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Entrepreneurship: Aging and Innovation



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.


Women on Top in Tech – Dawn Dickson, Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. and Founder of Flat Out of Heels



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Dawn Dickson is the Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. (formerly Solutions Vending, Inc.), the company behind PopCom Kiosks and the PopCom API, which provides a software solution to make vending machines more intelligent. She created the company after her own struggles to find vending machines that could sell her roll-up flat products, Flat Out of Heels, at high-traffic areas like airports.  She was awarded First place in the PowerMoves NOLA Big Break pitch Competition and second place in the 2016 SBA Innovate Her Challenge.

What makes you do what you do? 
I love solving big problems and working with amazing people to get it done.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
After working in the vending industry for three years selling Flat Out of Heels in vending machines in airports and nightclubs, I was frustrated with the lack of data I was able to collect from my hardware. I also wanted more engaging and interactive experiences for my customers and after speaking with several retailers they felt the same way. That is when I decided to focus on PopCom and developing a software solution to solve the data problem in self-service retail.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)? 
The fact that I am not the usual, leadership demographic is the main reason why I was up for the challenge. The industry is in need of a change and I believe someone with a unique and different perspective and experience is needed. I look forward to collaborating with the industry leaders and veterans to build a product that everyone loves and finds value in.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I am involved in several different industries and sectors – retail, self-service retail, hardware, software…so I have to learn a lot of information quickly.  There are several people that I look up to, follow their career, and seek advice from. I was fortunate to be able to participate in some of the country’s top accelerator and entrepreneurship development programs, including Techstars, Canopy Boulder, and the BIxel Exchange – the mentorship and network I gained from these programs has been invaluable and very instrumental in our progress.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
I have learned that spotting talent takes time, it takes patience, and building relationships with people and networks to meet new people, most of my connections come from introductions. I focus on finding the right fit for the company culture, there is a lot of great talent out there, but the culture is different, I want us to be on the same wavelength. I am fortunate to have met some great people through the programs I was in that came on as mentors, advisors, and eventually full time team members. I take time to get to know my team individually and understand what their personal goals and ambitions are, ask them what their dream job looks like, understand their needs so they can be happy at work and be fulfilled. I believe in self-care and making mental health a priority, if a person is good within themselves they radiate positivity and are more productive.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I am a black woman so I am diversity. Naturally, we attract people we can relate to and have things in common, so I found that my team was heavily female and my diversity initiative was finding more men…when I thought about it I found it funny. Now I have a balanced team of men and women from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives which is exciting.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb? 
To be a great leader you have to be a team player, my rule is I never ask someone to do something that I would not do myself. I also have a rule to give the team the freedom and flexibility to work when and how they are most productive. That means some of us working different hours and being in the office different days, but happy team builds the dream!

Advice for others?
My advice is never give up if you believe in it. I started my company selling shoes in vending machines in 2011, it took me 7 years, a few failed hardware attempts, and many people telling me it would not work because the market was not ready. I was patient and what I believed would happen is happening. In May PopCom is bringing the PopShop to market, a next gen smart vending machine to sell and sample products. Our API will be ready in July and for the first time vending machine and kiosk owners can understand their conversion rates and have the level of data and analytics available that eCommerce stores have, but better. It has been a long journey and I feel it is just getting started, but I am only here because I never gave up.

If you’d like to get in touch with Dawn Dickson, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about PopCom, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Elaine Zhou, Co-Founder of China Women Equipping Center



Elaine went on a journey of self discovery and once she knew her true self she could be successful in her own business.

What’s your story?
I am very proud of where I came from and I am grateful for where I am living and working today. Singapore is my adopted home and it is my aim to always contribute to and serve this country and its people.
Twelve years ago, I moved to Singapore for an internship opportunity. I was twenty one years old and I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t understand the culture or the customs. Everything was new and strange to me. Everything was difficult, but my parents had tremendous faith in me.
My parents have worked diligently on the family farm to raise us and send us to college. My parents had a huge influence on me. The important things I learnt from them are to love, to never give up, to be a hard worker and to have a can-do attitude. These are the qualities that I embrace in my daily life.

