Fijian entrepreneur with M.A. in Gerontology, Ana Jones | Launching an app that connects elders with caregivers
Community-minded Fijian entrepreneur, Ana Jones, talks about her transition from the British to the U.S. education system, how she serendipitously fell into her professional field and how she is working to improve the lives of elders through her business, Phlex65. She hopes to see more Pacific scholars using their degrees to solve community problems.
Tell me about your background and academic path.
I was born and raised in Suva (Fiji). After finishing high school in 1988, I left the island to attend BYU Hawaii on a work-study scholarship. I worked at PCC (Polynesian Cultural Center) to pay my way through college and managed to complete a BSc. degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry.
Was it difficult transitioning from the British system to the American system?
Since I came from a very sheltered background, it took some time to adjust to the American system and lifestyle. Growing up in Fiji, the teaching styles were a little different, and you were never taught to raise your voice or contradict a teacher, so I had to learn how to speak up during classes and address large groups. Thankfully, there wasn’t much of a language barrier, since we had to speak English in schools. Working at PCC also helped me feel more at home, and I was able to assimilate and become acculturated to the American system at a faster pace, because I was able to interact and speak with thousands of tourists at PCC.
What motivated you to attend university?
I knew that I needed education to apply for upper management or executive level jobs. I loved learning, so it made sense for me to go to college. I also knew it would help with networking and enable me to contribute to society in an impactful way.
Later on, I moved to California to pursue a Master’s degree. I knew that I needed to have the knowledge of working in the field to help with my skillset. I began my degree at San Jose State University and later transferred and graduated with the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Gerontology from San Francisco State University.
It took me a couple of tries to complete my graduate degree. It was important for me to be emotionally and financially ready to start the program. The first time I enrolled in graduate school, I had my first baby. The second time I returned to finish the degree, my second child had started school. The third and final time was after my oldest went off to college, and I was able to complete the graduate program in four semesters.
How did you choose to study gerontology (study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging)?
Sort of by mistake! Somehow, the admissions team misplaced my application for the Master’s in Public Health (MPH) Program and the dean at San Jose State University signed me up for the Gerontology program. I gave the program a try and excelled in the classes. I thought it was an interesting and relevant field and noticed that a lot of Pacific Islanders and Fijians worked in caring for seniors at home.
I wanted to learn more about the industry. I knew that completing the program would support my efforts to help families who were dealing with care, individuals who needed care, and the paid caregivers. I always valued and respected elders and started to think more about the needs of aging population and how best to serve them in the community.
You are a community-minded entrepreneur who used your degree to start a business connecting elders with caregivers. How did you start your company?
I worked in the Senior Care industry for the past 20 years. Three years ago, the ideation of a business model to serve seniors or elderly in the community was formed after my social policy professor asked: If there was something you had to do for the aging society, what would you do? What can you contribute?
I lived in San Jose for 20+ years and saw a need in my own backyard. There had to be a more efficient and convenient way of connecting families and caregivers without stumbling over the largely antiquated current system. What better way than to use some form of technology and incorporate this into the care formula?
The culminating project and research for the final paper was based on technology, caregivers, and seniors. In the end I decided that an app would be ideal to resolve some of the issues around scheduling and pay for the caregivers; and the choice for the length of services and payment for the client or seniors. Caregivers can schedule their own time to work and are paid at a slightly higher rate of $20 per hour; and clients or persons needing care could choose how long they wanted the services and easily find and hire available caregivers who could arrive within 30 minutes.
I worked with a team of engineers to develop and launch the Phlex65 app connecting both caregivers and seniors, and my role as founder and owner has opened up a new world of implementing business strategies and systems for networking and marketing for seniors who are my target population. This is my passion and I am committed to making it a viable model and in a sense a way of giving back to the community.
What advice would you give to Pacific Islander students to prepare for university?
Give college a try! There are no excuses for attending school when there are grants and scholarships available to everyone. Once you are enrolled, find ways to complete the program in a timely manner with little distractions, When you’re in the classroom, stay focused and engaged. Find projects you are passionate about and immerse yourself in your field of study. Turn to peers, faculty, and professors for help and build a network that will help launch you into a profession you love.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs fresh out of college?
If you want to be an entrepreneur and you have a passion or an idea, go ahead and explore it. Launch that business plan and work to get it off the ground. There is help everywhere and there are mentors willing to guide you.
There are numerous funding strategies and if you work hard and smart you can turn your bright idea into reality. Start a business plan, make an effort to meet each milestone, learn about your space and competitors, and always have an exit strategy.
Love what you do and do it – business is not a chore. I am always happy to help, so feel free to reach out if you have questions or need someone to bounce ideas off for your business.