Startup connects college students and senior citizens for companionship

Nov. 11, 2019, 11:02 p.m.

Millions of older adults between age 50 and 80 are feeling increasingly isolated and are facing higher rates of loneliness and depression than ever before. Mon Ami, a Stanford-grad startup, focuses on addressing this problem by connecting college students to senior citizens in need of companionship, with students to get paid for reading books, talking about their days and playing board games with the seniors.

“The number of caregivers available to take care of their aging parents and loved ones are shrinking dramatically,” said Madeline Dangerfield-Cha M.B.A. ’18, who is the co-founder and Head of Product. 

When asked if Mon Ami’s business model, enables “friendship for hire,” Dangerfield-Cha acknowledges that “there is an incredibly human element, but also a transactional element of what we do … but some of our students who participate describe it as their ‘spiritual gym,’ or another who described it as his ‘therapy.’” 

“The strain on family members in caring for someone with a diagnosis like Alzheimer’s creates intense stress, guilt and struggle for which there are very few solutions and certainly not enough that focus on the emotional wellbeing of both the family members and their aging adult parent,” Dangerfield-Cha said.

With this problem in mind, Joy Zhang M.B.A. ’18 and Dangerfield-Cha realized that they could utilize the power of youth found across Stanford’s campus to provide “joy, a moment of respite and a deep breath” to family members and senior citizens.

After iterating this idea through the course STRAMGT 356: StartUp Garage on campus and interviewing over 150 people who wanted their loved ones to feel companionship as they struggled with a condition like dementia, both Zhang and Dangerfield-Cha realized that senior citizens suffering from loneliness is a large-scale problem. According to researchers from the University of Michigan, one in three senior citizens report feeling a lack of companionship. 

Mon Ami got some of their first paid student companions on Stanford’s campus. Mary Gillette ’22 applied to Mon Ami after she saw an advertisement in an email newsletter.

“It was a relief to break out of the campus bubble and spend time with someone in the community,” she said. When asked to share her favorite memory of Mon Ami, Gillette recounts working with Marcia, her companion. 

“Marcia had so many stories of all the countries she had traveled to, and it was heart-warming to just walk and listen to her talk about her favorite trips and cities. You could tell how much it meant to her that somebody else wanted to hear all of her stories,” Gillette said.

With a new infusion of capital in their $3.4 million seed round led by Freestyle Ventures and Cowboy Ventures, Mon Ami continues to expand service to cities like Boulder, Colorado, Gillette’s hometown.

Contact Shreyas Parab at sparab22 ‘at’

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