Entrepreneur Kurt Boerner is about to kick off a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a product he’s desperately hoping will be broadly used, but what he’s up to doesn’t seem very typical of a Kickstarter project.
For starters, he’s pitching a printed guide and identification kit for families taking care of people with dementia, and, while clever, it doesn’t seem to score many points for cool.
And at age 64, Boerner has long moved past the demographic heartland of crowdfunding — the millennials — as people 65 and older reportedly make up just 2 percent of Kickstarter backers.
Boerner also acknowledged that he’s not seen anything quite like his product on the crowdfunding platforms, but that sure doesn’t discourage him. Having a big need to fill — about 15 million Americans care for somebody with dementia — and nothing quite like his product already available is what tells him “A Caregiver’s Guide to Wandering” just might be a home run.
His Caregiver’s Guide is less a guidebook than it is an identification kit, a tool to help people look after a family member with dementia. Boerner is new to the field of cognitive diseases but not at this kind of kit, having long made his living selling similar kits used by families to keep track of their kids.
Parents would fill out and keep his Safe Kids kit handy in case their children wandered off or were kidnapped. His kit featured an innovative way to capture a child’s fingerprint.
The idea from the beginning was that corporate sponsors would distribute these little booklets as a public service. They appeared with the label of McGruff the Crime Dog, making them part of a broader child safety campaign of the National Crime Prevention Council.
Boerner has been banging these kits out since the early 1990s. Including the ones incorporated into the product packaging of General Mills cereal, the total number he’s distributed is closing in on 24 million.
While that sounds like a lot, Medina-based Boerner Inc., his company, has been just him, with a handful of his longtime collaborators working as freelancers.
Even as a small business, though, Boerner and Safe Kids kits became well-known to police administrators across the country. It was a call in 2014 from one McGruff Safe Kids customer, Sgt. Jacqueline Fortune from the Sheriff’s Office in Houston, that led him to create “A Caregiver’s Guide to Wandering.”
Fortune told him that the evening before she had used Safe Kids kits at a meeting for families caring for someone with dementia. Even though these kits were aimed at parents of young kids and featured a dog detective on the cover, they seemed to be what these families really needed.
“So we researched it,” Boerner said. “Yes, there’s a market. There’s a gigantic market, and unfortunately it’s growing like crazy.” There are an estimated 7.4 million Americans with dementia and an additional 15 million family members caring for them.
With a lot for a caregiver to worry about already, having a person with dementia turn up missing isn’t exactly rare, either. Boerner said maybe six out of 10 can become confused and wander away.
Just as with the McGruff kits created for kids, the idea behind the “A Caregiver’s Guide to Wandering” is to have families collect a lot of personal information in one spot, a package to hand over to the police or volunteers to make it easier to track down a vulnerable person who has gone wandering.
It has room for contact information, a recent photograph, a careful description and other information, as well space for a DNA sample and a full set of fingerprints.
It took some time after that call from Houston for Boerner to refine the product. Once he started looking for users, he said, he predicted slow going, as a complete unknown to organizations that fund programs for people with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases.
Instead “we got really nice acceptance, sort of, ‘Where have you been all of our lives?’ ” Boerner said. “We heard that this kit is something that’s needed.”
Calls this week to organizations that have already committed to A Caregiver’s Guide, such as the nonprofit Project Lifesaver International, confirmed the enthusiasm that Boerner described.
In addition to looking for new sponsors for his kits, now in more than a dozen states, Boerner has made it easy for families to go directly to his website and fill out an online form of the same document. Now there could be a full digital profile that could easily be e-mailed to volunteers or the police if a family member wanders off.
Boerner plans on print versions being available indefinitely, but online “is where this piece needs to go,” he said. “That obviously presents a problem to a small company, of not having the funding to push this thing to the extent it deserves.”
That’s when he hit on the idea of looking for donations online, and he could launch his Kickstarter project as soon as this week. His draft proposal on the site right now lists a fundraising goal of $100,000, although he may yet increase it.
He plans to use the money to buy Facebook and other carefully targeted digital advertising to rapidly build awareness about the worrisome problem of having a family member wander off.
A Caregiver’s Guide is, of course, a business project, a product line extension for a company that’s been in business making safety kits for more than two decades. Boerner would like to sell some more kits, he said, but it’s also clear that this opportunity to help families is much bigger than even his McGruff products.
That’s why, in addition to Kickstarter, he would love to hear from any larger organization with the capital to take over his Caregiver’s Guide and roll it out much faster than he can.
“That’s what I would hope for,” he said. “I would do this, if I had the means, as a volunteer. It’s that special.”