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This California startup thinks it can help stem Colorado’s child care shortage

Anna Mandefro, the daughter of Yemi Habte, a MyVillage franchisee in Aurora, looks at rocks through a magnifying glass.
Anna Mandefro, the daughter of Yemi Habte, a MyVillage franchisee in Aurora, looks at rocks through a magnifying glass.
Joe Amon | Denver Post

A California-based company recently expanded to Colorado with the goal of minting new home-based child care providers in the Denver area.

Wonderschool, which currently operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, is the second such company to set up shop in the state in recent years. A smaller competitor, MyVillage, launched in Colorado and Montana in 2017.

The two companies are among a crop of recent startups that aim to address acute child care shortages by making it easier for providers to launch and run child care businesses out of their homes. The idea is to help providers achieve efficiencies they couldn’t on their own — things like buying supplies in bulk at a discount, getting access to marketing tools, or using a common pool of substitute teachers, mentors or coaches.

Given Colorado’s longtime decline in home-based child care providers, leaders at MyVillage and Wonderschool have their work cut out for them. The number of licensed home-based providers in the state — traditionally a big source of infant care — dropped 45% from 2010 to 2018, going from 3,509 to 1,927, according to data from the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The situation is so dire that lawmakers passed a law last spring requiring state officials to come up with an action plan by Dec.1 to address the loss of home-based and infant care in Colorado.

Nationwide, child care is a notoriously tough business, marked by low pay, high turnover and lots or regulation.

While the models used by MyVillage and Wonderschool vary, both use technology platforms and mentors to help new providers navigate licensing rules, recruit families, and collect tuition. Both also count the Denver-based Gary Community Investments, which invests in a variety of early childhood efforts, as a funder.

Currently, MyVillage has about 40 Colorado providers that have signed franchise agreements with the company, including in Aurora, Denver, Brighton, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs. Not all of the programs are up and running yet. The company has additional franchisees in Montana.

Wonderschool lists about a dozen Colorado home-based providers on its website, including in Denver, Aurora, Wheat Ridge, Westminster, and Thornton. Nationwide, its network includes more than 140 providers.

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