Venture-backed company is making great inroads in Missoula, where four in-home child care businesses have sprung up to help alleviate the high price of daycare and empower young mothers to learn business skills.

State groups like the Montana High Tech Alliance and Powerhouse Montana support MyVillage, which takes its name from prevailing philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child.

“We closed the largest seed round in Montana history at $5.95 million last April,” said Elke Govertsen, Mamalode magazine maven-turned-chief community officer for MyVillage. “Only one of our investors is from Montana and has invested in companies in this state previously.”

Susan Carstensen of Bozeman, formerly chief financial officer for RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, is the private individual Montana investor.

The $5.95 million investment is reportedly the largest in state history.

Founded in Bozeman in 2017, MyVillage helps parents open and operate high-quality, home-based early childhood education programs. Co-founders Erica Mackey and Beth Szymanski – both parents and entrepreneurs -- saw a great need for lessening the stresses and cost of working parents. As of September, they have at least 80 new childcare providers on board in Montana and Colorado.

“Erica’s a powerful force solving a very real problem in a creative way,” said Carstensen.

The objective is to connect families with home-based childcare options, train providers and guide them through the required state licensing process for early childhood educators.

“MyVillage empowers people — and right now, all of our educators are women—to become business owners through a franchise model,” said Govertsen.

Strikingly, the new business model allows MyVillage educators earn 30-to-50 percent more income with non-affiliated providers, Govertsen said.

One Missoula mother, Mandy Willis, had no previous business experience until she enlisted the help of MyVillage, which earns 10 percent of an individual provider’s gross revenue.

Mandy Willis takes care of her own newborn, plus three other neighborhood children, at her in-home daycare. (Tiffany Williams)
Mandy Willis takes care of her own newborn, plus three other neighborhood children, at her in-home daycare. (Tiffany Williams)

Willis, 31, has a newborn that keeps her hopping and three other neighborhood children she takes care of while saving money on the typical $1,000 monthly market price for day care elsewhere.

“I'm learning as I go, but have MyVillage to assist with some of the business aspects,” said Willis, located in central Missoula near the Good Food Store neighborhood.

MyVillage trains educators on typical day care accounting and tax procedures – and keeps a close watch on progress before taking its 10 percent off the top of the new business, said Govertsen.

When parents struggle to find accessible, affordable childcare, some cannot work out of the home. Mackey and Szymanski were stunned that some child care costs as much as $2,000 a month to keep an infant in full-time care.

“As they set out to transform the market through MyVillage, they quickly found that the current system isn’t working currently for parents, kids, or childcare providers, who earn on average $11.50/hour,” said Govertsen.

In exchange for the 10 percent earned gross revenues, educators or providers receive “a business-in-a-box solution,” including access to high-quality curricula through a partnership with Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child, a technology platform to automate billing, enrollment and parent communication, comprehensive business insurance, and support with taxes and meeting or exceeding all local and state licensure standards, added Govertsen.

Real-life, local mentors, plus an educator community of support and continuing education opportunities helps alleviate “some of the isolation that can come with this profession,” she said.

MyVillage seems to be the right solution for parents like Willis.

“There seems to be a lack of infant care available in Missoula and I wanted to be able to provide a loving, nurturing learning environment specifically for infants/toddlers,” said Willis. “This age group requires more love and attention and I feel very blessed to be able to provide that for my families.”

Govertsen said MyVillage solves the very real problem for parents and educators – the lack of quality, affordable childcare – and for those “who aren’t making the income they deserve and struggle with burnout.

Only one in three children under age 5 in paid daycare in the United States has access to what Govertsen calls quality home-based care. All told, 15 million children under 5 need care.

Elke Govertsen (Erika Peterman photo)
Elke Govertsen (Erika Peterman photo)

“So increasing the supply is crucial to solving the childcare crisis in America,” said Govertsen. “MyVillage offers a consistently high quality, affordable option for all families, offering our programs at below market rates—less than $1,000 a month for full-time care.”

The franchise is especially proud that its educators are all female, even as only three percent of all businesses are women-owned. Willis, for one, seemed ripe for learning and absorbing the new business model.

“I really wanted guidance and support for beginning my program,” said Willis. “The licensing process seems pretty daunting and overwhelming, at least to me. I wanted to have some support with starting up my new business and to receive resources and tools to help me get started and to maintain my business.”

Much of an educator’s job is to focus on self-care, too, which resonates strongly with Willis.

“Providers work long hours with very few -- if any --  breaks throughout the day,” added Willis. “Especially since I've started a family of my own self care is important and sometimes other duties have to get put on the ‘backburner’ for some self-care and for your own mental health.”

Willis remains realistic, too, though.

“Another thing I learned is that with starting a business there's a huge learning curve, and to accept that there will be curveballs and to try to be flexible,” she said.

One thing is for certain: The future bodes very well for MyVillage.

“Most parents aren’t surprised to learn that there is only enough supply to meet about 20-to-30 percent of the market’s demand,” she added, “which means if MyVillage can create affordable, quality supply at scale, this $48 billion market could turn into a $200 billion  market in the U.S. alone.”