Joe Lucero, 14, helps a senior with his smartphone at a Teenior event at the Barelas Senior Center.
Albuquerque startup Teeniors, which employs tech-savvy teens to help seniors navigate smartphones and other devices, won a $5,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico to help pay for pro-bono trainings for seniors.
The company, which launched in 2015, already offers many free group-training sessions on its own dime. In May, it started a nonprofit arm that allows it to receive money from organizations and individuals to offer services to seniors who couldn’t otherwise afford it, said Teeniors founder and CEO Trish Lopez.
The new grant will finance up to nine group training sessions for senior communities in Albuquerque, beginning with the Encino Terrace independent living center near Downtown, Lopez said. Another 57 individuals who sought Teeniors’ help in the past but couldn’t afford it may also receive free help.
“We’ve kept records on all those potential clients, and now we’re going back through our logs to reach out to them,” she said. “We hope to get them all in.”
Teeniors didn’t launch its own nonprofit organization. That’s a lengthy legal process that’s difficult for a fledgling startup because it stretches a firm’s resources to manage a separate, nonprofit entity independent of its for-profit business.
Rather, Lopez asked the local nonprofit startup incubator SINC to become its fiscal sponsor, meaning Teeniors can now operate a nonprofit arm under SINC’s legal umbrella. The company pays SINC a 9 percent fee on grants it manages for Teeniors. That covers accounting, audits, insurance, legal affairs and more.
SINC, which formed in 2015, offers such fiscal sponsorship to 34 local businesses, said CEO Tim Nisly. The goal is to support social entrepreneurs who launch socially-minded ventures.
“Lots of businesses have social impact missions that offer valuable, charitable contributions to communities, and Teeniors is one of them,” Nisly said. “Our fiscal sponsorship offers a low-cost, easy way to build out nonprofit arms.”
It’s an option that other startups and established social-impact businesses in Albuquerque could consider.
“It’s a relatively new model in New Mexico that offers a whole new way of raising capital to build out social ventures,” Nisly said.
Teeniors hopes to raise more grants to expand its impact. To date, it has helped more than 600 seniors, including 23 free group events it financed on its own. Those sessions usually serve about 15 seniors and cost about $400, Lopez said.
The company has a network of more than 40 tech-savvy teens it calls on to work with seniors. They receive between $10 and $15 an hour, depending on whether it’s individual or group trainings.
Blue Cross spokeswoman Becky Kenny said the company chose Teeniors because it’s employing technology in a creative, innovative way to help people.
“We really liked the partnership it creates between teens and seniors,” Kenny said.