Calgary social services tech startup gets $2.5 million from Ottawa to scale up

The HelpSeeker app puts a community’s full range of social service supports in one searchable database so that users can easily find the help they need

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A Calgary-based tech startup that helps match people in need with social services has received $2.5 million from the federal government to help it expand and grow across the country.

HelpSeeker, a Calgary-based technology company founded in 2018 by husband-and-wife team Travis Turner and Alina Turner, offers a range of digital products designed to help people easily access community, health and social services. It also offers specialized tools and services for social service agencies, providers, and municipal governments.

The HelpSeeker app, available for download or via web, puts a community’s full range of social service supports — from housing to mental health services to child care support — in one searchable database so that users can easily find the help they need. It is currently available in over 200 communities in Western Canada as well as Toronto.

On Friday, Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announced that HelpSeeker will receive $2.5 million over three years to help it scale up from 200 communities to 5,000 communities nation-wide. He said the investment supports the government’s National Housing Strategy, which aims to find unique and innovative solutions for the country’s homelessness problem.

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In an interview, Alina Turner said HelpSeeker aims to actually prevent chronic homelessness by getting supports to at-risk individuals before they end up on the streets. These supports can be anything from rent supplements and eviction protection, to counselling, divorce and legal support, and gender-based violence interventions.

“There’s so many options before people become part of that chronic homeless population,” said Turner, who is a fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and serves on the Board of Directors for A Way Home Canada as well as the Alberta Rural Development Rural Advisory Board on housing and homelessness.

“What we wanted to do is say, ‘hey, can we use technology and some of these new tools that are coming through from the digital side to solve some of these problems?’ ”

Turner described the $2.5-million funding injection from the federal government as a “game changer” for her company.

“Basically it takes what would have taken us 10 years to do, the bootstrap way, and compresses it into two and a half years,” she said.

HelpSeeker has 37 employees in Calgary currently and Turner said that will increase significantly in months to come.

“We’re currently hiring about a person a week, and it’s not just because of this (federal) investment. We’re probably going to be doubling in the next year,” she said.

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