Like many other teens, Adam Goldberg got his first driving permit at age 16. But Goldberg needed it more than most. His aunt was autistic and suffered from a traumatic brain injury, and it became Goldberg's job to drive her to and from treatment.
Goldberg learned firsthand how hard it is to care for a family member with special medical needs.
"Caregivers feel like they're in the dark," Goldberg said. "They don't know what they don't know . . . they're feeling like they're alone."
So he started a company to help.
Based in Burlington, torchlight is an online service that provides family members with tools and information to help care for a relative with special medical needs. The service is bought by companies and provided to employees as a free benefit.
Founded to help parents of special needs children, torchlight recently launched a new offering for adult children who need help with their elderly parents. Families can get an assessment of the care that's needed and be pointed to treatment options and assistance programs. For special needs children, torchlight can provide parents with letters to request assistance from schools or other caregiving agencies.
Companies pay torchlight an annual fee based on the number of users of the service. It declined to disclose prices. About 50 have signed up, including EMC Corp., the giant data storage company in Hopkinton that is being acquired by Dell Inc., and Needham-based TripAdvisor Inc., the online travel service.
"It helps with employee retention," said Beth Grous, TripAdvisor's chief people officer. "To be able to provide these tools is we believe an additional attraction to those who may be considering TripAdvisor as an employer."
In addition, Grous said, the assistance provided by torchlight "helps them be more productive here, which is a bottom-line benefit to our business."
Goldberg, 44, was born in Boston and earned a business degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, while running a moving company in his spare time. He graduated in 1995, just in time for the first great Internet boom. Goldberg took a job at the early online company Prodigy, and moved to Johannesburg to work in its African operation. He also held business development posts at Lucent Technologies and EMC Corp.
But in 2002, Goldberg stepped away from tech to work with his mother, who ran a special needs education consultancy to help families find assistance for their children.
"I ended up working with over a thousand families over a decade or so," said Goldberg. "There were families coming to us constantly."
Goldberg realized they could do even more by setting up an online portal where families could quickly find the resources they needed. Meanwhile, the Goldbergs were getting calls from companies with employee assistance programs. The program managers were being bombarded with questions about special needs children.
"After dozens of these calls, we were saying, this is where the opportunity is," said Goldberg. By 2012, the first version of torchlight was launched under the company's original name MyEdGPS.
In 2014, Bright Horizons Family Solutions of Watertown, which runs about 900 child care centers worldwide, formed an alliance to sell torchlight's services to its clients.
At the same time, the company began offering it to its own employees, including Nancy Burlingame, vice president of client relations. Burlingame said that torchlight came just in time to help with her teenage son, who suffers from ADHD and was entering high school.
"It was a pretty upsetting time for me, and a very stressful time." Burlingame said. But within weeks, the torchlight service helped her arrange counseling and assistance for her son. "He's definitely seen a bunch of growth and a lot of success," Burlingame said.
In June, the company launched torchlight elder, which provides the same kind of customized assistance to workers who must care for their aging relatives. The service includes video tutorials for caregivers, an assessment program to determine a person's specific needs and concerns, information on health care and a virtual file cabinet where families can store all their relatives' vital documents in one place.
Inspiration for the new service came in part from Goldberg's experiences with his father Samuel, who died in 2015. "Obviously a painful thing to go through, especially with busy working folks," Goldberg said. "Looking back on it, I think, it would have been amazing to know about this or that. Because when you're in the throes, you're not thinking straight."