Three years ago, Flexable childcare founders Jessica Strong and Priya Amin had five children between them, ranging in age from 1 to 8. They were both independent consultants, and Strong had started a coworking space that included on-site childcare, so they were able to work during the day while their children were nearby, occupied and safe.
But the evenings were a different issue altogether. They often received invitations to networking and enrichment events in their home city of Pittsburgh, and because their husbands traveled or worked nights, they found themselves having to stay home from prime networking opportunities. Babysitters would cancel at the last minute, or a spouse, who thought he or she could be home, had something come up.
The stage was set for necessity to meet innovation, and in August 2016 Strong and Amin created Flexable, an on-site childcare service that specializes in aiding parents who might not be able to attend professional conferences, evening events or other work-related meetings. The company is based in Pittsburgh, and while most of their childcare contracts have been based in that city, Strong said they have signed contracts with organizations with upcoming conferences in cities like Las Vegas and Tampa.
“We just started brainstorming, ‘how could we make something better?’” Strong says. “We started with two things: figuring out what we needed to have a pool of high-quality caregivers, and at the same time, figuring out the insurance coverage.”
Flexable’s founders established high standards for screening caregivers, purchased a $1.5 million insurance policy to cover property damage or physical injury and started offering the service to Pittsburgh clients.
From the beginning, they made sure that they took care of every detail so that the companies who hired them and the parents who dropped off their children would feel confident they were getting a safe, fun environment that would allow parents to enjoy a meeting or conference.
Strong says that some event organizers have offered to provide coloring books and crayons or other toys, and the Flexable team is quick to assure them that it will show up with a rolling suitcase full of diverting games and activities.
In choosing toys to pack in the suitcases, they have zeroed in on things that can be challenging and fun for all ages, like the wooden block game Jenga. Younger kids can use the blocks to build towers and knock them over, while older kids can enjoy the strategy of playing the game according to the rules. The suitcases also contain necessities like Clorox wipes, outlet covers, corner protectors, rubber gloves, first-aid kits—all selected to make an average corporate meeting room as safe and inviting as possible.
“We’ve taken a lot of care to build the suitcases,” Strong says. “We know there are some kids who are more hesitant with strangers and a little clingy at first, so we try to have really fun games, really enthusiastic caregivers. There has to be an ease for the parents as well to drop their kids off with a stranger and then go enjoy themselves at a professional event.”
Flexable’s childcare service is typically included in the base conference fee, and parents make a reservation ahead of time to ensure that the childcare room or rooms stay within the adult-child ratio of 1-to-6 that is recommended by the state of Pennsylvania.
In marketing the service, Strong and her colleagues have urged conference organizers to see Flexable’s offering as a significant value add to their event—something that would boost attendance more than another piece of swag in their conference packet.
“We work with the conference organizers to say, instead of giving out one more tote bag, when they have 5,000 already, for the same cost they could cover this really cool amenity,” Strong said.
As Flexable establishes its reputation for conferences and other networking events, the team hopes to expand the service in a variety of ways. Clients who use its on-site childcare at a business gathering can hire a Flexable team for a private event, Strong says, and businesses can also contract for childcare rooms at their office to help cover a school holiday when parents might have a hard time getting to work.