By Published: Oct. 18, 2019

trio care team in front of flatironsAfter her family struggled with coordinating the right care for her aging grandmother, Rachel Sharpe was inspired to build Trio Care Services, a software platform that enables in-home caregivers to manage care plans and communication between care teams and the adult children of seniors. Sharpe, an engineering plus senior with an emphasis on mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship concentration, serves as the co-founder and CEO alongside her two other co-founders, sister Lauren Sharpe (a senior majoring in environmental design) and Sophie Brussell (a senior majoring in economics and environmental studies). The idea was originally spun out of a class project, but Sharpe wanted to take it to the next level and applied for CU Boulder's summer accelerator program, Catalyze CU. She credits a combination of academic and experiential education as key to helping Trio Care evolve into what it is today:

Q: What does your startup do?

A: At Trio Care, we leverage the local community of college students to provide support to aging adults in Boulder. Some of the services we provide include technology lessons, gardening, pet care, activities, meal preparation, errand running and walker tune-ups. 

Q: How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?

A: It came from pain within my own family. My grandmother was living in Michigan, and as her sight and mobility started to decline, everyday tasks became more challenging. My family had to coordinate care from afar because she wanted to stay in Michigan. She wasn’t ready to move into an independent facility, nor did she need more specialized in-home care. It was a helpless feeling being so far away. The last thing we wanted to take from her was her independence. 

At the same time my grandmother was going through this, I started talking to a friend whose family was struggling with the same challenges. Through our shared pain, Trio Care was born. Over the following months through a few pivots, we eventually landed on using intergenerational relationships by matching local college students with seniors. 

Q: What CU Boulder entrepreneurial resources did you take advantage of to help you build your business? 

A: Through the spring of 2019, I worked on a related idea through Brad Werner’s course, New Venture Creation (ESBM 4830). In this class, I worked with a separate team of five, in which we built a business plan and a robust pitch. My  passion for the project grew in the customer development process, where our professor taught us the importance of in-person interviewing. It was in listening to the stories and pains of families...sitting on a via bus for eight hours that I realized the future for aging adults in America needed to change. 

That semester I also attended the Validator and New Venture Challenge (NVC) events to gain greater mentorship and resources. Although we never actually competed in the NVC, we benefited greatly from the workshops. I then applied to Catalyze CU with Sophie Brussell and my sister Lauren Sharpe as co-founders. I believe it was these resources that impacted our ability to get into Catalyze CU. Through this accelerator program, we spent the summer of 2019 building our startup. During Catalyze, our team was given stipends for living expenses, and we had access to an experienced board of directors, workshops, networking events and mentorship that led us to grow our startup and begin generating revenue. 

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in running your startup? What about notable wins or successes?

A: The biggest challenge has been balancing a full-time course load, a part-time job, and now this startup. There’s a constant negotiation between what is a priority each week. This summer brought incredible momentum; however, we had to scale back the number of clients served to maintain our quality of service this year. 

A notable win we had was delivering over 55 hours of service to clients in Boulder this past summer and having 100 percent of our clients rebook. This was rewarding because not only were we generating revenue, but it also validated that we had a service people wanted. The success was sweet because it was informed by over 80 phone/in-person interviews and our co-founders delivering the first 25 hours ourselves. 

Q: What do you love about having your own company?

A: What I love most is the community and the personal growth it has brought. There is nothing more challenging than building something from the ground up. You are juggling many things, having to learn on the fly, and continually pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is in the space of uncertainty and discomfort that you grow.

I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, and did not pitch at NVC because I lacked the confidence that my startup or I was good enough. Through Catalyze CU, I learned to drop the fear of failure and to believe in myself by focusing on who I was building for. Along the way, I met an incredible community of risk-takers and disruptors that could relate, and that inspired me to think differently and to continue challenging myself. I loved that! 

Q: What advice would you give to other students who are interested in starting their businesses? 

A: I’d tell students not to spend too much time trying to find the “right” startup idea or solution. Instead, pick a problem you feel passionate about solving. Get married to your problem and who you’re solving the problem for, not your initial solution. Start talking to your customers/end-users and as many as you can as early as possible! In-person and phone interviews are the best way to accomplish this because you can dive deeper and ask “why?.” List the assumptions baked into your early solutions and let your interviews guide you. Let yourself be open to learning - you might be surprised! In these moments, you begin to develop a solution informed by legitimate pain.

Q: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

A: I wish I’d known about this piece of advice I just gave students. I’m a perfectionist, so I always think my solution has to be perfect before I can show anyone or get feedback. What I’ve learned is to let go of my ego and fear of failure. Talking to people about what you are doing is critical because it’s not about you. You are one data point. What you care about is the many data points from your customers that inform whether or not what you’re building is worthwhile. I’d wish I’d let go of this perfectionism earlier on. In all honesty, I’m still working on letting that go of this every day!