1st Place: SeniorLink Consulting

Winning SeniorLink helps senior citizens stay connected

 

ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Marilyn Pechter said she first hired Sam Steiner for a one-time need as a favor to a friend, Sam’s grandfather. “That’s the truth. But the favor ended up being all for me.”

She has continued to hire Steiner for nearly a year and a half. He has helped her set up her home with WiFi and organized her passwords on a neat list, even in purple, her favorite color. He set up her smartphone for email, helped her learn her way around the iPad, downloaded the Bridge app, installed Skype, and did other tasks.

Usually he comes to her home, but he’s always on call and sometimes enters her computer remotely to help her with an issue. Most recently she complained that her AOL was not compatible with Apple. “He said, ‘I am going to put you on Thunderbird.’ Whatever that is, I have not had a problem since,” Pechter said.

Steiner is the owner of SeniorLink Consulting, and Pechter, 75, is one of his first and longest clients. Since he launched his business about 18 months ago, the 16-year-old sophomore at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton has served 80 clients, and many have become regular customers. Steiner won first place in The Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track for the business plan for his company, which pairs high-school students with senior citizens to help them with their computer needs.

“What a fine young man. He’s very smart and quiet and nice,” said Pechter, who hires Steiner about every other week. “I call him my computer kid. He probably wouldn’t like that.”

Steiner said he was inspired to start the business when his grandmother was in a rehabilitation center after an injury in 2011. When he would visit, he noticed many of the patients didn’t have visitors because their families lived far away. He started bringing his iPad and helping them Skype with loved ones. “It made their day,” he said.

He also started volunteering in nursing homes, providing value-added companionship by writing emails for residents, helping them FaceTime with family, and sharing news on the Internet with them. But he also thought there should be a for-profit business helping senior citizens learn functions on the computer they can use every day — such as what he calls the big three: email, Skype, and Web browsing to stay up with the news. “My mission is to provide basic computer skills for older people ... giving them a non-stressful way to connect with their families and with the outside world,” Steiner said.

SeniorLink Consulting also sets up computers for seniors and will help them with more advanced technical issues as well. Lately, Steiner’s business has been riding the iPad wave. “Their kids buy them an iPad and they need help setting it up, and then they need a lesson, and it keeps going and going.”

It’s a win-win business, giving employment to high-school students while also offering seniors affordable, personalized help; Steiner’s company charges $35-$40 an hour. Steiner says many seniors he has talked to cannot easily attend group classes. Or they may go once, not understand something, feel like they are holding the class back and never return. They prefer the one-on-one attention in their own home at their own computer, Steiner said.

Steiner plans to hire more high-school students and expand services to other parts of South Florida, including Miami-Dade. So far he has tried out a couple of students. While some didn’t work out, Amanda Miller, a senior at Pine Crest School, has been working with him for the past five months. He is in the process of hiring another employee and may soon hire a fourth, though he admits finding reliable employees has been difficult.

“The business plan was well-researched and conceived,” said Arden Karson, a senior vice president for Related Group and one of the judges. “Sam tested the business and put together a plan that is realistic. Personally, I can relate to the concept as my mother recently became computer literate in an effort to stay in closer touch with her grandchildren. After working with a tutor, she can now easily email, send attachments, and research on the Internet.”

Beside running his business, Steiner is also in his school’s Junior Achievement Club and on the swim team, and is taking an online social-entrepreneurship class offered by the University of Florida.

Steiner envisions that this business could be franchised some day but for now he has been working on his marketing strategy for gaining more clients. He has found a solid return on investment from buying ads in country-club newsletters. “All the members see it and they tell their friends.” And a lot of his business has been from word of mouth.

Pechter said she has recommended his services to many friends. “I tell them Sam will be very patient with you and give you all the time you need.”

Read more Business Plan Challenge stories from the Miami Herald

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