Entrepreneurs from UW Nursing, Psychology work together to support caretakers
Since receiving a CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund award in 2020, University of Washington (UW) Tacoma associate professor Weichao Yuwen has taken steps to help her startup grow. The app she developed, Caring for Caregivers Online (COCO), uses conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to help caregivers navigate the stress of caring for loved ones with chronic conditions.
“Caregivers are always prioritizing their resources, whether it’s time or money, for their care receivers,” says Yuwen, a newly tenured member of the nursing faculty at UW Tacoma, noting that a gap exists between what caregivers need and what they’re willing to do for themselves. “The digital health world can help fill that gap in terms of delivering something to family caregivers that is on demand.”
Yuwen has recently enlisted UW psychology professor Corey Fagan to help with customer discovery and provide general mentorship. Fagan had previously received an Innovation Gap Fund award in 2013 for Owl Outcomes (now called Owl), a mental health tracking system.
“CoMotion is key in connecting fledgling academics and aspiring entrepreneurs with mentors throughout the business community,” says Fagan, clinic director at UW’s Psychological Services and Training Center. “Having a partner like CoMotion is crucial in bridging that gap between academic innovations and ideas, and the ability to commercialize those ideas; it would be almost impossible without CoMotion.”
COCO’s Innovation Gap Fund award is helping Yuwen and Fagan bring the service to marginalized groups that may lack access to health resources. Yuwen is also working to develop culturally sensitive foreign-language versions of COCO for the 22% of Americans who speak a language other than English at home. Yuwen says these measures of inclusion are important to her as a woman, an immigrant, and an Asian American.
“We have a diverse base in Seattle and at UW, but then how do you engage that diversity?” Yuwen says. “That’s when some of those unconscious or inherent biases play into the fact that we are unintentionally promoting people with certain identities.”
Yuwen and Fagan were connected through one of Yuwen’s long-term research mentors who works with Fagan in clinical psychology.
“Weichao has everything it takes to make COCO into a successful company,” Fagan says. “She has the product, she has the science behind it, and she has the dedication and drive to get out there and make a difference in the world.”