When Helen Adeosun, 37, started a master's program in education policy and management at Harvard's graduate school of education, she didn't think of herself as an entrepreneur. But one eye-opening course--paired with her previous experience as a home care worker--gave her, in 2015, the confidence she needed to start CareAcademy, which in six short years would become one of the fastest-growing companies in America. Her Boston-based training business for care workers generated $33 million in funding, but navigating Covid has been anything but certain. --As told to Rebecca Deczynski

My idea for CareAcademy came together in a class cross-listed at Harvard and MIT called Development Ventures--it's still offered today. The premise for the class is that you create a company for social benefit. Students share their ideas and everyone votes for their favorites. I nervously put my hand up and shared my idea.

I wanted to create more pathways for upskilling in the health care field for direct care workers. I had worked as a direct care worker in high school and undergrad, and I had family members who worked in the field as well. Through that experience, I saw that there was a really natural progression of skills you can build to go from being a home health aide to a registered nurse--but those kinds of pathways to opportunity in our country are really broken. With online training, that could change.

When I first shared my idea with my class, it really resonated with folks--and that gave me the boost of confidence I needed to invest in it. I incorporated CareAcademy in 2013, but it wasn't until 2015 that I really started to focus on it. I remember having somewhat of a panic attack when the first people bought our courses, but I knew it was also proof that we were building something that was needed. 

Our mission to empower and elevate direct care workers to really step into critical health care gaps became even more necessary during the pandemic. It's a win that creates added income opportunities for folks who are largely women and people of color, and a win for our overall health care system and accessibility.

We tend to look at our growth not from a head count perspective, but rather by thinking about how we can get smarter as an organization and how we can keep fine-tuning our processes. A lot of people in venture capital would say that you can only accelerate growth through head count, but we think more about how we can leverage the people we already have. We practice what we preach in a lot of ways, which is why we think a lot about helping our people reach their full potential. There are people at CareAcademy who have been with the company since they were interns, and they've been with us for almost half a decade. I believe that your best customers are the ones you already have--and your best talent are the employees you already have too.

That's not to say we have it all figured out. We've made some pivotal changes over the years. We initially thought it was absolutely critical to talk directly to caregivers and have them buy into our classes. But we learned that wasn't economically feasible for a lot of the caregivers. So we started to think instead about ways in which we work with employers, like hospitals and other care organizations.

Our first courses were focused on training caregivers to work in child care settings, because we thought there would be the most demand for those kinds of specializations. Then, however, we realized more people were actually in search of elder care workers, so we changed gears. But timing is everything. Now, as more people are seeking out child care, as workplace policies have shifted since the start of Covid, we're looking back at that offering.

At this moment in health care, there's a trend where more people want to have access to different kinds of home care, more people want care workers who reflect and look like them, and more people are looking for affordable care. Direct care provides a lot of that--and we're set on providing the training pathways that can bring more people into this line of work.

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