Chaz Giles and Angela Conley, both in their late 20s, entered adulthood with all the world’s information right at their fingertips. Google. Wikipedia. Yahoo. When they needed information, they always turned to the Internet. But when they began looking for a child-care provider for their three-year-old daughter, for the first time in memory, the Internet came up empty. “I found dozens of pages about the cell phone I was thinking about buying,” remembers Chaz, “But couldn’t find anything to help me make one of a parent’s most important decisions.”
So they had to conduct their search the old fashioned way. Chaz remembers taking entire afternoons off work to drive from facility to facility, only to leave almost immediately after realizing it wasn’t what he and Angela were looking for. “I kept thinking, all this hassle could be eliminated if I could just find out a little more about these places ahead of time. And I would have liked to have been able to do it at 11:00 at night, after the baby was in bed, instead of in the middle of a work day.”
Their child-care search took nearly six months, and by the time it was over, Chaz and Angela knew there had to be a better way. Fortunately for parents all over the Cincinnati area, the Internet age that Chaz and Angela know so well seems to have spawned an entrepreneurial age in which people who see a need or have an idea aren’t afraid to go out on a limb to find out if it will work.
“We’ve always imagined ourselves as entrepreneurs,” says Angela. “We literally have notebooks and notebooks full of ideas and problems that need solutions. But this was a problem with which we had first-hand experience and one close to our hearts.”
So they went to work and, over the course of the next year, created 249 Smiles
, a Website dedicated to helping parents find appropriate child care options in the Cincinnati area. They chose the name because the average working mother leaves her child in a day-care situation 249 days a year, “and we want to help her smile every time she drops that child off,” explains Chaz.
249 Smiles is “kind of like a City Search, a Facebook and a LinkedIn, all mixed together,” he continues. “It has search features that lets a parent find suitable child-care providers based on the criteria that’s most important to the parent.” Those can include the type of childcare: facilities, in-home, nannies or babysitters; the age of the children, or proximity to home or work. The 249 Smiles website, www.249smiles.com, currently has full profiles for each of the 550 registered child-care facilities in the greater Cincinnati area and they expect hundreds of in-home providers and babysitters will be added as word spreads.
Penny McGaughey, co-owner of the Endeavor Learning Center, was one of the first providers to get on board. “We’re listed in a few places, but they’re just that, listings. There’s no extra information, no photos and no back and forth with potential clients,” she says. “We’re a new facility with a unique concept and we need more than just our name, address and phone number to communicate that concept to prospective clients. 249 Smiles gives us that opportunity. And the price is right,” she jokes. 249 Smiles charges no fees to providers or parents, an important point at a time when advertising budgets are being slashed or, in the case of many in-home providers, are non-existent.
249 Smiles also contains an educational component. “A lot of first-time parents don’t even know what they’re looking for,” Chaz explains. “They don’t know what questions to ask or whether they’re more interested in an in-home day care or a larger facility. They don’t know where to start.” So, 249 Smiles has partnered with two child-care experts, the United Way and 4C for Children, the region’s leading child-care coordinating agency.
“4C will actually have staff members on our site live during various times of each week, interacting with parents, answering questions,” says Chaz. “Combining our technology with their expertise creates a one-stop shop for parents in search of child care.”
Most of the technological features of 249 Smiles were made possible through a $40,000 grant from CincyTech, a group dedicated to turning small, start-up technology businesses into high-growth companies. Its Imagining Grant program provides seed monies that allow the start-ups to evolve from an idea to a viable company, says Jeff June, of CincyTech. 249 Smiles was the recipient of one of nine grants, totaling more than $300,000, awarded by CincyTech since the program’s inception just two years ago.
The grant money allowed Chaz and Angela to fund the programming that’s necessary for what they consider to be the most important aspect of the site, an interactive component that enables users to correspond with each other. It gives parents a chance to ask questions of providers and get answers in a public forum that allows the information to be shared with other parents. It also allows parents to correspond back and forth and share general experiences as well as their experiences with specific providers.
“The way one mom connects to another mom is unlike anything else,” Angela says. “That’s what moms are looking for and they just can’t find it in a phone book listing. No amount of data in the world can overcome one mom telling another mom, ‘yes, I sent my child there and I was happy with the care they provided.’”
Since the time Chaz and Angela first put pen to paper with the idea for 249 Smiles, they’ve added a newborn son to their family and feel a sense of relief, knowing, should a time come where they have to find a suitable child-care provider for him, their search will be less time consuming, less stressful and more productive. “249 Smiles will help parents make a well-researched, confident, educated choice when it comes to their child’s care,” says Angela. “And you can’t put a price on that kind of peace of mind.”Photography by Scott BeselerChaz Giles and Angela Conley with the family at the home office