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Fueling the Entrepreneurial Fire in the Longevity Market

Wendy Helfenbaum August 19, 2019
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Longevity market start-up incubators hope to spark high-tech, solutions-oriented ideas

Entrepreneurs developing innovative products and services for the longevity market are benefiting from a new trend, as start-up incubators focused on aging pop up across the country. These accelerator programs—often belonging to venture capital firms or large corporations—offer a range of resources designed to kick-start creative ideas. They support creators from diverse backgrounds like engineers, scientists or caregivers who want to solve an aging-related problem.

Age-focused start-up incubators such as Upward Labs in Hartford, C.T., AGENCY in Cambridge, M.A., and AARP’s Hatchery innovation lab in Washington, D.C., support entrepreneurs by providing things like mentoring, lab and field testing, legal counsel, advice on markets, customer discovery, and access to funding and partners—all in a collaborative co-working space. Such programs foster new approaches that advance independent living and improved quality of life for older adults and the people caring for them.

Cultivating the Right Connectors

“The market is growing so fast, and the need is remarkable,” says Shana Schlossberg, CEO of Upward Labs, a six-month program geared towards incubating ideas in aged care and smart buildings.

“Twenty years ago, there weren’t many start-ups, but over the last 10 years, it’s become cool. More and more cities are building hubs. The reason we’re starting to see an explosion in longevity is because aging is one of the only things that affects all of us,” she says.

Launched in November 2018, the Lab offers its start-ups pilot testing across 100 assisted-living units and 100 home healthcare homes so they can gather valuable feedback about their product from a variety of users.

Photo Courtesy Upward Labs

“Each of the communities is different; they may do memory care or assisted living… So start-ups get to test with different nurses, different executive directors, different residents, and get reactions from different families. They can even go to the to the community and interview residents,” explains Schlossberg.

Facility owners come onboard, she adds, because they know they must embrace technology in order to survive, but they don’t know how to find or vet the best start-ups. That’s where incubators come in.

“They’re operating on very small margins, so operational efficiencies are going to be critical,” says Schlossberg. “For example, by having smarter security that keeps people safe with artificial intelligence or radar devices that detects falls or when someone who stops breathing in the middle of the night, facilities can potentially reduce night staff, which are hard positions to fill and keep.”

The Lab’s first three months focus on testing, refining and fixing the product and the company, followed by introductions to corporate partners. Start-ups work with companies including Aetna, Cigna, Stanley Healthcare and Lincoln Financial, hoping to land a deal to develop the product together.

Bringing Experts and Entrepreneurs Together

“Our goal is to spark innovation worldwide to help people live longer and age better,” says Danielle Duplin, co-founder and global launch director for AGENCY, a Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) Global Longevity Collective that launched in November 2018 to support entrepreneurs wanting to build businesses catering to the longevity economy. “There’s a long list of unmet needs because of the strain and economic impact on families as people live longer. Entrepreneurship truly responds to these unmet needs.”

Duplin notes that start-up ideas range from low-tech marketing awareness campaigns, to high-tech solutions for detecting biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease through blood, to software for digital companionship or care coordination for medication adherence.

“We want our teams to be designing for joy and possibility, not just decline,” says Duplin, adding that start-ups must have clear evidence backing up their solutions.

Photo Courtesy Danielle D. Duplin

AGENCY produces events with strategic partners, including MIT, Harvard and local hospitals with innovative geriatric programs, as well as national and international organizations.

“We can help each other out through trusted relationships with the largest providers—insurance companies, healthcare providers, urban planners, policy makers—to make sure we can help shape the global narrative on positive aging.”

Duplin says about 20 start-ups currently work part- or full-time at AGENCY, with many more in the pipeline as hubs are set to open at CIC Tokyo, CIC Rotterdam and CIC Miami.

“My hope is to grow that into an international movement. We’d love to have more strategic partners willing to do pilots and give our teams expert advice and access to customer insight—so we can get the best products out there.”

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Wendy Helfenbaum

Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based writer and television producer whose work has appeared in Next Avenue, YouAreUNLTD.com, WomansDay.com, Costco Connection and many more. Connect with her @WendyHelfenbaum.

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