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Visited Institute for the Ages in sunny Sarasota….and can’t wait to go back!

[caption id="attachment_4065" align="alignleft" width="823"]Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 4.10.14 PM Panel discussion Q&A[/caption]

We (Katy & Stephen) recently had the opportunity to spend three days in Sarasota, Florida visiting our friends at the Institute for the Ages (i4a). The Institute is a new organization and a great asset to innovators looking to design products and services the 50+ market – from early start-ups to large corporates.

If you’ve been to one of our Aging2.0 meetings or seen us present, you know that one of the key barriers we see thwarting innovation in the aging space is the lack of authentic insights and feedback from older adults themselves.  The Institute addresses this challenge head on by providing organizations with an efficient way to connect with end users.

In a nutshell, the Institute's vision is to catalyze innovation, engage communities and evangelize positive aging. Their mission is to "activate ideas that prepare us for the opportunities and challenges associated with aging populations". They are creating a 'test bed' delivering access to Sarasota County’s community, and connecting across siloes to further innovations to  improve the lives of people across age groups.

Although they have initial funding and support from Sarasota’s economic development department and local foundations, the Institute is very much in start-up mode too. And we mean that in the best way possible – they are nimble, flexible, humble and eager to learn how they can be most valuable to the community of innovators.

We arrived in town on Wednesday morning and headed straight to the Institute’s offices on charming and bustling Main Street, Sarasota. When we walked in, the office was buzzing with activity as the staff prepared for their upcoming Winter Forum event on Friday.  And as if they didn’t have enough to do, they had also kindly (and quickly) pulled together a focus group for us for that afternoon.

A few weeks prior, we’d reached out to Tom Esselman, CEO of the Institute to see if they could help arrange a focus group for us while we were in town for the Winter Forum.  On behalf of a large hotel chain, we wanted to talk with a group of 50+ consumers about their likes and dislikes of the travel experience.  Not only did Tom’s team pull together a fantastic group of nine articulate, thoughtful, engaging, creative consumers on short notice, they also had great large conference room set up for us with white boards, easels and even coffee and cookies. The Institute provided a turnkey focus group solution for us and the participants they had recruited gave us rich and actionable insights – both of which are critical and previously difficult to attain.

On Friday, we attended and spoke at the Institute’s Winter Forum. The theme of the Forum was Technology and Connections in Positive Aging. They had a great lineup of speakers and common thread was the benefit of incorporating older adults in the innovation process early and often. That theme was also brought to life by looking around the room, which was made up of at least 50% Sarasota residents - not just industry folks talking to each other, which happens at so many conferences.

One of the speakers was Live!y, a company we’ve gotten to know through our Aging2.0 events in San Francisco. Live!y is the Institute’s first official client and Sarasota residents are currently beta testing Live!y’s product and providing priceless user feedback.

We met so many fantastic members of the Sarasota community: from civic and business leaders, to long term care providers and older residents, everyone we met was energized and enthusiastic about developing Sarasota as vibrant resource for organizations looking to better understand the needs, wants and desires of older consumers.

The Institute for the Ages is a great example of the types of resources we are seeking to pull together as part of the Aging2.0 Innovation Network. If you’re interested in potentially working with the Institute, check out there website or contact us and we'll happily introduce you!

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