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AARP Bulletin

Boomers Key to Economic Growth

A question for every startup: 'What's your 50-plus strategy?'

Not surprisingly, many of the emerging products and services are health-related, but with a goal of keeping people at the top of their game, not treating ailments.

Limeade of Bellevue, Wash., is an "enterprise wellness company" that works with employers to keep down health care costs by giving employees incentives to stay fit, use preventive services and take part in activities that drive social connections, engagement and productivity. This can help make client enterprises realize, CEO Henry Albrecht says, that with the older employee "it's really short-sighted to ignore the experience or the capability or the enthusiasm that someone like that can bring to the table"

Wende Hutton, general partner at venture capital firm Canaan Partners, says she sees new investor interest in health-related products that the consumer, not insurance, pays for. ReVision Optics has developed an "inlay" that is surgically inserted over the pupil to eliminate the need for reading glasses. It's available now in Japan and Europe and undergoing regulatory evaluation in the United States.

Another firm in which Canaan Partners has invested is Butterfly Health, which is test-marketing an adhesive body liner that helps make life easier for women who suffer accidental bowel leakage.

New technology

For people who have reached their slow-down years, other firms are deploying advanced technology to help them age in place. For instance, Lively Inc. of San Francisco is beta-testing sensing technology to foster safety and connectivity for older people living alone. Low-cost motion detectors are placed around a home — on, say, the refrigerator, the medicine cabinet and the front door. The devices report wirelessly to a small central unit, which remembers the resident's daily routine. If the pattern is broken, the unit sends out word — a text message to Dad reminding him to take his pills, perhaps, or to a boomer son or daughter saying that Dad hasn't been out of his apartment for a while.

The company has a second service that attempts to include the older parent in Facebook culture without joining Facebook. Photos newly posted on the social media site are automatically printed on old-fashioned paper and sent by U.S. mail to the parent. Clayton Lewis, a partner at the venture capital firm Maveron, which is helping launch Lively, says this prolongs what's often been a lifelong pleasure for the 70-plus generation, going to the mailbox and finding something good.

Still, too many business leaders "can't get away from cultural biases about aging that really go back to the early 20th century," says Holtzman. He's determined to keep up the forces of change. A key objective: Build interest among the country's venture capital firms, which have hatched many breakthrough technologies. He's pushing investors to pose a particular question to every start-up that comes calling: "What's your 50-plus strategy?"

John Burgess is a Washington-based journalist and author specializing in financial issues.

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