Poncho, a digital startup backed by Kamet Ventures, has launched to address the growing childcare crisis and the resulting unprecedented pressure facing working parents. This comes as one in six childcare providers is expected to close by Christmas and 87 per cent of parents report having needed to homeschool at least one child since May.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Ben Prouty, alongside co-founders David Adams and Vijay Raghavan, Poncho is an app that empowers businesses to better support their employees by making wraparound childcare more affordable and accessible. The digital and in-person activities are available for children aged six months to 18 years and span three categories – Learning, Active, and Fun. The activities fit flexibly around busy schedules, and are delivered by high-quality, verified partners including MadScience, Stagecoach, and Firetech.

As well as providing access to activities, Poncho also helps parents understand and access the Government-provided childcare support that they are eligible for. This is particularly significant given that only 27 per cent of people were aware of tax-free childcare in 2018, and only 205,000 of the estimated 1.2 million families eligible under the Childcare Payments Act are using the benefit today.

Poncho has been gaining impressive traction – companies already signing up to the platform include JCDecaux UK as well as other key players in the media and technology sector.

By offering Poncho as an employee benefit, companies can help employees make substantial savings, with average annual childminding costs reaching £6,800 in 2020.

Commenting on the launch, Ben Prouty, CEO and Founder of Poncho, said: “We came up with the idea for Poncho after seeing how under-resourced and expensive childcare was, and the impact this was having on working parents. We know that businesses want to help – in fact, our research suggests that UK companies are collectively willing to spend up to £1.2 billion on childcare support for their employees. Such a vast, untapped resource could be critical in keeping working parents in employment, and ultimately helping the UK’s economic recovery.

“At Poncho, our goal is to increase the accessibility and affordability of childcare globally, allowing parents to find activities for their children that help with their education, mental wellbeing and physical health. During the next few months of tiered restrictions, the activities we offer can help to restore the balance for parents between looking after their children and working remotely.”

Parents will be able to personalise the range of activities their children undertake, with the opportunity to encourage the development of skills in areas such as the arts, sport and STEM.

Phoebe Chandler, Head of People, Employee Experience at JCDecaux UK says: “When we asked employees in our Working Parents Group to test Poncho and tell us their views, they said Poncho would make their lives easier and help relieve some of the pressures that they face as working parents. We are acutely aware of these challenges and feel that Poncho will help us better support employees with benefits tailored to the current climate.”

Market research conducted by Poncho suggests that 50 per cent of mothers would return to work if they could access affordable childcare.

Michael Niddam, Managing Partner at Kamet Ventures, which developed the concept for Poncho and provided early funding, said: “It is well documented that the burden of childcare falls disproportionately on mothers, inhibiting their ability to work. The Fawcett Society estimates one in three working mothers has lost work or had to reduce their hours due to additional childcare responsibilities exacerbated by the pandemic. Poncho can provide a very real antidote to these trends. We are proud to support a company that addresses so many of our most important – and urgent – social challenges.”

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.