What excites you most about your industry?
We offer more than just training. Our business is a resource to be leveraged for transformation, improved teamwork, leadership behaviours, communication skills, relationship skills, coaching skills and increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Our passion and purpose is to help people grow as leaders and to create tremendous results by serving others well. We take people to daring destinations, beyond their imagination.
My greatest joy is to see people grow, change and transform and live a purposeful life; this is what motivates me to do more and do it well.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in China and I have spent all my adult and professional life in Singapore.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and China.
Singapore is a very sophisticated and systematic country. It is a structured and highly efficient business environment and people are generally nice and honest. Also, the convenience and diverse culture is a great advantage for people who want to settle down there, no matter if they are from the East or West. You always feel at home in Singapore.
I also like China because of its fast growth. The population and the market is here. However, it takes time to settle in because of the language barrier and the very different traditional culture. But you will also find it is very interesting and you’ll want to learn more about China. The people are nice if you know them well. It is always about relationship first and business second, and when you are in a business meeting, you really have to master the skill of “reading the air.” It is a skill to let people know and understand you; your values, your background, why you think in that way or why you do or do not do certain things. Doing business in China is like swimming in the ocean; it is an abundant ocean and it is full of risks. Always know your values and stay true to yourself and make decisions close to your heart. It will help you see things more clearly and get things done in a way that doesn’t violate your values.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Be yourself, Elaine.” That is the best advice I have ever received. It was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. It was also the moment I truly and honestly looked within myself. I realized that when I am being my true self, and not trying to be someone else, I am able to connect with people instantly in a genuine and authentic way. It is a great feeling.

Who inspires you?
There are so many people who encourage me, lift me up and challenge me everyday. My mentor, John Maxwell who helped me discover my purpose in life; Michael Griffin, for his passion for Christ which is contagious and Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor who passed away in 2016. Also, people who are living with a purpose and striving everyday for their dream, they really inspire me. My clients, mentees and students. When I see that joy and peace in them, that inspires me to do more and do well. My team inspire me, especially when they said, “Elaine, I joined the business because of you.” They inspire me to make it work for the team and the business because it is beyond my own self interest. I am grateful for having so many people in my life who inspire me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
China is a big country, we all know that, and it is also an internet giant. Recently on a team meeting, one of the directors who manages a successful beauty business, shared with us, that everybody is on the internet, especially on WeChat. People are obsessed with online communities – for ordering food, getting taxis, forging relationships, connections and friends. Almost anything and everything can get done online. But right now, there is a new trend; more and more people want the “offline” experience. It usually takes one to two hours from one place to another in Beijing, but people want to make the effort to have a real connection with other people, to attend networks, seminars, workshops and business meetings.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my first business when I was 24 years old, it failed. One year later, I started my second business and after a year and a half, I closed down the operation. After several painful experiences and two failed businesses, I started to look within myself, and seriously and intentionally invested in my personal growth at the age of 28. If I could turn back time, I wish I could have grown a lot earlier. I strongly believe that the level of our success is determined by the level of our self growth and we are always learning, everyday. But I also understand it is not the only way to live. I also consciously and intentionally try to live in the now. It is a beautiful and great way to live. In fact, I am grateful for what I have gone through; the pains, setbacks and challenges in my earlier life.

How do you unwind?
I like to stay connected with nature. For example, taking a walk barefoot on the grass and smelling the roses on the street. Having a beer or coffee along the riverside with friends; reading a good book; hunting for nice restaurants; swimming or running.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand – nice beaches, food and people.
Bali – fantastic beaches and food, great people.
Malaysia – Nice food and people, particularly Langkawi, Penang and KK.
Of course Singapore, it is always a place dear to my heart. It’s my home.
There are a lot of other interesting places in China which I am still exploring.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Developing the Leaders Within You by John C.Maxwell
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
These are some of the books that truly transformed my thinking and shaped my values.
I used to read a lot of different types of books, from sales, marketing, branding and management to different business models. I found it is really hard to master all of it and I was not optimizing my own strengths.
Entrepreneurship is a skill to be learnt. But it is really important to recognize what we are good at and what we are not so good at. We can not be everything.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and soul searching. It is all about learning and striving. We should try and always remember why we started our business in the first place.

Shameless plug for your business:
The China Women Equipping Center, is something both my team are I are very proud. We have put our hearts and souls into it, to help women in China grow and transform. As a developing country and with the rise of China, people are not lacking in money, everywhere is full of opportunity, but the challenge is the civilizations, values and faith. In fact the Chinese government puts a lot of effort into improving and shaping the international image to ensure it is making progress. But people are still facing a lot of pressure, especially women.
One of our business partners who is runs traditional Chinese medicine retail stores, shared that 80% of his patients are female, and the reason they are coming to see him are anxiety and depression.
Our China Women Equipping Center creates a safe and comfortable environment for women to help build their values and characters. My local team and I are very passionate about our mission and purpose. Beijing is our headquarters in China. We are planning to take three to six months to establish our business in Beijing and grow and expand to other major cities in China after that.

How can people connect with you?

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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