Kayla Wooley, MBA ’22, came of age in the senior care industry. She began learning the family business of operating nursing homes from the bottom up—beginning work in the seventh grade as a summer intern and eventually becoming licensed after college to assume a leadership role at a facility in Rhode Island.
“For as long as I can remember, every family dinner conversation was about the quality of senior care,” said Wooley, the founder and CEO of StaffOnTap, a digital marketplace that connects understaffed nursing homes to temporary nurses interested in earning extra money.
Her grandmother founded a nursing home 50 years ago—today her family operates a portfolio of nursing homes across Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“I discovered that I loved coming up with strategic programs, such as cardiopulmonary or dementia programs, but I had a difficult time implementing these programs due to nursing staff shortages. The problem was so bad that I couldn’t reliably find a nurse for an eight-hour shift, let alone to successfully implement a new program.”
With the staffing gap at the forefront of her mind, Wooley decided to continue her family legacy in senior care—returning to school to pursue a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. Through her research, she discovered that nursing staff shortages were a pervasive problem for nursing homes across the United States—a problem that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People’s eyes used to glaze over when I talked about senior care, but now everyone knows a nurse, or a parent or grandparent in a nursing home that was impacted by the pandemic. It placed the public’s and government’s eyes on nursing home staff shortages, which has resulted in renewed interest at the state and federal levels to increase the mandated staff-to-patient ratios at these facilities,” Wooley said.
Leveraging the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Cornell
In 2021, Wooley enrolled in the MBA program at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management with the goal of developing a tech solution capable of improving the availability and quality of care for seniors while empowering nurses who left the field in record numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cornell was instrumental in my entrepreneurship journey. When I entered the program, I had an idea and a minimum viable product website for StaffOnTap, but I did not know what to do with it,” Wooley said. She applied and was accepted to eLab, Cornell’s student startup accelerator.
“In eLab, the instructors and mentors had me take a step back. Even though I had grown up in the senior care industry, they prompted me to focus on customer discovery. I interviewed nursing home owners, and as many of the 200,000 nurses that left nursing homes during the pandemic as I possibly could to better understand why they left and what would incentivize them to come back. Because of that, I was able to build the business model for StaffOnTap around nurses.”
Launched in March 2022, StaffOnTap makes it possible for nurses interested in picking up additional shifts and earning extra money to conveniently post listings on its digital platform with customized rates, schedules, and locations, and then connects them to nursing homes in need of temporary assistance.
In the year leading up to the launch of her startup, Wooley packed in as many of Cornell’s entrepreneurship offerings as her schedule would allow. In addition to the MBA program and eLab, she also leveraged Blackstone Launchpad—she is currently participating in its fellowship—and W.E. Cornell. Across all these entrepreneurship programs, Wooley credits the supportive mentorship that she received at Cornell as a constant.
“As a new founder, the amazing mentorship that I received was one of the most valuable aspects of eLab and the other Cornell entrepreneurship programs. Even today, as an alum, these mentors are the people I have kept in touch with the most and they are always willing to give me as much of their time as needed,” Wooley said.
A sustainable solution for a healthcare crisis
StaffOnTap’s footprint has grown rapidly. The startup began with one nurse and one nursing home in Connecticut, and a year later, it serves 100 nurses and 33 nursing homes in the state and has completed approximately $1 million in total transactions to date. Wooley has plans to expand operations into Massachusetts.
“My goal is for StaffOnTap to be the number one provider for nursing home staffing needs in the Northeast,” Wooley said.
“This spring, we plan to focus on larger partnerships – not just mom and pop nursing homes that may have never used a staffing agency before – contracting with companies that have hundreds of nursing homes in their portfolios. By the end of this year, I would love to see StaffOnTap contracted with at least 300 nursing homes across multiple states.”
The potential for staff-to-patient ratios to increase at the state and federal levels will trigger an increase in demand for temporary nurses at nursing homes. On March 1, Connecticut increased its mandated staff-to-patient ratios and rolled out other incentives to attract nurses, which resulted in a “busy week for us,” according to Wooley.
“We are solely focused on staffing for nursing homes, which sets us apart from our competitors. Additionally, we charge a competitive fee, so most of the money is going to the nurses, because they are the ones doing all the hard work, and we are trying to bring that talent back to the nursing homes.”
Listen to the Startup Cornell podcast to learn more about StaffOnTap and its mission to close the staffing gap in the senior care industry.