There are accelerators for food, civic tech and healthcare. Add aging to the list.
That’s the focus of Aging2.0 Academy, a San Francisco-based accelerator that targets startups with products and services for senior care. Aging Baby Boomers will push the number of seniors to more than 80 million by 2050, from 43 million in 2012—a fact that was noted at the White House Conference On Aging this week. That massive demographic shift will require innovative solutions.
“We connect business, technology, and designers with startups in the senior care industry to produce innovations focused on improving the lives of older people,” says Stephen Johnston, cofounder of Aging 2.0, the organization that runes the accelerator. “We’re trying to build an ecosystem, because there are so many moving parts.”
Startups in the year-long program receive mentoring and introductions to corporate partners, which pay Aging2.0 a membership fee. The startup meet in-person four times a year, including at a pow-wow for senior industry executives, where startups teams give four-minute pitches, and a big kick-off conference which Johnston describes as “the CES for aging.” (The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is the annual consumer tech extravaganza).
Started in September 2014, the accelerator is in the midst of its second cohort of 20 companies. Aging2.0 also runs a network of 30 global chapters and hosts two big annual events. A “sister organization,” Generator Ventures, manages a fund focused on aging and senior care. Launched last year in partnership with Formation Capital, a $6 billion private investment firm, the fund invests in Aging2.0 Academy startups, such as Caremerge, a care coordination platform that links care providers, payers, families and seniors.
Aging2.0 earns a small amount of equity from each startup that vests over the course of the program. The amount depends on the company, from a 1-3% stake in firms with significant revenues and/or capital from investors, to a larger 5-7% in earlier stage startups.
Johnston, an expert in mobile health-care technology, got the idea three years ago when he was working for “a billionaire with dementia,” he says. “I found a lot of research into drugs, but little focus on products and services to improve the quality of life,” explains Johnston. He also realized there were a lot of interesting technologies, from robots to wearables, that could be applied to the aging market.
For Kai Stinchombe, co-founder of True Link and a member of the accelerator’s first cohort, the most valuable part of the experience was working with other startups facing common problems. “We’re all trying to figure out how to have a positive message about something nobody wants to talk about,” says Stinchombe, whose company sells a credit card and service that can monitor an elderly person’s purchases and block the transaction if it detects problematic behavior.
As for the current cohort, it includes a pretty wide array of products and services. Here’s a sample:
ActiveProtective makes smart garments that use airbag technology to reduce injuries from falls, such as broken hips.
Breezie provides a stripped down platform for tablet computers, with simplified versions of services like Skype and email.
SingFit is a cognitive and physical stimulation app for the senior living industry that incorporates singing, movement, trivia and reminiscence.
Aging2.0 is tackling a big challenge—and a big potential market. But Johnston has no illusions. “These aren’t overnight successes,” he says.
Still, if one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens, as President Obama said at the White House conference, it’s a worthy challenge.
Anne Field in a freelance journalist that writes about social enterprise and impact investing. A version of this article first appeared on her “Not Only For Profit” blog on Forbes.