Ex Health CEO starts firm to help seniors age at home

LONDON: An ex-health chief executive officer is behind a startup which assists seniors to age at home.

Karl Ulfers built Rally Health, a syndicate of Optum, from 60 employees in 2013 to now over 1,500. But he stepped away as CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based digital health platform a year ago to found a startup with a mission that was personal to him.

This venture is called Duos, which pairs a trained personal assistant for aging with an older adult, thereby creating a duo. These companions provide everything from help ordering groceries to arranging safe transportation and companionship.

Duos enters the scene as staffing shortages at senior housing facilities have caused 70% of nursing homes in Minnesota to limit admissions, according to Care Providers of Minnesota, a long-term care trade association. The situation is becoming so dire that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is calling on the help of the Minnesota National Guard to support these facilities.

Minneapolis-based Duos is reversing this trend by utilizing a 9-to-3 economy of stay-at-home parents to act as trained, personalized support for the more than 12 million Americans over 65 years old who live alone.

Ulfers said this novel workforce is highly educated and motivated, but remains largely untapped. “If they weren’t acting as a Duo, they would be volunteering,” Ulfers said.

And while the health care system has addressed the social determinants of health (SDoH), Duos is working to tackle the social determinants of aging (SDoA), which specifically addresses the needs of seniors.

Duos assists with SDoA by combining human contact with technology to provide personalized service. Each one of the company’s personal assistants sets their own schedule and works one-on-one with the client and their family.

Prior to founding Duos, Ulfers spent nearly eight years in senior leadership roles at Optum Inc., a fast-growing division of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group, before taking executive roles at Rally Health.

Instead of staying at Rally, Ulfers said he wanted the opportunity to grow a company from the ground up. That opportunity came after he saw how adamant his older-than-90 grandparents were to live in their own home.

This phenomenon isn’t unique. According to the AARP, 90% of Baby Boomers say they want to age at home.

“It’s not surprising that the generation that defied the status quo in their youth is choosing to retain their freedom as they age,” Ulfers said in a statement. “This ageless generation is the inspiration for Duos.”

Since emerging from stealth in February, Duos has raised $6 million in seed funding and is available directly to consumers nationwide.

Ulfers is now building out his fully remote team by hiring software engineers, operations specialists and product managers.