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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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