There are now more senior citizens in America than any other time in U.S. history, and yet few entrepreneurs are developing products to respond to their needs.
The GENerator is a new accelerator program that supports startups working to enhance the lives of older adults and improve long-term care.
Cofounder Katy Fike majored in engineering in college, took a job as a Wall Street investment banker, and then made the dramatic transition into a PhD program on gerontology.
“Aging is such an underserved market, and yet it is something in everybody’s future,” Fike said in an interview. ” I see tech and design as a way to improve what we currently see — this isolation epidemic and the loneliness of elders. We can use tech to empower older adults, increase social connectivity and independence and scale care to create the future we wall want.”
People get old. We can’t help it. Aging is a fact of life, and we should all be so lucky as to age with grace and comfort, but the reality is somewhat harsher.
Millions of the elderly in America are victims of abuse, with nearly 1 in 3 nursing homes being cited for violations of federal standards. According to the National Center of Elder Abuse (which is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), over 50% of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating older patients. There are only 3 million residential care beds in long-term facilities, and 9 million older Americans can’t pay for basic expenses like food, housing, health care, and transportation.
These numbers are grim.
With the GENerator, Fike and cofounder Stephan Johnston aims to provide a support network for entrepreneurs innovating in this space, and by doing so support the 40 million seniors in America. A number which is growing by the way, as baby boomers turn 65.
“Aging is unique, and most of the entrepreneurs solving these problems are not personally experiencing them,” she said. “It is a very fragmented market, and we need to pull together a program to systematically address these challenges, and create more dialogue between care providers and entrepreneurs.”
The GENerator is a six month program housed in San Francisco’s Institute of the Aging, which houses independent living facilities, adult day centers, and a geriatric clinic. The idea is to embed entrepreneurs with the people they are designing products for to make it easier for them to get feedback, conduct pilots, and build solutions that address real needs in a thoughtful way.
This approach also makes it easier for long-term and home care providers to experiment with new technology that could help them provide better care.
“We don’t want entrepreneurs to think it is too hard to launch a business with aging,” Fike said. “We want to create an ecosystem that can help define the future, and bridge the giant chasm between entrepreneurs, academics, care providers, and the end users.”
Fike said there is a “megatrend” around people wanting to “age in place” — 90% of the elderly don’t want to go to nursing homes or residential care facilities. This creates startup opportunities both inside and outside of the healthcare system.
The 11 companies in the inaugural cohort (full list here) are addressing issues as diverse as cognitive impairment, transportation, finding home caregivers, healthcare risk mitigation, communication, commerce, and even making better pillboxes.
The GENerator spun out of Aging2.0, an events program Fike founded to promote innovation in the aging space around the world. It kicked off 18 months ago and has since hosted 30 events in 10 cities.
Fike said it wasn’t enough just to do those events, and she wanted to build what is effectively an innovation hub for these issues.
The GENerator takes a small equity stake in participating companies, but never more than 2% (which is significantly less than the 7% other accelerators take). Right now the program offers no seed capital, although Fike would like to down the road.
This project is support by more than 75 high-profile sponsors and mentors, including Home Instead, Cambia Health, the Stanford Longevity Center, Amazon, IBM, the Gerontological Society of America, and the Center for Technology and Aging.