When Neal Shah's wife got cancer when he was in his mid-30s, he tried to balance being a caregiver and continuing his career.
The pressure of caring for her through several rounds of chemotherapy, failed surgeries and a medically-induced coma eventually led Shah to quit his job.
Shah, a UNC alumnus, was also a caregiver for his grandparents and watched his mother quit her job to become a full-time caregiver too.
“We believe that these people are doing a lot of care within their own family at a great sacrifice to their time, their income, oftentime at the sacrifice of their own mental health and physical health,” he said. “And right now there aren't many options for them to get a break.”
Shah eventually began working with Gavry Eshet at the UNC computer science department in late 2020 to, in Shah's words, “build something like an Uber for caregiving."
The two co-founded CareYaya, an online registry to find student caregivers, by bringing on students at universities in North Carolina, especially those on pre-health tracks, to serve as caregivers.
The platform launched in early 2022 but became more popular at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, with over 1,500 student caregivers being matched through the site and over 500 families using their services.
Shah, the CEO of CareYaya, decided to hire college students because he thought it would be a good way for them to gain healthcare experience while also getting paid for their work.
“I think having that perspective is pretty important when you want to go into a field where you're gonna be caring for patients because you’re only gonna see that patient for a fraction of the time, but when you're at home they need around-the-clock care,” said Sean Ahaotu-Simelane, a caregiver with CareYaya and a junior on the pre-med track at UNC.