On a mission to improve the lives of children in foster care
Foster Care Technologies
On a mission to improve the lives of children in foster care
It is well-documented that the choice of placement for a child in the foster care system can have significant impacts on the child’s emotional and physical well-being. Foster Care Technologies (FCT) was founded to support child welfare agencies’ ability to optimize the placement process in order to increase permanency and improve the initial fit between children and foster or adoptive families.
A child’s experience in the child welfare system can be drastically improved by ensuring their first foster care placement is one that is an excellent fit. Every Child a Priority (ECAP) is a technology solution developed by Foster Care Technologies that aims to do just that. By implementing sophisticated algorithms, ECAP connects children with the best available placements while taking behavioral, medical, psychological, and physical needs and preferences into consideration. FCT’s Foster Family Portal also improves child placement by building strong communication pathways between agencies and foster and adoptive families and simplifying the licensure process.
A collaborative effort
Foster Care Technologies began at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center, now the KU Innovation Park. An existing private provider of foster child placement services brought the initial idea and technology to the Park, recognizing the market need and broad potential impact, though unsure of its viability. The professional student analyst team for the Park dug in and vetted the solution through market research studies, competitive landscape analysis, and financial modeling. Simultaneously, the algorithm and technology solution were validated through a partnership with KU School of Social Welfare researchers.
Once the idea and solution were deemed to be commercially viable, a business was formed – the result of technology commercialization coordination with private industry. The Park played a significant role in FCT’s organization and initial operations. That operational role has continued through FCT’s growth and one of the former student analysts, Paul Epp, who had become familiar with the market and technology through his analyst work was selected to lead the organization as Chief Operating Officer.
“We wouldn’t be here without KU Innovation Park,” says Paul Epp, COO of FCT. “Our company is baked in with the Park. They actively help manage the company, assist with making strategic decisions, and have helped with the process of raising capital.”
Built on strong KU connections
FCT has an ongoing and active collaboration with the KU School of Social Welfare. Beyond research projects that validate the technology, the associations with the university and connections to the university network have strengthened the company during its early growth.
The KU recruiting pipeline has also proven beneficial to FCT with two KU School of Business graduates becoming employees. The company has requisitioned numerous student analyst projects to support a variety of initiatives including creation of marketing materials, pitch decks, website page updates and design, niche market research, updated financial projections, and capital strategy research. Each of these projects has helped to fill ad hoc, and sometimes pressing, needs of the startup.
Supported through challenges
FCT had to make a few significant pivots due to challenges faced during its process of getting ECAP to market. This is an iterative process that most startups will experience.
One of these pivots was standardizing the product to make it SaaS-like and make it more ready to meet the diverse needs of different government and private agencies. During this period of redevelopment, the Park team stayed in frequent contact providing feedback, supplementary research, and acting as a sounding board and providing guidance during decision-making processes.
“We often see startups who have built out sophisticated tech solutions to solve a very specific problem often for a specific client,” says Erik Blume, VP of Business Resources at KU Innovation Park. “It is not uncommon for those companies to then realize that redevelopment of the product may be necessary to make it accessible to the broader market. As Foster Care Technologies experienced, this can be a challenging part of the commercialization process and can become capital-intensive.”
Product pricing also required multiple pivots from FCT. Developing a pricing model in a new market can pose a challenge – particularly when that market includes customers that require a great deal of education about the solution and when the market is composed largely of government agency customers. Overcoming this challenge required extensive niche market analysis and experimentation in order to meet the market’s demands while remaining financially viable.
Navigating Government Procurement
Another unforeseen challenge was the complexity and length of the sales cycle for government customers. Request for Proposal (RFP) processes that government agencies are required to adhere to can be tricky to navigate. FCT’s ability to draft successful proposals and negotiate contracts was supported by the Park team’s expertise and experience with RFPs and the procurement process.
“Government procurement processes and partnerships with giant tech companies are both essential to our business,” says Paul Epp, COO of FCT. “Having someone who has been through that process before to help make decisions and not having to navigate that industry or that system alone has been helpful.”
While FCT was making each of these pivots, the Park assisted with formation and execution of a capital acquisition strategy which helped bridge the company to its next milestones. The company, with the help of the Park team, organized several rounds of funding that allowed it to weather the unforeseen long sales cycles and redevelopment timelines. As part of the capital strategy, FCT took advantage of Kansas Angel Investor Tax Credits, received incentive funding, and elicited private investment from mission-driven investors.
“Being a billion dollar company isn’t for every company. However, that is what is expected to gain the attention of venture capital firms and institutional investors. There is this entire layer of companies who are just never in that game, so you need to have other investors – ones willing to invest in their communities,” says Paul Epp, COO of FCT. “The Park’s network of community resources and assistance with strategy and preparation have helped Foster Care Technologies tap into a network of community investors to raise the capital needed to continue having a positive impact in the child welfare space.”
Bringing the vision to life
ECAP is now deployed in seven different states and FCT has partnerships with global technology companies that make the solution accessible to different government entities and private agencies. FCT’s vision is to establish the gold standard for a placement decision process which results in better outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Building a national network and creating established processes will completely change the way agencies are currently making placement decisions and will ultimately help bridge the communication and knowledge gaps that exist between agencies improving the overall system. Progress toward this vision allows FCT to fulfill its mission to positively impact the life of each child in the foster care system.
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