Social Enterprise Spotlight: Clear Computing

Business+Impact has introduced a series on U-M alumni who have created social enterprises and continue the work of entrepreneurship after graduation. For this edition, we are shining the light on  Clear Computing, a service company offering local, professional help with computers for our elder community.

Earlier this year, in the Michigan Business Challenge – Seigle Impact Track, James Giordani (MSW ’22) was one of four finalists who presented before the judging team. Clear Computing helps older adults learn how to use technology to better their quality of life and extend their independence.

Describe your business.

Clear Computing provides tech lessons and in-home tech support tailored towards older adult needs. We do not just provide cookie cutter tech support like how companies “fix” an issue then just leave a client hanging. We take the time to learn each client’s unique tech skills and experience then help match those to their unique tech goals. Our goal is to help people learn to use their computer, smartphone, and other tech devices independently and confidently.

What is your biggest recent discovery about founding a tech support company? What do you enjoy most about it?

I received my MSW from UM in May and the most enjoyable part of what we do is definitely when the work becomes more “social worrky” and we have a direct impact on client’s lives. For example, two weeks ago I received a call from someone who recently had their leg amputated due to diabetes. He was now homebound, living alone, and relatively low-tech-experienced. The hand-me-down computer from his son wasn’t turning on, which cut him off from  friends and family he would normally interact with via email and Facebook. Also, his internet was not working, so he was forced to watch broadcast television, commercials and all, instead of that wonderful on-demand content his Roku brings. So we got him a low-cost refurbished machine and made shortcuts directly to his email and Facebook for maximum ease of use. His router had been inconveniently placed in his now inaccessible basement, but resetting it got the internet working throughout the house — so no more TV commercials. That type of impactful work is so meaningful. It’s really cool when we have an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of living or extend the independence of a client

How does a firm like yours stay on top of a rapidly changing tech landscape?

Well I definitely wouldn’t say we’re on top of anything! What sets us apart is our old school approach. Devices used to come with robust manuals so people could learn how to use them on their own. Also, those constant updates, intrusive popups, unintuitive gestures, dark patterns, and nagging notifications can be huge barriers for use. We do our best to strip out those nagging elements and write out instructions in a way our clients can reliably refer back to, just like a well-written manual. Most tech companies just want to slap an app on a problem and call it a solution. We like to work with what people already have and know.

What UM/SSW courses or Michigan Business Challenge workshops have helped you the most in building out the business?

The therapy classes I took really helped me identify the fear, anger, and anxiety a lot of folks have tied to their tech devices. So often I would hear “I’m so stupid when it comes to the computer,” or “I’m such an idiot when it comes to these things.” Just letting folks know that they’re not alone in their struggles, and also being able to point out the specific design aspects — which make using devices difficult (and even trip up a lot of young users) — has been a helpful big skill.

The whole Michigan Business Challenge experience really changed Clear Computing. What used to be a side gig to pay for grad school is now a functioning business with a growth plan.

Together that blend of social work and business gives Clear Computing a unique feel. There’s that societal problem solving mission developed from the School of Social Work plus the business planning and structure rooted in Ross programming. Shout out to the whole crew from the Zell Lurie Institute, who were so responsive and helpful despite having so much on their plates.

I see on your LinkedIn page that ironically, you are not a big fan of social media?  What areas of tech or social media endanger or cause harm for older folks or URMs?

We’ve recently started focusing on collaborating with older adult living facilities and it’s been shocking to see just how widespread tech-related scams are. Almost every workshop we put on has had multiple people who have fallen victim to a tech support scam or fake purchase scam, many who didn’t even realize it. What used to be loner criminals occasionally scamming one or two older adults has evolved into a branch of modern organized crime which needs to be addressed from micro and macro levels. One challenge is that there are so many scams and vulnerabilities for bad actors to take advantage of, so it’s hard to sum everything up in a digestible manner. At a minimum, make sure everyone in your family has a decent antivirus (not McAfee or Norton) an adblocker (preferably uBlock Origin), and that they know that Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and other big companies do not want you to call them on the phone, and to never give remote access to your computer.

What new ideas are you looking toward to next, or what connections are you looking to make in the near future?

We definitely want to find a more business-oriented partner so I can focus more on product development and training. We’re also hiring Tech Helpers, so if you know someone who is charming and a little tech savvy, send them our way! This is some of the most meaningful and fun work they’ll ever do.

Older adult tech literacy is a huge and growing societal problem which is woefully underserved. The big dream is to pivot into a more venture capital friendly, rapidly scalable structure focused on designing apps and environments tailored for older adults, so they won’t have to keep calling their children for support!

James can be reached at james@clearcomputing.net.

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