Forget the Box!

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It’s how CICOA launched a for-profit business, Duett, and created an innovation studio

How many times have you been told to “think outside the box?” My motto is, forget the box! What if we don’t let any boundaries get in the way of creative thinking? That’s where the real magic happens.

As an example, let me introduce you to Chad Bales. Chad is a social worker and assistant director of CICOA’s Flourish Care Management team. With 14+ years at CICOA, he’s worked one-on-one with clients, care providers and employees. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He also has great ideas, which is what led him to become an innovator and entrepreneur.

One of Chad’s consistent pain points involved matching clients with in-home care providers. The process was clumsy and time-consuming. When a client needed services, a case manager provided them a list of potential providers, which could include 400 names or more. The case manager then started through the list trying to find a provider who had the expertise and capacity to meet the client need. Finding a match could take hours, weeks or longer.

Chad wanted to deliver a better client experience and free care managers from this agonizing, time- consuming activity. He sought out the advice of colleague Jonathan Haag, who at the time was CICOA’s digital communications manager, now director of strategy and innovation. The two brainstormed about online solutions to streamline the process. What they really needed, they decided, was new technology that would function much like a match-making app. They experimented with a rudimentary prototype to show proof of concept, did market research and then—with the blessing of the CICOA Board of Directors—found a partner to build the technology.

They realized from the beginning that the right solution would help not only CICOA clients and care managers, but also care providers and Area Agencies on Aging like CICOA across the country. The idea morphed into a full-fledged business.

Last week, CICOA launched Duett, our first for-profit spinoff company. I’m not only excited about the possibilities of this new technology, but also how Duett has become a catalyst for even more innovation at CICOA.

Culture of Innovation

Yes, our mission of caring for older adults, people with disabilities and family caregivers will not change. What is changing is a new focus on building a culture of innovation that incentivizes all 300-plus employees to bring forward ideas to improve the client experience and deliver better health outcomes.

To support these ideas, our forward-thinking Foundation Board created the CICOA Venture Fund and gave us the greenlight to create an innovation studio, which Jonathan now leads. Employees bring their ideas to the studio, and together we vet those ideas to determine whether there is an opportunity.

Success is contagious, and I’m so excited to see what will come next from the creative minds of our team when we don’t allow the proverbial box to get in our way.

To learn more about Duett, visit

Related: Two Colleagues Find Tech Solution to Connect Clients to Home Healthcare Faster

CICOA President and CEO Tauhric Brown
Tauhric Brown

As President and CEO, Tauhric Brown uses his strategic vision and experience in the elderly and disability service industry to expand CICOA services and collaborative partnerships to better meet the needs of the vulnerable populations we serve. Before joining CICOA, Brown served as the chief operating officer for Senior Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich. His career started in the U.S. Army, and then he became a successful owner/operator for a multi-carrier wireless retail company. Inspired by his family and upbringing, he made the switch to the nonprofit world to fulfill his dream of improving the lives of others.

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