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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

Denise Mossis Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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