Childcare Is In Short Supply As Parents Return To Work. Here's How One L.A. Startup Is Trying to Help.

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

Childcare Is In Short Supply As Parents Return To Work. Here's How One L.A. Startup Is Trying to Help.
Photo courtesy of WeeCare

Erika Metry is trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage on the tidy, three bedroom Inglewood home where she and her mother run a small childcare center that's now looking after kids of frontline workers.

The children she took care of pre-COVID-19 no longer come, but she's one of the lucky small-business owners who can keep their doors open during the pandemic. Metry has stayed afloat thanks in part to her partnership with WeeCare, a Marina Del Rey, venture-backed company that has been connecting essential workers to childcare providers.

As the pandemic has worn on, about half of the nation's childcare centers have closed and about a third of childcare homes have shuttered, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Meanwhile, half of the employees that made up the industry are furloughed or out of a job.


That could be a major problem in California as everyone from distributors to retail sales clerks return to the workplace on Friday. Safety restrictions have severely cut how many children some facilities can take. So, parents of young children desperate to go back to work may find themselves not only jittery about returning a child to daycare, but there simply may not be room for them.

And the winnowing capacity could strain the budgets of many care facilities with high rent costs and that were already operating on thin margins.

"We don't know what's going to happen next," Metry said. "We are waiting for all this to pass."

Metry's daycare Wonderland WeeCare can accommodate 14 children, but she's only been taking care of three since the outbreak.

Childcare Providers Are Getting a Lifeline From L.A. Startup WeeCarePhoto courtesy of WeeCare

In Los Angeles, childcare facilities have been able to stay open during the pandemic for essential workers, but with parents staying home more than half of centers closed. Meanwhile, many smaller home daycare centers like Metry's remained open.

"A number of the programs that have closed will not be able to reopen once the pandemic has subsided," said Rhian Evans Allvin, chief executive of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She added that there was already a shortage of daycare before the pandemic swept the nation, and it may only get worse.

"What we don't know is if the overall supply lessens dramatically, how many providers will be left?" she said. "I would imagine that overall there will continue to be far more demand than there is supply."

The Center for American Progress has estimated the pandemic could eliminate as many as 4.5 million childcare slots nationwide.

"I think you could make the argument that larger providers can weather the storm longer because of how they're financed, but we've not been through this before," said Evans Allvin. "So I don't know."

Metry has been able to survive in part because of her association with WeeCare.

WeeCare CEO Jessica ChangPhoto courtesy of WeeCare.

Founded in 2017 by Jessica Chang, the company takes care of the administrative tasks for home daycare, helping with marketing and other functions. The service helps keep the costs low for the provider, making the service more affordable for parents. Since the COVID outbreak, it has helped ensure that everyone's temperature is checked through video monitoring.

The company, which raised a seed round of $4.2 million led by Social Impact in 2018, is one of two working with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's office to find daycares for essential workers.

Garcetti has offered a $100 stipend per shift for qualified hospital employees needing care. The program has provided a steady stream of parents knocking at the door of Chang's network of homecare providers.

It's given Metry some income as her other clients are still at home. Meanwhile, her mother brokered an agreement with the bank to defer mortgage payments. And though she hoped to secure a small business loan, she hasn't been able to get one.

Chang, who previously worked in private equity, started the business after having a child and finding quality care difficult to find. Her idea was to help small mom-and-pop schools — which make the bulk of the market — with billing, marketing, schedules and helping connections with parents. Her network of childcare providers spans 20 states and includes about 2,000 daycare providers, a number that's gone up since the pandemic.

COVID-19, she thinks, can actually help small homecare providers.

"Daycares are really well positioned right now; they naturally have smaller settings and naturally don't have a lot of people coming in and out," she said.

Under new state guidelines, childcare facilities cannot have more than 10 to a group of children and are required to be screened for illness. Larger centers that rely on a bigger population of children can have challenges making the economics pencil out as their capacity diminishes.

"I think what's going to end up happening is people will reevaluate childcare, and they're going to go back to daycare, like home daycare, as an option for their children," Chang said.

In the meantime, the small centers have other challenges.

"Supplies have been really hard for daycare providers," she said. "They're considered essential workers, but not according to Amazon."

Metry said she gets up early on the weekend to hunt for basic cleaning supplies such as paper towels and disinfectants that are still in short supply at stores.

Ahead of the loosening of stay at home orders, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the opening of a state portal for childcare referrals that could help parents. And last month, he set aside $50 million for cleaning supplies and another $50 million for childcare vouchers.

Max Arias is president of the SEIU 99, which has been organizing childcare providers and sits on a statewide union coalition for childcare workers. His group has been trying to help find cleaning supplies for many who can't get what they need at Costco or other stores.

But he said in the long-term, the industry needs sustained help. He's been pressing Newsom to create an emergency childcare fund similar to Los Angeles that would accept matching funds from the corporations that are putting people back to work.

"There's going to be a high need for childcare as the economy reopens," he said. But with state finance officials projecting a $54 billion deficit, he's worried programs that rely on subsidized child care could lose much needed funds just as the system is at its weakest point. Cuts to the programs would mean "a lot of providers will have to close and a lot of families will lose access to the subsidized childcare."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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