With the country now in its third lockdown since the start of the pandemic, schools across the country are now closed for the foreseeable future. Parents are having to manage working remotely from home, while also looking after their children at the same time.
Poncho is a new app which partners with businesses to provide ‘wraparound’ childcare support for their employees. Founded by Ben Prouty, the service sets out to reduce stress for working parents and helps businesses keep some of their key employees working.
HR Wire sat down with Prouty to discuss why businesses should prioritise helping their employees with childcare, specifically during the pandemic.
Where did the idea for Poncho come from?
Poncho is backed by Kamet Ventures, a venture builder which is financed by AXA . We build businesses that help people to live happier and healthier lives. Early in 2020, we did desk research into areas where we felt that we could impact and landed on the childcare space.
Childcare is both expensive and there’s a lack of availability. I believe that employers could do more to support parents. That was the origin of the idea.
We developed that further by speaking with employers to better understand where their challenges are, where they are trying to move the needle, as well as speaking with parents within those organisations to understand what kind of additional support they’d ideally be looking for.
Can you tell us more about what service the app provides and how it operates?
The app platform is sponsored by employers, so they pay for access. They then provide details for how to log in to their employees.
When you join its marketplace, you see a variety of curated providers across the the learning and development space. This includes activities for children of all ages, from six months all the way through to 18 years of age.
We’ve got the likes of classes teaching coding, science, activities, cooking, languages, tutoring. It’s really a breadth of opportunities for children to learn, grow and to be entertained while their parents are working.
How long has the app been up and running and what’s the response been like from businesses?
We’ve been developing the app since March of last year, and running pilots with employers but actually spawn out of cabinet and launched properly as of November. Response has been fantastic. It’s been helped by the current circumstances, with employers scrambling around to find ways to support their working parents.
Among those employers is Housekeep, which is London’s biggest platform for cleaners. They’ve got 1,300 cleaners on their platform that they’ve made this available to. We’ve got some other really big names in the pipeline that we’re looking to close in the next couple of weeks
Do you have a favourite feature on the app?
We support working parents to understand what government entitlements that they can tap into. A big part of our research at Kamet was understanding the transition from childcare vouchers, which has now moved to tax free childcare, and a lot of parents don’t know about it or don’t know how to access it.
There’s about £800m a year that’s going unused. So our objective is to help parents to understand whether they qualify for this, how they can get it, and then actually help them help walk them through that process.
It’s one thing to offer activities they can do with their children, but helping them to understand those entitlements is a big shift.
What do you think businesses get wrong about parents working from home or during the pandemic, and what advice would you give them dealing with that part of their workforce?
When we first started, I think employers weren’t looking at that flexibility piece at all. Obviously, the pandemic forced them to think about that and change. Also from a financial standpoint, when it comes to benefits packages, it just wasn’t an area that they were really focusing on. In the conversations I’m having with employers, there is really a drive now to help level that playing field.
During the pandemic, it’s been evident that those who can afford to do so can find solutions, especially when it comes to wraparound child care activities, learning and development. Those who can afford to do so can find solutions and work at the same time.
Ben Prouty is the CEO and founder of Poncho, a childcare app which partners with businesses to provide wraparound childcare support for their employees.