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Entrepreneurship: Aging and Innovation

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If you are interested in the intersection between aging and innovation, these certainly are intriguing times.

Last Thursday I attended the kickoff event for Aging 2.0’s brand new GENerator program. This is “a new founders program that supports the most promising entrepreneurs working to enhance the lives of older adults and improve long-term care.” (Which I think means this is a business accelerator, but after only a year blogging about digital health innovations, I can’t promise to have mastered all the business lingo.)
Despite the whopping size of the boomer market (see this terrific Bloomberg article on how business has so far struggled to tap it), this seems to be the first accelerator focused on serving the 50+ demographic.
I found myself impressed both by the growth of Aging 2.0 — an organization co-founded by a gerontologist only 18 months ago — and by the offerings of the eleven companies chosen. It’s encouraging to see the power of innovation and technology really focusing on the problems affecting older Americans, and those who serve them.
Of course, I also find myself with some reservations. I think of myself as a public-health geriatrician, and as such, my primary interest in these new innovations is less about whether there’s a good business market, and more about whether or not these offer good, practical solutions to the more important health and social problems affecting aging adults.
There is no question that entrepreneurs are great at innovation. But to succeed they also need to be great at selling their product. Businesses involved in healthcare or other socially-minded arenas always proclaim that they are doing good things for individuals and for society. Which sometimes is true but often it’s not quite as true as the business says it is, or as the business would like it to be. In the end, a startup must satisfy its investors. And an accelerator must satisfy its startups and investors.
So what does this mean for those of us professionals with expertise assessing social value and healthcare value? It means we should get in there and plan to constructively engage with two crucial groups. One group is the the innovators themselves, who will be interested in our expertise and feedback (although once they have a product at market they’ll probably be ambivalent when we raise concerns).
The other group is the public to whom these products are being marketed. We can and should equip ourselves to help the public assess and understand the real health and social value (or at least, likely value) of these innovations that they are being invited to purchase. 
This public, needless to say, is quite a large group. It encompasses the 50+ demographic, as well as those offering services to this group, including long-term care and senior housing providers. And the sheer size and diversity of the 50+ age group is really something: the US Census data shows that in 2011, the 50+ population (civilian, non-institutionalized) was 98 million people.
Of those people, many are family caregivers worried about an aging adult. Others are themselves in need of products and services to help cope with chronic illness, cognitive problems, or physical frailties. And of course, a large group of boomers is eager to maintain health and wellbeing for as long as possible.

11 Startups chosen by Aging 2.0

For its inaugural GENerator program, Aging 2.0 chose eleven companies. I heard each give a short talk last week. Here are capsule summaries, based on what I heard, along with a few extra thoughts.
  • BrainAid: smartphone or tablet app with patented software meant to help people compensate for executive dysfunction. Originally designed to help people with brain injury or stroke, the company believes its software can help people with early Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative cognitive impairment as well. Company has been working with the VA.
  • CareLinx: online marketplace allowing families to find, screen, hire, and pay in-home caregivers without going through an agency. (I wrote about CareLinx last year; still think it’s a promising idea although I have no idea how well it’s actually working out for the families and paid caregivers involved.)
  • CareSolver: a free online platform that provides customized tools to help family caregivers manage the needs of aging parents or other loved ones. This is right up my alley given my long interest in caregiver education, so I will probably try this soon. Of note, they apparently offer a Beer’s criteria med checker (something I’ve said we need in previous GeriTech posts).
  • Life2: predictive analytics company focusing on aging. From the short presentation provided, seems to me they might focus on helping LTC providers identify residents at increased risk, along with offering support in mitigating the risk. Suspect mitigating risk will end up being harder than identifying those at risk.
  • Lift Hero: “Medical Trips Made Easy,” says the website. Connects seniors who need rides with off-duty EMTs who provide door-through-door service to appointments. (Having seen elderly patients struggle to get to and from the curb, that “through” could be important.) This could be a very useful service although if the passengers are on average frail enough to benefit from EMT drivers, or have cognitive impairment, I certainly hope clinicians will have a way to connect with the care circle regarding the visit. (Often the person accompanying the older patient is instrumental in providing extra history, or in helping relay instructions to the care circle.)
  • MyGrove: This one flummoxed me a bit so I’ll just quote the blurb passed out at the event: “a multimedia marketplace and social engagement platform tailored for Active Adults and their communities.” If you, like me, aren’t sure what an Active Adult is, it’s apparently a term used to refer to people aged 55+. (What to call Active Adults when age and illness render them less active? I don’t know.) Whatever this product is, it sounds like they are targeting the “young old” who aren’t yet close to needing geriatric expertise.
  • OpenPlacement: platform designed to help seniors, families, and discharge planners find and choose among rehab or residential placements more easily. I assume this is modeled on OpenTable, although obviously placing seniors is more complicated than making a restaurant reservation. Should be helpful to families and discharge planners facing transitions in care, since right now families often find it’s a nightmare to figure out who accepts their insurance, has beds available, offers certain features, etc.
  • Sabi: Per Google, the “pill box and walking cane company.” Per Sabi, a creator of products that improve day-to-day life with “superior functionality and design.” The website reminds me of the dilemma many companies face: how to sell products to older adults without reminding them that they are older? Still, the products really are attractive and look quite functional too.
  • Tapestry: App for web and mobile which simplifies social media for older adults. Meant to help families stay connected, by creating an easy interface for seniors to view Facebook photos, email, photos, etc. Currently has a free basic plan or for $5/month offers unlimited messages and photo storage. In general I think this kind of service will ultimately very useful to many older adults. Almost every older person loves to get messages and pictures from family, but navigating a standard tablet can be overwhelming to some, either because they are not tech-savvy or because they are cognitively impaired.
  • True Link: A caregiver-managed debit card allowing personalized spending controls and with fraud-protection features. The founder said that every year seniors lose $52 billion to scams and fraud (!); True Link is meant to offer vulnerable seniors a way to spend without putting themselves at excess financial risk. Caregivers can block spending on certain merchants or types of merchants (i.e. sweepstakes.) I could see this being a great option for seniors with cognitive impairment, and wonder if it will be of interest to financial trustees and fiduciaries. For families, the hard part will be bringing up their concerns re finances to an older loved one; proposing this option likely will be dicey.
So there you have it: eleven ideas meant to make life better for older adults and their caregivers. Will they take off? Will people use them? Will people like them? (And how will we know if people like them? Hopefully users will have some way of posting reviews.)
Last but not least, will these improve outcomes in terms of wellbeing, function, avoiding morbidity, and reduction of caregiver stress?
We should find out the answers to at least a few of these questions over the next year or two.

