Denver Startup Week: Top Five Takeaways for the Aging Space

By Margaret Franckhauser, MS, MPH President and CEO, NextFifty Initiative

After Denver Startup Week (September 24–28), I can say with confidence that we are living and working in a hotbed of entrepreneurial passion. The creativity, know-how, drive and curiosity that spins through Downtown Denver during this stretch of time is sure to invigorate anyone who participates.

When people attend events like this, they are usually looking through a lens that pertains to them. Are they hoping to find a fresh new company seeking investment? Seeking mentorship through the murky waters of launching an idea? We were there to listen and spark conversations about the rich potential for start-ups interested in the longevity economy. While NextFifty Initiative doesn’t fund for-profits, we are interested in the ongoing dialogue about solving challenges that aging populations face. Innovation in government, business, and the nonprofit sectors benefit us all.

There is clearly money to be made here, including technology, healthcare, caregiving, housing, transportation and more. There were several sessions that addressed these topics and we were thrilled to listen, learn and share. Case in point, one session was aptly titled: The Journeys of Startups Tapping the $7.6 Trillion Longevity Economy.

Here are some of our top findings:

New Living Environments Are Upon Us.

From intergenerational living spaces to smart homes with sensor technology, the way we “live” is changing. By 2020, 16 million people 65+ will be living alone. And now, more than ever, people want to stay in their homes. Known as “aging in place,” some statistics say that 90% want to stay at home and 82% want to stay home even if they require assistance.

Silvernest is a roommate matching service that offers money savings, companionship and much more between younger and older adults. Longevity is a gift, but also expensive. This can help financially — but has so many social benefits, as well.

Inhabitech wowed us with their Health-aware Smart Homes. By using sensor data, remote caregivers can un-intrusively monitor their loved ones or patients, tracking normal daily patterns and offering extremely insightful data. They shared how sensor data can keep people healthier and even alleviate the occurrence of some episodes.

Consumer Technology for Aging Adults Needs to be Simplified.

There are a wide variety of Apps and technologies that have the right idea. I commend companies that aim to improve safety, save lives, make days better, improve cognition, etc. But it became clear that the market is saturated and they need to be standardized, aligned and simpler. Logging on should be simple and straightforward; provide a very simple out-of-the-box experience; and offer very simple features.

As increasingly more older adults use smartphones and engaged on social media, technology will continue to be an interest for start-ups in this space. But my advice is to see how to interplay with other businesses to deliver something aligned and impactful.

Also extremely interesting are the many possibilities with Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and social robots. If you haven’t yet learned about Ryan, DU’s companion robot, I highly encourage you to read this piece: https://www.du.edu/news/companion-robot-helping-patients-alzheimers/.

Big Brands Are Investing in the Longevity Economy.

Big brands are investing in the longevity economy now more than ever before. Lyft and Uber have formalized offerings geared towards older adults and people with disabilities. Best Buy just bought Greatcall, a leader in emergency response systems for older adults.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show held annually in Las Vegas is a great forum for learning more about companies providing products and services to benefit older adults. This conference is ideal for startups and innovators looking to break through with this population.

Also recommended in this session was to create a “senior advisory panel” to help inform your product or service throughout every phase of its development — from inception to pitch. We completely agree!

Investors Care About Solving the Challenges Older Adults Face and Helping Them Thrive.

So how do you tap into those investors? It’s important to spend time crafting a great story for your company and about the founder. Panelists shared that when it comes to marketing to the community of older adults, attend conferences, visit the markets you want to be in, and partner with senior care organizations. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Ask the Right People. Ask the Right Questions.

We went into Denver Startup Week with the mission to share this specific message. If you are interested in tapping into the longevity economy, don’t assume what aging adults want or need. Ask them — does this resonate with you? Would you use this? Would this make you feel old or marginalized? With proper research and development along the way, there are sure to be many successful businesses and happier, healthier older adults everywhere.
 

 NextFifty Initiative is an independent, Colorado-based, nonprofit organization that was formed to create brighter, longer and healthier futures that unlock the potential of communities. NextFifty Initiative has an advanced grantmaking approach designed to support concepts, projects, and innovations that will benefit generations for years to come.

Denver Startup Week is a celebration of everything entrepreneurial in Denver and the largest free event of its kind in the world. The weeklong event is intended to unite the entrepreneurial community in Downtown Denver and beyond, and celebrate great companies, innovation, ideas, and people. Events throughout the week are organized by the community at-large and the Organizing Committee and include sessions, presentations, panels, workshops, happy hours, social events, job fairs and more.