Spring is coming: 3 signs the aging market is poised for takeoff

Spring is here, and Aging2.0 - myself and co-author Emily - just spent a busy but enjoyable week in Washington, DC, (although climate change finished off the cherry blossoms before we got there). We went for Mary Furlong's consistently good value What's Next? Boomer Summit, which was held just before the ASA Annual Conference. A lot happened, but the major takeaway: the 'aging' industry is preparing for liftoff. I say this after observing three welcome arrivals on the scene: talent, technologies and capital. And this innovation movement, like all good uprisings, is likely to start with just a stream, but quickly turn into a flood.

1. New talent

It's been surprising to me that despite the undeniable statistics about the growth of the aging population there haven't been more entrepreneurs attracted to the space. I put this down to a lack of coverage in the media, the fact that aging isn't 'sexy' and the assumption that targeting an aging demographic is business suicide. Most entrepreneurs were people who've developed "point solutions" based on their own specific experiences, which is fine, but this leads inevitably to lots of point solutions, rather than integrated systems. Mary Furlong has been an entrepreneur in this space for the past 30 years, and is a good talent spotter, so the BoomerSummit is a good place to see new blood. Entrepreneurs are beginning to arrive, vaulting in from other industries:

  • Assaf Wand, founder of Sabi (who I interviewed here), created a design-focused lifestyle brand, driven unapologetically via a clear-headed look at the numbers, rather than a particular personal story. He's been a McKinsey consultant, investment banker and telecoms founder, and using that experience to build a decidedly un-tech-centric business.

  • Jeremy Gin, a recent Harvard Business School graduate, built SiteJabber into a resource for helping people with the complex task of curating websites. While not overtly a senior-focused site, this demographic is a major part of his target market.

  • Tracy Ongena spent 12 years trading at investment banks, before realizing that pushing money around wasn't as satisfying as helping people, so set up Home Health Care to provide high quality home health services, and has now expanded to three states.

  • Alex Go spent years at Intel, working as (among other things) global director of new markets for Intel's healthcare business. He founded Virtual Health last year as a systems provider that provides seniors and their families with an integrated, yet bespoke monitoring, communication and wellness solution.

  • Ex-hedge fund manager Sherwin Sheik developed CareLinx in response to his own challenges with finding low cost affordable care. CareLinx is a cloud-based platform for connecting professional caregivers with families looking for support, aiming to do much the same thing that online services have done for travel and realtors - introduce transparency and competition.

  • Harvard and VC-trained Aaron Kolenda is leading Redstar's efforts to develop new ventures in the aging space, and already displayed considerable industry knowledge and wisdom, despite only being able to legally drink for the past five years.

  • Katy Fike (and her co-Phd'd partner Alexis Abramson) of Innovate50 was previously an investment banker. As PhD gerontologists they aren't newcomers to the space, but their joint consulting company is new, and they see the market as now being ready. They launched last week and aim to help companies develop new products and services for the space.

  • Jonathan Schwartz a vertiable Silicon Valley tech titan - former CEO of Sun Microsystems - conceived and built Carezone to solve his own care needs. It was launched in February this year, and while he was the only one of this group not at the conference, I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more from his company shortly.

These are just a few of fresh faces, with buckets of both talent and enthusiasm, that I've met over the last few weeks, so apologies for others I missed off the list. The important fact is not that most of these folks are under 40, but that they are highly talented and were until recently plying their trade in other sectors. They consider this a space worth spending their time in.

(Image: A selection of fresh talent... Credits: mostly LinkedIn, though Laura Mitchell's omnipresent Facebook feed also helped out.)

2. New technologies

(Image: LifeCall ad from 1987)

This space has always loved new techonlogies, but too often they're box-dependent, such as LifeCall's 25-year old 'I've fallen and I can't get up' spot (still terrifying after all these years). The fact that that's still the most well-known technology in this space should be taken by the industry as a call to action. The bar is not very high. One of the sessions I moderated at the Boomer Summit was on Cloud technology. It was clear to me after that, that there is still considerable uncertainty about what the cloud is or how to use the latest tools to help make entrepreneurs' and consumers' lives easier (and as moderator I could have done a better job of providing a Cloud 101). That being said we're seeing cutting edge, cloud-based technologies that aim to gather similar benefits to those we've seen elsewhere. As noted above CareLinx aims to bring transparency to the job of finding caregivers, Virtual Health runs a cloud service on top of any number of systems, and CareZone is a (very sharp looking, as you'd expect) site to help families do a better job at caregiving. A nicely designed consumer-facing cloud-based iPad and iPhone app is DoubleScoop - a service that provides a simple, safe and fun way for kids and grandparents to communicate directly, that is neither patronizing nor dull. The use case they proposed was the grand parent using an iPad, which integrated seamlessly with the grandchild using an iPhone. I'm seeing more companies that are following suit, rather than trying to recreate their own boxes, but make well-designed apps and services that run on top of existing hardware.

3. New capital

Entrepreneurs and technology are important, yet capital will be needed to add fuel to the fire. Many VCs I speak to say there's lots of capital available, but they've just not seen quality management teams and scalable businesses (i.e. $100m+ revenues, rather than smaller 'lifestyle' businesses). There are two sources of capital that seem to be starting to open up - corporate venturing and angel/VC money.

It'll be interesting to see which major corporate devotes serious attention to this first. Arguably GE and Intel have done that with CareInnovations, but I've yet to see much of any significance come out of that group, and haven't ever run into them at all the industry events I've been going to. Maybe that just means I'm going to the wrong events, but nobody else talks about them either. I attended last year's mHealth Summit - mobile health is a nascent industry with more pilots than United Airlines' staff restaurant - but much further along in the hype curve. There Qualcomm made a big play around mHealth with its Qualcomm Life and 2net platform. I can see one of the big players such as Aetna or United Healthcare deciding there's sufficient benefit in "owning" the aging space to risk being first to move.

The other side is bottom up - and though there's precious little VC money in this space currently, 3 companies in DC last week are clearly starting to look hard at the startup scene: Linkage Ventures run by seasoned industry veteran John Hopper, Redstar from Boston (they only invest in in-house ventures), and Innovate LTC out of Louisville, KY run by John Reinhart. I would be surprised if we don't see some sizable investments by this group this year.

So, given that the scene seems to be set, what are some of the next steps that need to happen for this market to take off? That's for a future blog post, meanwhile I'd appreciate your own opinions in the comments.


    There are currently no comments.

    To comment, you must be a member. Become a member today or log in.