And we should think about giving the innovators, as well as the public, constructive feedback on these products. They surely aren’t perfect, but they are a step in the right direction and most of them are trying to meet real needs of aging Americans.

In the meantime, if you’re a clinician or work on healthcare for older adults, which of these ideas do you find most promising?
[Disclosure: I have no financial ties to any of these companies, or to Aging 2.0.]
______________________________________________________
About the Author

This article was written by Leslie Kernisan, geriatrician & founder GeriTech blog.

Callum Connects

Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Renne Ballard, Owner of Renée Ballard Communications

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Renne Ballard runs a social media agency working with business women, helping them find their business’s voice.

What’s your story?
I began my career in PR/communications ten years ago in Australia, after arriving home from two years in Dubai. In Dubai I was working for Emirates Airlines as a flight attendant and flying around the world non-stop for two years. This really sparked my interest for how people communicate. I started out as a community manager for an online advertising company, then moved into the corporate world of outdoor advertising, managing internal and external PR and communications. After having a baby four years ago, I decided to leave the safety net of corporate, and stride out on my own. I now run a social media agency and I specialise in working with business women, helping to find their business’ voice so they can use social media to achieve their business goals.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the open accessibility online provides. It’s free for businesses to get online and connect with their target audience. Twenty years ago, advertising and PR was insanely expensive and quite elitist, but through incredible platforms like Facebook or Twitter, any business can connect with who is looking for their product/solution. Social media is particularly effective for small businesses because they have the edge when it comes to authenticity and a clear voice.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in Hong Kong because I’m a trailing spouse. I know it’s such a daggy term, but I love it, it makes me sound so dedicated to my husband! Alas, we came to Hong Kong for my husband’s work. He’s the Design Director of Asia for an international retail design agency. We’ve been here for almost two years and it’s been a huge learning curve in terms of business and culture. We love the fast-paced nature of Hong Kong and the fact that everything is open late – it suits me perfectly because I’m nocturnal.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
That’s easy, Hong Kong. It’s the perfect blend of start-ups and mothership-sized institutions. I love the small business side, watching the collaborations between workshare spaces with galleries, networking groups and foodies; it’s a hothouse of creative partnerships here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When you’re are feeling scared about your next step, lean in and feel the difference. Is it fear mixed with excitement? Or fear mixed with dread? Always go with the former and cut loose the latter.

Who inspires you?
I love Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo founder). She has created multiple empires and she never stops trying new business models and pushing her limits. It helps that I love shoes too.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just turned 40 years old. At best, I’m probably halfway through my life. It makes me constantly question, “Am I where I want to be?”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have asked more questions to the people I looked up to, and listened less to the people telling me I won’t achieve my goals.

How do you unwind?
In this day and age, it’s scandalous to say, but I love sunbaking. At any chance, you’ll find me poolside, laying in the sun in a trance-like state.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Northern Danang in Vietnam. We were there at Christmas, at the foot of the mountains and it was beautiful. Heaps of wildlife and jungles and enough five star resorts that I was never parched once.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The E Myth’ by Michael Gerber. It’s an oldie but a goodie because it succinctly outlines how to transition from a one person operation to a global business like McDonalds. Once you see how important systems and processes are, you can recognise shambolic companies a mile off.

Shameless plug for your business:
Renée Ballard Communications is a social media agency that works with business women who are ready to make social media work for them. We create effective, powerful social media strategies that are tailored to the people who will be breathing life into them. We hand on heart promise to never use annoying, marketing buzzwords and that we value laughter above everything else.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected] or www.reneeballard.com or +85296670115

Twitter handle?
@ballard_comms

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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