MEET THE INVENT FINALISTS: Austen Burns, Founder of PersonalCarer
Warrenpoint-based Austen Burns knows from personal experience how important it is to find the right carer. From an early age he has had cerebral palsy and always found creative ways to cope with his condition, such as through horse-riding to build muscle tone and gain physical strength.
Now Austen has used his skills in computing (acquired via a degree in Computing from QUB) and marketing (acquired through a masters in Marketing at Ulster University) to change the status quo in how people find carers.
Through www.personalcarer.co.uk, disabled persons or the elderly can find experienced carers in their area. Typically people work with a care agency to find personal assistance, but agencies will always takes a large percentage of the payment to cover their high overheads. They also don’t allow the customer to choose which carer is sent out to them.
“It was clear to me that a more personal approach was needed,” says Austen. “My website gives the individual the power to search for and choose a carer who has particular skills or the best personality match. It’s actually similar to the search methods used by dating sites. This approach makes it easier to find a suitable person and means both the carer and individual can build a better working relationship.”
It’s clear that Austen’s solution is aimed at improving lives. But from a business perspective, the launch of PersonalCarer.co.uk is well-timed. The NHS, over the past several years, has moved away from the approach of providing carers to the disabled and elderly, instead giving people what’s called “Direct Payments” – or a budget that they can use themselves to employ carers. It gives people more choice in how they are cared for, but it also gives them the added responsibility of finding the right person.
“That’s where my website really helps people. It alleviates the pressure off families who need to find a suitable carer,” Austen says.
Austen’s website already has more than 500 registered carers and more than 200 end users (including disabled persons and the elderly).
It’s clear that Austen has gained many skills through his various interests and past-times. He says, “I’m quite into disability sports – I have competed with the Irish Paralympic Equestrian Squad. I ride horses regularly and do dressage competitions – for instance, I recently competed in the Riding for the Disabled National Championships.”
When he’s not on horseback, Austen says he’s mainly focused on work. He says, “Most recently I have been working in IT and communications with the Centre for Independent Living NI. They help people get set up with social care and enable people to live independently.”
What is Austen’s big ambition?
He says, “Three areas. First, to give disabled people more choice and control over the care and support they receive. Second, to make it easier to find affordable and good care, and thirdly, to improve the livelihood of carers by making care a more rewarding job, both professionally and financially. By cutting out the middleman, carers will earn more of what the client pays.”
He concludes, “Ultimately this all leads to a more transparent, consistent and better service for carers and those who need them.”
PersonalCarer is now a finalist in the 2019 Invent Awards in the category ‘Creative Media and Consumer Internet’. The Invent Final Awards night, sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK, will be held on Thursday 10thOctober. Tickets are available here.