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Duos rakes in $15M in Imaginary Ventures-led funding

Sarah Pringle
Apr 12, 2022
Illustration of a cane forming the center staff of a caduceus.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Senior care startup Duos landed $15 million in Series A funding led by Imaginary Ventures, the parties tell Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: By understanding and solving for the needs of seniors and caretakers, Duos, as co-founder Karl Ulfers puts it, aims to "reimagine freedom" for America's rapidly aging population.

Details: Imaginary Ventures is joined by existing investors Forerunner Ventures, Declaration Partners in its latest capital infusion, along with new investor Optum Ventures.

  • Duos last June emerged from stealth with a $6 million investment from Redesign Health and Forerunner Ventures.

State of play: Many older adults lack fundamental social services or don't make use of available benefits that help them live longer, better, and independently. With that, burnout is increasing among the “Sandwich Generation”, or those supporting both their children and elderly parents.

  • “Duos is going after a massive problem in the country, which is that we're aging more than we’re growing from a population perspective,” Ulfers says. “There’s a tremendous amount of strain put on adults on their family caregivers.”
  • Imaginary Ventures' Kelly Dill says that by building a product (its so-called "System of Aging" digital platform) at the intersection of consumer and enterprise, “Duos empowers older adults to age within their home.”

By the numbers: 51% of older adults have unmet fundamental social needs and by 2030 one of five Americans will be at least 65 years old.

  • The number of unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. reached 54 million in 2020, up from 10 million five years earlier.
  • “The only way to solve for that [macro trend] is with technology," says Dill. "It can't be a one-to-one system."

How it works: Duos connects older adults and caretakers to a constellation of service providers, along with a dedicated personal assistant, or “duo”, that coordinates these services and offers companionship.

  • The startup addresses social determinants of health (SDOH), facilitating needs like transportation, food delivery or house cleaning, while also assisting with care navigation needs and utilizing Medicare benefits that often go unused.
  • Duos simplifies the disparate nature of information across the health care system, Ulfers adds. “When you are a caregiver and you go to look for services, it’s scattered in the wind.”

Between the lines: Duos aligns with payors' acknowledgement that non-clinical social services are crucial to managing chronic conditions and keeping aging adults out of more costly settings of care.

  • Duos “is at the intersection of what payers are looking for and consumers need,” Dill says.
  • Duos amid the funding inked a new partnership with Geisinger, which is known for its SDOH initiatives like the “fresh food Farmacy” program.
  • It also partners with Magellan Healthcare and other national and regional payers and providers spanning 7 states.

Be smart: Regulatory changes enacted by CMS in 2020 were a “category creating moment,” Ulfers says, enabling services offered by the likes Duos to be paid for.

  • That included the expansion of what CMS defines as “primarily health-related benefits” and new SSBCI benefits that gave MA plans the flexibility to offer richer benefits of this vein to chronically ill members.

What’s next: The funding will fuel technology advancement (including a new easy-to-use app), new hires including 100-plus additional “duos”, and additional payor and provider partnerships.

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