Athena Kan, Dreambound Credit: Dreambound

Imagine being able to be a home care worker without having to pay for school or training. That’s the premise of Dreambound, a San Francisco startup that helps low-income people become certified nursing assistants or home health aides and then links them to jobs.

“We see lots of single moms,” co-founder Athena Kan told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “They love taking care of people and they want to do it long-term, but that license to get them started in the field is expensive. For people working paycheck to paycheck, that is something that they can’t always afford.” 

The cost of tuition for CNA certification can run anywhere from $800 to $1,500 depending on the state. Dreambound’s strategy helps students circumvent those costs in a unique way. The company has partnerships with home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers who need staff.

Students who enroll in the program pay a $75 refundable fee, complete training at a participating college and then are placed with a provider partner who retroactively covers the student’s tuition. The students must commit to working for the employer at least six months. If they leave before then, they must reimburse the employer for their tuition. 

Candidate criteria: passion

Dreambound fully vets all candidates and looks specifically for those who are passionate about healthcare as a lifelong career, Kan said.

“We really want to promote that upward mobility,” Kan explained. “Ideally they’re a CNA for six months to a year and they fulfill their commitment. From there, we can help them become a phlebotomist or a medical assistant and an LPN or an RN.” 

Pulse on health disparities

While researching minority health disparities at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health about a decade ago, Kan became keenly aware of the link between income and health. That experience inspired Kan, along with partners Brandon Wang and Shiroy Aspandiar to launch the company last August. 

Helping to jumpstart the firm was funding from venture capital firms Union Square Ventures and Collaborative Fund, as well as Roc Nation, entertainer Jay-Z’s philanthropic and management firm. Since the fall, more than 500 students have enrolled in caregiver certification classes. But those numbers could soon increase dramatically, thanks to a new collaboration.

Dreambound recently partnered with home care technology firm  Honor Technology, the parent of national home care franchise Home Instead. The alliance could give Dreambound the size and scale to train and provide jobs to thousands of caregivers across the country.

Dreambound’s game-changing approach to the caregiver crisis netted Kan and co-founder Brandon Wang spots on Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Impact List for 2021. Kan is hopeful the company’s approach can help inspire a new generation of caregivers.

“I think we’ve kind of cracked the code, just being able to tell students we’ll pay for your school and you get a job at the end of it,” Kan said.