Cincinnati startup connects local employees with flexible jobs

Whether you’re looking for a few extra bucks to fund that beach vacation or need a flexible schedule to care for your kids, a Cincinnati startup that connects “gig economy” workers with employers is setting ambitious goals for 2019.

Green Township-based Upshift charges a flat percentage to clients like the Duke Energy Convention Center or Marriott to find workers who can fill shifts on demand through a smartphone app and website. In 2016, founders Steve Anevski and Alex Pantich earned seed money from OTR accelerator The Brandery to get the platform off the ground in Cincinnati and Dayton.

By the end of 2018, they’d expanded to 20 internal employees, including small staffs in Cleveland, Columbus, and Nashville, Tennessee.

“2019 is really all about geographic expansion of Upshift,” Pantich says, noting they plan to roll out operations in 10 to 15 additional cities throughout the Midwest and Southeast, including Detroit. “A lot of our expansion is driven by clients telling us where they need our help.”

In addition, Pantich says Upshift plans to pilot a new platform to provide staffing for low-skilled medical positions, like STNAs (state-tested nursing assistants) or LPNs (licensed practical nurses). Medshyft will initially only be available in Cincinnati as they work out the kinks before expanding to other markets.

Pantich sees Medshyft as the perfect opportunity to help lower-paid workers find a “path to prosperity.”

“There’s a lot of Upshifters who are working for $12 to $13 an hour right now who are the hardest-working people in the world. They show up on time every day. They’re never late, but they don’t always know the right path to take to get to the next level in terms of income,” Pantich says.

He continues: “If we can just tell them, ‘Hey, you worked 100 shifts successfully on Upshift, here’s a free training course in becoming an STNA, [and] you’re going to go from making $13 an hour to $20 an hour.’”

He called it a win-win for both employees and medical facilities.

“If you talk to any hospital or long-term nursing home, etc., all of them are having trouble getting people to work for them,” Pantich says.

Part of Upshift’s appeal is its flexibility. Unlike traditional temporary work agencies, which assign out jobs via telephone calls, Upshifters drive the process through the app’s interface. Upshifters create an account and earn a star rating from employers based on their performance. They can sort through available shifts and apply for those that fit their schedule. Once an employer approves their shift, the Upshifter just has to show up, clock in on their smartphone, and complete the shift. Upshift handles the insurance requirements, tax withholding, and direct deposits each week.

For Tracy Barger of Fairfield Township, Upshift turned out to be a lifesaver. After getting laid off from the Totes Isotoner Corporation in West Chester Township, Barger picked up Upshift work to make ends meet.

“I bought a house and was renovating it and never had time to work on it before I got laid off,” Barger says. “If I had a day off, I was tired and not wanting to get into a huge project on the house. With Upshift, if I needed to take off a few days or work nights, I could.”

Barger’s work ethic helped her transform her Upshift work into full-time employment at Aero Fulfillment Services in Mason. Despite that, she still plans to pick up shifts here and there through Upshift for extra spending money.

“We have people who were accountants making $80 grand a year who have Upshift on their phone and maybe use it once or twice a year and they’re fine with that, whereas if they signed up for an agency, they would get a call every weekend yelling at them because they aren’t working,” Pantich says.

Pantich declined to reveal revenues or exactly how many Upshifters use the app. As the middleman connecting workers with employers, Upshift isn’t eligible for Ohio’s list of top employers, but Pantich said it would crack the top 60 if it were. That puts it in the company of firms like American Electric Power, Ford, and KeyCorp with 6,000-plus employees in the Buckeye State.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Austin Fast.

Austin Fast is a freelance journalist with a passion for podcasts, international travel, and rural America. Follow him on Twitter at @a_fast.