AgePower is a new tech start-up accelerator in Minnesota that launched its six-month program last week. The goal: Help companies innovate products for aging seniors and their caregivers. The odds: By the year 2050, there will be 2.4 billion seniors.
"Aging will be a tidal wave," said Ernest Grumbles, co-founder of AgePower. "We realize its scale, its opportunity for business, and want to start riding that wave early."
Grumbles, co-founder of entrepreneur and investor cooperative MOJO, launched the accelerator with Eric Schubert, VP of communications at the non-profit senior housing and services company, Ecumen. Only four companies will be selected through its global application program, which closes Oct. 31. But instead of funding the start-ups, AgePower will bring the companies to Ecumen to test their products on seniors. Selectees will also have access to investors at MOJO.
"We are asking inventors to look at the living experience and not stop it at 35 or 40," Schubert said. "We want them to make products that go beyond physical health."
Here, the Minnesota duo explains their quest to find technology that helps boomers age gracefully.
Why start an accelerator that focuses on technology for the aging population?
Schubert: From the aging services standpoint, there is a huge opportunity to connect human skill and compassion with technology. The elderly care facility sector, as a whole, cannot build enough housing to keep up with the new wave of seniors. The shortage of healthcare professionals is also a problem. However, technology can help the aging population with their desire to stay in their homes and out of assisted living. New products can also make it easier [for adult children] to help with caregiving. We don't know what the answers are going to be, but AgePower has a lot of potential to help make the future of aging more desirable.
Since AgePower does not offer capital to start-ups, what sets it apart?
Grumbles: The thing that precedes capital of any size is validation. Your product is not validated just because it works. It has to work in people's hands. The four companies selected for our program will be able to test their product on real-life aging customers at Ecumen's facilities, get feedback, and find out if their products add value to that demographic. To me, as an investor, finding out that people actually want the thing before you dump all this money into development is more valuable than $20,000.
One of AgePower's members said Minnesota could become the "Silicon Valley" of aging innovation." Do you agree?
Schubert: Minnesota has a lot going for it. We have a significant number of innovators already, from healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, to companies like 3M and Medtronic (responsible for the pacemaker). They may not realize it, but all of them are in the aging business. We also have one of the healthiest, longest-living populations in the nation, so we have an incredible ecosystem that can play a significant role in the future of how we live and age.
Do you feel that Silicon Valley and the tech world at large is ageist?
Grumbles: I am blown away about the amount of money that goes into a new photo-sharing site. It seems that the thrust for innovation for many products is aimed towards the 20-to-35 age set. From advertising to production, most products are designed for younger people. However, there is a pragmatic aspect to this. Regardless of what people's desires are while launching new companies, this is where the customers are going. Today, 900 million people in the world are over 60. By 2050, that number will be 2.4 billion. This is a fundamental business necessity. New start-ups are going to have to factor in the population of those 50-and-up in order to survive.
What are some companies and developments you're excited about?
Grumbles: Healthsense uses remote monitoring technology to help detect an aging person's movements while at home. It can be used to alert adult caregivers in case their parent or grandparent falls, and is not moving, not eating, or left the house. There are 20,000 seniors being monitored by their sensors everyday. Heathsense's sensors are paired with unique proprietary algorithms for detecting certain "intervention events," so you know you have to go help that person. Anser Innovation, which created PetChatz, is developing a telecommunication system that lets caregivers check in with their dependents by using a smartphone. The device can also dispense medication at appropriate times.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about boomers?
Schubert: The biggest misconception is that the aging population fears technology. This is not true. Our residents at Ecumen facilities love giving feedback and testing technology. Our customers, no matter what their physical ability is, are still learning and growing. Even if you are living with Alzheimer's and dementia, you are still growing. Many people discount the abilities of seniors giving feedback on technology. The older demographic is not always recognized by the tech community, but it will have to be.