue wasn’t about keeping track of residents’ vital signs or habits that way — the issue was that the staff are completely overwhelmed. But failing is a good lesson.

Advice to other entrepreneurs on overcoming challenges as a startup: You need to have motivation, vision and a mission that drives you (beyond just making money), because it does get hard — running your own startup is not easy and entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. You need a reason to get up in the morning and to help you go to bed late at night, and to persevere whenever it gets hard.

What’s the best advice that a grandparent has ever given you? My grandma used to say that “family always comes first.”

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