Posts Tagged: Inspired Media

GrandPad

With one swipe, GrandPad allows seniors to stay connected with family and friends / Photo courtesy GrandPad

The GrandPad tablet delivers telehealth for homebound, and creates an innovative spark for rural entrepreneurs.

By Maggie Sonnek

When Scott Lien and his family traded in one adventure for another, leaving behind their beloved sky blue Victorian house in Wabasha, Minnesota, they silently promised they’d be back.

And 25 years later, they were. In March 2020, the Liens shuttled back to the Midwest from Silicon Valley, where Scott had taken the leadership helm at a handful of corporations. Returning with a newfound perspective gained from travel and experience, he was surprised to find storefronts along the town’s main corridor empty and boarded up. That’s when he decided to combine his love of rural America with his knowledge and innovation for entrepreneurship.

Scott and Isaac Lien (far left and far right) with two of GrandPad’s oldest employees,
another father-son team, Elmer and Richard Thill / Photos courtesy GrandPad

In 2013, Scott and his then-college-aged son Isaac wanted to stay connected to Marlys Lien, the duo’s mother and grandmother. While Scott and Isaac were in Silicon Valley, Marlys lived 2,000 miles away in Decorah, Scott’s hometown. GrandPad, a tablet sans complicated features, was born. Designed specifically for seniors, the tablet has fun games, customized music, and apps, plus large buttons paired with an intuitive interface to make chatting with friends and family a breeze. But, Scott, who now splits his time between Silicon Valley and Wabasha, learned that in the Midwest, attracting funding from investors is anything but a breeze.

“The Midwest is quite risk adverse,” he says. “And, because nearly 90 percent of startups fail in the first three years, local investors don’t jump on board right away. The majority of capital comes from the coasts.”

The data backs this up. According to the Center of Rural Development, less than one percent of all venture capital goes to rural startups. And, in 2017, five metro areas (San Francisco, New York City, Boston, San Jose and Los Angeles) accounted for nearly 80 percent of all venture capital investment nationwide. While innovation has concentrated in major urban hubs, rural economies have lacked the entrepreneurship to spark economic growth.

But, with remote work on the rise – this trend has grown by 173 percent since 2005, according to the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), a national non-profit that aims to foster sustainable economic success in rural America – more families are swapping crowds and congestion for chickens and country roads.

Families like the Olsons. Two hundred miles straight north of Wabasha, Jon and Hallie and their three kids spend time playing in their rugged, homemade treehouse and feeding their cluster of chickens. In 2019, Jon, an engineer, began working remotely. That allowed the Olsons to trade in their Minneapolis bungalow for a custom-built home in northern Minnesota that sits on five acres of wooded beauty.

“We feel so lucky to be where we are. The kids can spend hours outside,” 38-year-old Hallie says. “And, with COVID-19, we don’t feel as restricted in what we can and can’t do.”

Mark Rembert, Head of the Rural Innovation Network at the CORI, says while it could be months before we know the pandemic’s impact on urban and rural areas, COVID-19 is fundamentally changing the appeal, necessity, and feasibility of living in a big city.

“We don’t know yet if an increase in remote work will result in people leaving big cities,” Mark says. “But, surveys have shown that many people who live in metro areas would actually prefer to live in rural spaces. Remote working could create opportunities for more people to make that move.”

Obviously, it’s much easier to bring a job with you – like Jon did – than to hang out a shingle. But entrepreneur and business leader Scott says now is the time for innovators to open up shop small towns.

“This is an opportunity for rural America to shine. We need to ask what we’re doing to make our small towns attractive,” says Lien, who, during his career has held leadership roles at Best Buy, Bank of America, and Intuit. “In Minnesota, we can’t change the weather, so instead, we celebrate it. Let’s soar with our strengths and try to turn the downfalls into positive attributes.”

Taking risks and forging ahead with entrepreneurship and innovation, especially in rural areas, is key to creating dynamic, progressive small towns.

“There is a fantastic labor force in rural areas,” Scott says, noting that even though GrandPad was founded in California, he specifically engages employees from Midwest towns. “Lots of the employees we’ve hired have been out of the workforce for a while and aren’t necessarily looking for a job; think empty nesters and stay-at-home-parents. They’ve made the assumption that fulfilling, well-paying jobs are only available in large cities. And, because they don’t want to commit to a long commute or relocate, they assume their choices are limited.”

That’s where GrandPad really shines. Employees are hired – by referrals from current team members only – to work a flexible schedule from home.

Member experience agent Lori Lechtenberg, who lives outside of Decorah says, “I can be in my home chatting with people across the globe. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“We’re creating long-term, durable, high-paying jobs,” Scott explains. “And, most importantly, these positions are family-oriented.”

