When Darien Williams and Melanie Wolff opened Brella, their Montessori-inspired childcare center, in Playa Vista in 2019, they were inspired by the likes of WeWork and SoulCycle, which had multiple locations and easy-to-use apps for scheduling meetings and workout sessions. The pair found that parents juggling hectic day jobs with their children’s preschool schedules were drawn to a tech-enabled, more flexible way to schedule childcare for their kids.
“The current system can be really punitive to [parents] because it forces them to pay for and schedule childcare that they don’t always need, or to schedule childcare that doesn’t actually support the workdays that they need to have,” Wolff told dot.LA.
Months later, the coronavirus pandemic forced Brella to shut down. But rather than shuttering their company for good, the co-founders saw that the pandemic’s new work-from-home paradigm only exacerbated the need for flexible childcare options. Brella reopened in June 2020, and today serves roughly 400 families whose kids, aged 3 months to 6 years, attend the Playa Vista facility for an average of four-to-five hours a day and twice per week.
On Tuesday, Brella announced a $5 million seed funding round that will allow the startup to open more facilities—it plans to expand to Hollywood and Pasadena by the end of this year—and improve its technology. The funding was led by Newport Beach-based Toba Capital and Brentwood-based Halogen Ventures, and takes Brella’s total amount raised to date to $8 million.
Brella’s Playa Vista-based childcare center lobby.
“What we found is that even pre-pandemic, and now especially post-pandemic, families’ work lives are really dynamic; they’re not always working this 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday kind of role,” Wolff said. “Sometimes their childcare needs can vary day-to-day, week-to-week, and even month-to-month.”
Brella is part of a growing industry of childcare startups leveraging technology to help families find childcare solutions. Its ranks include San Francisco-based Wonderschool, which helps families start their own preschools or daycares, and New York-based Otter, which allows parents to crowdsource babysitting resources from other parents.
Through Brella’s app, parents can create a profile, upload necessary forms and documentation, and book times to drop their children off at the childcare center for a minimum of three hours. Brella offers different pricing packages depending on how far in advance parents want to schedule childcare and how often they need it.
As a licensed preschool, the curriculum that Brella teaches its pupils is inspired by progressive child development philosophies like Montessori, RIE and Reggio Emelia. The curriculum is adapted to how much time each child spends at the school; Brella’s educators create “projects and learning opportunities that can engage a child that might be here for the very first time, or is coming three days a week this week and five days a week next week,” Williams said.