Technology companies, ad agencies, and marketers are constantly thinking about how to capture the attention and the dollars of the new generation. A few years ago, all the talk centered around millennials, who are now old news with the onslaught of Gen Z.
But what about the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population? The latest census figures show that due to declining birth rates and increased longevity, adults over 65 are gaining a lion’s share of the country’s demographic makeup. The number of people over age 65 is projected to almost double over the next two decades.
Though this population is clearly a big market opportunity, most of the big tech companies don’t develop specific products geared towards aging adults. True, the population of older adults on Facebook continues to grow, Apple has revealed new Watch features that address health and safety, and Google is exploring addressing seniors as a potential audience for its Nest home device.
But many of these devices and features are simply adaptive uses of the same products. Seniors serve as secondary customers, rather than the primary target market.
Startups are stepping in where big tech has not yet gone. The marketplace for technology to assist aging adults is expected to grow to more than $30 billion, according to a report by the research group Aging in Place.
Many of these startups are founded by those who have firsthand experience with the needs of the older generation and their caregivers.
Atlanta-based Sensorscall, for example, was founded by a husband-wife team who experienced challenges when caring for an aging parent who wanted to stay in her own home. Fereydoun Taslimi found himself getting in the car and rushing over to his mother-in-law’s house at 11 p.m. when she failed to answer her phone. The couple had been afraid she could had fallen or otherwise hurt herself.
“We run down there, all worried, and she’s sitting there watching TV,” Taslimi shares.
Sensorscall produces a smart sensor device, called CareAlert, that assesses environmental conditions like light, humidity, and motion in a senior’s home to determine whether everything is status quo or if something could have gone wrong. It can then alert caregivers without the intrusion of a video monitor or recording device.
CareAlert allows caregivers and their loved ones to communicate with a two-way speaker, as well as set notifications for things like medication reminders.
“Many times kids just call their parents, and they just want to know whether they get up in the morning and they’re okay,” Taslimi tells Hypepotamus. The device is slated for commercial sale this year.
While Sensorscall serves both seniors and loved ones, there are other startups improving the industry of caregiving as a whole. Not everyone has a family member to take on the task of caregiving. The AARP reports that by 2020, 117 million adults will require some kind of assistance, but there will only be 45 million professional caregivers.
Workforce platform Reciprocare was founded to address that gap. The startup was born when Harvard-trained physician and public health professional Dr. Charlene Brown noticed that, although 70 percent of care provider agencies report difficulty finding caregivers to fill open jobs, two-thirds of qualified caregivers say they can’t find full-time work.
The platform simply provides the match: setting up trained, vetted caregivers with industry jobs in home care agencies and assisted living facilities. The startup went through the Atlanta-based Points of Light civic accelerator and received funding from both Points of Light and Valor.VC’s quarterly Startup Runway pitch competition.
What about when older adults cannot or choose not to remain in their own homes? The challenges of aging — reduced mobility, need for adaptive devices, and increased health issues — are magnified in places like senior living facilities.
Technology can help these institutions run more smoothly. K4Connect, a Raleigh-based company, serves facilities for older adults and individuals with disabilities with smart home and IoT technologies.
K4Connect was founded by Scott Moody, a long-time technology entrepreneur who formerly co-founded the only public company ever to be acquired by Apple (their technology later formed the backbone of Touch ID).
Moody retired after that sale, but re-entered the startup world to come up with a way to give back. That altruistic contribution ended up being the actual technology his company developed, which Moody likens to the operating system of an entire building or facility.
Initially, the team just saw a market opportunity in smart home tech. But Moody changed his whole perspective after meeting someone with Multiple Sclerosis.
“At the end of the conversation he asked what we did, and I gave him examples and he said, ‘that would be a great product for me. When I wake up in the morning and look at my day, I figure I have the energy for a thousand steps and I have to use those steps to improve the quality of my life, and you guys can make that quality better.’”
“We pivoted the whole company to focus on older adults and those living with disabilities,” Moody tells Hypepotamus. “We realized that day that technology itself was really the mission.”
The K4Community platform connects senior living facility management, employees, residents, and their families. It handles everything from communication with residents, to services like cleaning, health care, or dining, to content and resident engagement. The system is deployed within the apartment or home of every resident in the community — smart thermostats and other home devices, sensors for safety, and communication devices.
While the platform clearly helps facility operators, Moody says they think of the residents, whom they call “members,” as their true customers. Their average member is 82 years old.
The team spends a lot of time thinking about designing technology for this specific demographic.
“There’s always this perception that older adults don’t like technology, but that’s not true,” Moody tells Hypepotamus. “What they don’t like is an app designed for a 25-year-old by a 25-year-old, with maybe slightly larger font. The analogy I use is my daughter’s grandmother doesn’t wear the same clothes she does — but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wear clothes.”
“It’s not a matter of just taking something that was designed for somebody else and adding a different UI and expecting them to learn how to use it.”
The team even goes so far as to go through “dementia training,” where they put themselves in the shoes of someone experiencing dementia.
K4Connect recently raised a $12 million Series B funding round to “aggressively expand” in product development, according to Moody, and speed up their customer acquisition. They plan to expand beyond facility management to deliver a home product later this year.
“A lot of people talk about monitoring the older adult. But the fact of the matter is at the age of two, you stop being monitored — and that doesn’t change when you’re 80,” Moody says. “We really focus on building a system that gives our members value, by allowing them to have more information about their own health, and then doing something about it.”