HOW do you make childcare better for everyone?
It's a problem that a Brisbane start-up is addressing with a Wotif-style model and now thinks it has a stake in solving.
There is a reported two-year waiting period on average to secure a desired childcare placement in Australia, creating a heavy reliance on alternatives such as negotiating flexible work hours and care by relatives.
However, with an aging population and prevailing challenges in workplace reform, Lachie Neilan of start-up EenieMeenie believes in a better way for the industry which is estimated to be worth $9 billion a year.
Neilan says there is an oversupply of childcare on a national scale, but particular areas have chronic undersupply which skews perception.
"The government's own reports say that in any given day there are more than 60,000 vacancies available in Australia," says Neilan.
"I've been in talks with a group who owns 14 centres across a region and every one of their centres has permanent vacancies available.
"Admittedly, city centres have fewer opportunities and there are obviously problems in the system, but there are still temporary and permanent vacancies available to the market and that's what we want to communicate."
Drawing from his own experience, where his daughter's childcare was configured around his wife's part-time work and care of his parents, Neilan struck a problem when his parents went away and he couldn't book his daughter into her centre for an extra day per week.
"I said to my wife wouldn't it be great if we could 'Wotif' childcare and find a vacancy somewhere around here," says Neilan.
"It sounds like a silly thing to say, but I was really taken aback that a database search and book service didn't exist for childcare, and surely the future for booking pretty much anything is online.
"There are reasons people will hesitate because it's concerning their pride and joy, but we have a really strict and regulated childcare industry in Australia so the product is of a certain standard to begin with."
Neilan did six months of research into the viability of an all-in-one childcare information, vacancy and review website while continuing to run his clothing manufacturing business and then exited the business altogether after consulting his now business partner, startup investor Ben Skerman.
The business launched in January this year after two years from inception and is currently concentrated on gaining a foothold locally in south-east Queensland, where a few of the larger childcare providers like Affinity Education Group (ASX: AFJ), G8 Education (ASX: GEM) and Goodstart Early Leaning also happen to be based.
"We will go to the big companies once we have proven our market in smaller providers with 10 or 20 centres, once we can show them it's working and will improve their bottom line," says Neilan.
EenieMeenie charges providers nothing to sign up or upload vacancies, and patrons only pay for the vacancy they are purchasing. The company takes a commission when the vacancy is sold.
"There are so many payment barriers for online services that we wanted to eliminate these as they are just more hurdles centres and parents need to get past in the already tricky childcare environment," says Neilan.
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