SoftBank backs Papa's $150M series D to scale up 'family-on-demand' services

Papa, a startup tackling loneliness among seniors by providing companionship and support, picked up $150 million in fresh funding, marking a milestone as the fast-growing company reaches "unicorn" status.

The series D raise boosts Papa's valuation to $1.4 billion, according to the startup. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the round, which follows a $60 million series C funding round back in April. Investors TCG, Tiger Global Management, Canaan, Initialized Capital and Seven Seven Six also participated in the series D round. The "family-on-demand" company has raised $240 million to date.

Founded by Andrew Parker in 2017, Papa helps address social determinants of health, including loneliness and isolation, for older Americans and others who stand to benefit from companionship and everyday assistance. The company connects seniors with Papa Pals, who will visit with them and assist with light housework, grocery shopping, technology and transportation to doctors' appointments. Those enrolling in Papa are less likely to need costly medical intervention and more able to live independent and healthy lives, according to the company.

Late last year, Papa also got into virtual care with its Papa Health program, which connects users with Papa Docs in virtual visits.

Parker told Fierce Healthcare the company plans to use the funding to bring in more partners and enhance its data and analytics to offer a more personalized experience for Papa members.

Researchers believe social determinants drive more than 80% of health outcomes. Increasingly, the healthcare industry—including insurers such as Cigna, Humana and Anthem along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—is recognizing the need to reduce and ultimately eliminate determinants that disproportionately affect marginalized groups. Health plans see the value of addressing social isolation and loneliness as a factor influencing health outcomes, Parker said.

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On average, Papa Pals reduce member loneliness by 68%; lonely people have been shown to use the hospital 60% more than others who don’t self-identify as lonely.

"Papa Pals are a new form of care; we've created this new category of companionship care," Parker said. "The healthcare system, and CMS especially, have recognized that healthcare is not just clinical but both social and clinical."

The funding is the latest marker in Papa’s dramatic growth with the addition of more than 25 health plans in the last seven months, making Papa available to over 65 health plans. Papa now serves members in all 50 states across Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and employer health plans.

Papa Pals serve as “boots on the ground,” making sure that beyond doctors’ appointments, members are eating the right foods, exercising and are taking their medications. And that helps health plans identify members' social determinants of health, Parker said.

"Our Papa Pals can understand their needs, whether they are food insecure or a fall risk. This past quarter, we identified 10,000 gaps with our members," he said.

One particular Papa member hadn't seen a doctor for a medical visit in 20 years, and a Papa Pal was able to help that member get in touch with a doctor. "In this particular case, the woman had early-stage breast cancer but is now in early-stage treatment and on a path to a healthier life. The key is that we have a platform of trusted individuals," Parker said.

The company recently teamed up with Uber Health to make it easier for older adults and their Papa Pals to get to medical appointments and other events.

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“On average, every two minutes in the United States a Papa Pal starts a companionship visit with a Papa member,” Parker said in a statement. “That figure will dramatically increase when an additional 26 health plans start on January 1, and as more plans and employers add Papa over time. The collective physical, social, and emotional benefits of this companionship are vast, and the opportunity to reduce loneliness and to support health where it happens—at home—is boundless. This latest round of funding, along with an ever-growing number of Papa clients, underscore the power of Papa’s approach, and even more so, the power of human connection.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company had to take an increasingly digital approach to help socially isolated people connect. At this point, about 65% of Papa Pal visits are done in person, and 40% are virtual companion visits, according to Parker.

When Papa launched four years ago, a large number of Papa Pals were college students. Today, about 20% of Papa Pals are college students in nursing, premed or social work programs, but the company also has attracted empty nesters and younger parents to take on the work.

"The average Pal is 30 years old and most have some personal caregiving experience," Parker said.

Loneliness and social isolation have emerged as critical public health issues, particularly among older Americans. Surveys, conducted by Cigna using a research tool called the University of California Los Angeles Loneliness Scale, found loneliness increased among American adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Loneliness amongst older adults is one of the largest public health challenges and creates a crushing human and economic cost," said Lydia Jett, partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers and Papa director, in a statement. "Against a backdrop of healthcare provider shortages and an ever-growing understanding of social needs as health needs, Papa is using technology to create a new care force to provide companionship and support to those who need it most."