Indeed, family is the main reason why Anna Arens applied to GrandPad after receiving a referral. Anna worked in healthcare at Mayo Clinic for 12 years when her husband, a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army, learned he’d be deployed overseas to Syria for one year. With three young kids at home, Anna knew her current schedule wouldn’t adhere well to her husband’s absence.

GrandPad Member Experience Agent Anna Arens works from her home office / Photo courtesy Anna Arens

“I needed to find a job that offered flexible hours without a commute,” Anna says, noting that the options are limited in a small town. Since accepting her role as member experience agent at GrandPad three years ago, she’s been encouraged to put her family first.

“Scott expresses to us that when we’re able to take care of our homes and families first, we do our jobs better. Because of that mentality, I’m able to be more present in my life.”

Anne Meurer, also an agent at GrandPad, accepted her job just before the global pandemic surged across the country in the spring of 2020.

“I was able to be home with our kids and help them with online learning,” she recalls. “I would sit at my desk and they’d sit on the floor next to me.”

After working in government administration for several years, Anne craved a job that better aligned with her life. More than just a steady paycheck and paid holidays, she wanted meaning and mission from her employer.

“I wanted something more rewarding. When I learned about GrandPad, I was all-in,” says Anne. “I was born into a family of five living generations and was fortunate enough to grow close to my Great Grandma Jean. I truly learned the importance of our elders and grandparents.”

GrandPad Member Experience Agent Anne Meuer works from her home office / Photo courtesy of Anne Meuer

Member experience agents like Lori, Anna, and Anne develop deep and substantial relationships with GrandPad users. Like, calling seniors on their birthdays type of exchange.

“Our clients rely on us when they need help with a specific app on the tablet or when they’re lonely,” Anne says. “And, there’s always someone there…always a friendly voice on the other line.”

Throughout the global pandemic, several home health agencies and healthcare companies have turned to GrandPad to facilitate video visits. The company began offering expanded capabilities, like GrandPad Daily Connect. This remote care solution delivers data – like blood pressure and heart rate – to remote caregivers who can detect abnormalities and coordinate further care.

GrandPad Daily Connect, a remote care solution, delivers data to remote caregivers / Photo courtesy GrandPad

Meanwhile, GrandPad users – and their families – continue to express their gratitude to agents for this tool that not only keeps them connected during COVID, but staves off loneliness too.

One family member notes, “Mom could no longer use her computer with passwords. The GrandPad allows her to stay in touch with her contacts. It has been a lifesaver for our family!”

We asked Scott how other entrepreneurs and innovators can take hold of this pivotal moment for small towns.

“Keep investing in your communities,” he encourages. “Read the local paper. Talk to your neighbors. Be kind.”

Investing in his own community, Scott leased a space, bought some paint and fresh carpet, and hung a bright, shiny GrandPad sign in the window. Used for demos, videos, training sessions, and as an optional shared workspace for employees, this is Scott’s way of shining a light on rural America. In the small town of Wabasha, in the Midwest, in the U.S., GrandPad is open for business.


Maggie, her husband Eric and their three kids love living in their small town of Wabasha. When she’s not writing, Maggie is packing lunches, helping kids with homework, or (after bedtime) binge-watching shows on Netflix.

Probituary: Phyllis Green

Phyllis Green, interviewed by daughter Pat Beck

phyllis-green

Originally published in the Fall 2016 Inspire(d) Magazine, Phyllis passed away July 28, 2020.  Our condolences to Phyllis’ family and friends.

People around Decorah know Phyllis Green as a bridge player, club member, cookie baker, reliable volunteer, teacher and loyal friend. These qualities, plus a cheerful outlook, and a pragmatic can-do attitude have had a positive effect on people who have known her over eight decades. Phyllis was born August 16, 1928, and grew up on the Erickson family farm near Burr Oak. Though it was during the Great Depression, her life was rich with farm activities, 4-H, church, a sister, cousins, chores, and her pets. She learned the rewards of hard work, of challenging herself, of true love, and of giving.

phyllis_siblingsPhyllis lived in Decorah during her high school years because there were no school buses. She made this big transition shortly after she turned 13; she shared a room with people she didn’t know, cooked for herself, and was introduced to running water and electricity. Decorah High School offered High School Normal Training to prepare teachers for country schools. Phyllis’s long teaching career led to recognition as Scott County Teacher Award, North Scott Community Arts Patron, Iowa Social Studies Teacher of the Year, University of Iowa Distinguished Teacher Award, and The 51st Point of Light given by President Bush.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I am rather averse to advice. I learn by example. My mother taught me to try new things because that’s how you learn if you can do them or not.

What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you?

Since this is not a part of my thinking, I usually count on my own ideas – sometimes good and sometimes questionable. Isn’t that how you learn?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in second grade, my teacher showed me the love and understanding that touched and impressed me. It was in second grade that I set my goal to become a teacher.

