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Startup That Virtually Connects Grandparents, Grandkids Wins AARP Pitch Competition

Kinoo has created a video chat platform that strengthens family bonds through play

illustration of people solving a giant puzzle together


En español | Despite the growing number of ways families can connect virtually, it’s not always easy for grandparents and grandchildren to bond.

Enter Kinoo, a Mountain View, California-based company that has created a video chat platform that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to connect grandparents and grandchildren. They can play games together, collaborate on projects and interact through their tablets and smartphones.

“Before COVID, this could have been more difficult. But now grandparents are more comfortable with video chat,” says Kinoo founder Jim Marggraff, who is also the creator of the popular LeapPad Learning System. “This video system is easy to use.”

The platform includes two characters, Kodii and Kidoo, that spring to life during video chats between family members and make communication more fun. This is called technology-supported intergenerational connection.

Kinoo was the winner of the Better Aging Through Technology pitch competition, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs and the Innovation Collective, which helps launch innovative businesses. During the competition, which was July 1, seven start-up companies explained how their products can help improve people’s quality of life as they age.

“For a long time, we’ve added years to life but not life to years,” says Nick Smoot, founder and chief executive of the Innovation Collective. “Recently, society has produced tools and technology that enable us to create products that make aging a better experience.”

A wide range of innovative products

The finalists created a wide range of products. Some were inspired by their own experiences with caregiving and loss of mobility. The innovations included a high-tech walker, a device that helps rehabilitate knees, and a digital platform that connects caregivers with local resources and senior housing.

During the Shark Tank-like competition, judges with expertise in start-ups, venture capital and aging asked the founders questions about their products, competition, development plans and growth prospects.

People’s Choice winner focuses on voice technology

After the presentations, the audience gave the People’s Choice award to a start-up called Voice Activated Living, which enables older adults to communicate with family members and friends using their voice instead of a smartphone or tablet. The company uses Amazon Echo Show devices to exchange video and audio messages, photos and other content with loved ones. Family members and friends can chat through their smartphones or tablets.

CEO Jeff Wasson was inspired to create the product after his dad broke his hip and arm and was unable to use his smartphone. Wasson’s dad couldn’t participate in the family’s group chat.

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“He was missing out on the conversation,” Wasson says. “We hope that enabling older adults to stay connected and engaged through the power of voice will lead to increased happiness and joy.”

The next competition

In the fall, Kinoo will have the opportunity to participate in the AARP Innovation Labs’ Grand Pitch Finale. “AARP Innovation Labs is focused on discovering the best and brightest start-ups tackling society’s most pressing issues as we age,” says Sheila Collins of AARP Innovation Labs.

Marggraff will be invited to speak at the Innovation Collective’s Think Big Festival in January 2022. The event will be in Brooksville, Florida, where the Innovation Collective helps establish start-up companies focused on aging and longevity.

The July competition was open to start-ups that have less than $500,000 in annual revenue and received less than $10 million in investments. Here are the companies, the inspiration for their creations, and how they hope to transform the way people age.

Kimberly Lankford is a contributing writer who covers personal finance and Medicare. She previously wrote for Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, and her articles have also appeared in U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. She received the personal finance Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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