When I finished high school, I taught two years in a country school. Then I married K. Ted Green, my life partner. We have five beautiful children. When they were all in school, I started college and completed my degree at Upper Iowa University. Because of Ted’s job with Oscar Mayer, we moved to the Quad Cities. I taught at North Scott Schools for 25 years. Living just 50 miles from The University of Iowa was incentive to continue my education. I completed my MA in two areas and was accepted in the doctoral program. Ted knew I wanted to further my education and he made this dream a reality by his complete support, encouragement, and understanding. These were the building blocks that made my dreams come true. I’ve always been curious about people and places. Ted and I enjoyed foreign travel so this was a part of our yearly plan.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

I’d want lots of pictures of our family – children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, a good book, paper and a pencil, and a Hershey Bar. I know that is more than three things, but I usually get what I want.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

I am a hard worker, an honored wife, a loved mom, grandma, and great-grandma.

If you could eat anything everyday for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A Hershey chocolate bar.

Name one thing you could not live without.

I need a pencil and paper to record my feelings, my wishes, my poetry, my dreams, my stories, my ideas, and to communicate with family and friends – but if I can really have only ONE thing, it would be my family.

phyllis_ted_weddingTell us about your favorite memory.

I will never forget meeting Ted. I was at the county fair when a friend introduced us. He was the county boys’ 4-H president and I was the county girls’ 4-H president but we had never met. I finished high school, taught two years and Ted went to Madison to start his career.

Our wedding day started 63 years of “favorite memories.” We were married at Upper Lutheran Church and had our wedding reception at the Winneshiek Hotel.  We were blessed with four sons and one daughter. Each birth, baptism, confirmation, graduation, wedding have added to our favorite memories.

Also our 60th wedding party, planned by our children, was also held at the Hotel Winneshiek. I have so much to be grateful for!

green_family2016

Stay-at-Home Family Checklist

Whew, these are some crazy times we’re living through with this COVID-19 pandemic. When we told Roxie there was no school for four weeks, she just laughed in her bed in disbelief. Not that it’s at all funny – but it does feel pretty surreal. We are strategizing ways to keep getting positive news to you all (have you seen Benji’s Instagram videos yet?!?) and ways to keep supporting the amazing local businesses in our region.

Benji and I also want to make the best of this time with Roxie, while also trying not to freak her (or ourselves) out too much.

It’s been a little trial and error so far, but we’ve made it through four days of staying at home, all together! And so have you! Hooray! Back-pats all around!

We have found a few things that have made it easier for everyone. I know a lot of people are sharing schedules, but for me, lists work better. I get a little stressed if I fall off schedule – the family checklist allows me the flexibility I need, while still granting the satisfaction of a job (or jobs) done!

We thought we’d share our list in case it sparks some inspiration in your house! Be well, our friends! <3

(Just click the image below for a pdf you can print at home!)


30 Minutes (at least) of exercise daily – this can be inside or outside!

Outside time every day, no matter the weather
I went on a walk in the rain today, and it was refreshing!

Creative or nature of science project
So far, we made a leprechaun trap, planted some seeds, and made a wind sock!

Read
Roxie and I are currently reading the Harry Potter series! Good thing Benji got three of the books and movies from the library!

Dad and Mom work time
Even though we normally work from home, doing so with our kid at home is hard. Plus things are so tumultuous with the world right now, it can be hard to focus. Setting aside specific work times for each parent at home is really important.

Learn something new
On Tuesday of this week, I asked Roxie to write a list of things she wanted to learn about. I said it could be anything – it could even be what she might think inappropriate – and we would see about learning more. Her list included “mustangs from the old times, candles, rubber bands, the Mona Lisa,” and more. And today Benji taught her about feeding and making sourdough!

Declutter one thing or space
It can be just one drawer. Baby steps, people. For me, today, it was our magazine and mail stack.

Clean one thing or space
Again, baby steps. Don’t feel like you have to deep clean the whole house! I cleaned one bathroom today. But nothing makes me feel more sane than clean spaces.

Games or Puzzles
We are playing Five Crowns daily. Today we also did a puzzle. There have been many rounds of “Herd Your Horses” this week too (a 1980s game we bought secondhand at the Depot).

Support your neighbors, community, or world in some way
Buy gift certificates from local businesses. Make a donation to the food pantry. Offer to make a grocery run for an elderly or at-risk neighbor. Put a positive message out into the world via social media or through a cheerful sign in your window. We’re all in this together!

Other fun ideas
From writing letters to FaceTiming friends or relatives to cooking something for the freezer – there are lots of great ways to occupy your time during this period of social distancing.

We’re thinking of you and sending lots of love your way!

XOXO – Aryn