Many people age 50 and older are more savvy about technology than they are often given credit for.
They use technology daily in the workplace and at home. Social media has exposed them to marketing for new devices and apps. Plus the pandemic has forced them to adapt quickly to ideas they might have been hesitant to try a couple of years ago.
“And they’re expecting products and services that meet that level of sophistication,” says Rick Robinson, vice president for start-up engagement at AARP Innovation Labs.
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It has driven AARP and its affiliated AARP Innovation Labs to launch the AgeTech Collaborative, an ambitious community of early stage start-up companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, service providers and industry leaders brought together to spark ideas and spur innovation. The promise is that the collaborative will benefit all of them while ultimately serving the greater good of older consumers they are hoping to impress.
Older Americans propel U.S. economy
To be sure, the companies lending their time, money and expertise also see dollar signs. AARP estimates the 50-plus market, what it calls the Longevity Economy, contributes $8.3 trillion to the U.S. economy each year and is responsible for 56 cents of every dollar spent.
Many of the 50 or so start-ups involved in the collaborative at launch will be seeking access to financing that for some may have been out of reach. AgeTech start-ups run the gamut. Initial participants include Voiceitt, which developed an app to help people with nonstandard speech be heard; Rendever, a virtual reality firm that aims to tackle social isolation; estate planning service Trust & Will; and Mighty Health, a company that says it has developed joint-friendly, low-impact fitness workouts.
QED Investors and Revolution Ventures are among the potential lenders on AgeTech’s venture capital and investing side. Walgreens, T. Rowe Price, the National Association of Realtors, global law firm Cooley, and MassChallenge, a global network for innovators who are working to solve massive challenges, also have joined the collaborative.
“There is a pressing need for products and services that help people make informed choices about how they live as they get older,” says Nigel Morris, cofounder of Capital One Financial Services. He’s now managing partner of QED Investors, which focuses investments on financial technology companies. “We want people to make better financial decisions, save for retirement and feel empowered to have financial resiliency. That is why we’re so excited by the efforts of AARP’s AgeTech Collaborative.”
Adds Kevin Collins, head of retirement plan services at T. Rowe Price: “One of our priorities … is to provide accelerated digital solutions that are personalized, easy and integrated to help retirement savers achieve the outcomes they desire. The AgeTech Collaborative will give us the opportunity to increase our exposure to innovative solutions in this emerging space.”
AARP is also soliciting applications from organizations such as health care systems, long-term care facilities and universities that can provide settings where start-ups can test and validate their products and ideas.
Businesses invited to apply
Working with start-ups is nothing new for AARP, but the consortium isn’t open to just anyone. Start-ups that want to join must apply to compete in one of the many Shark Tank-like pitch challenges that AARP hosts. Companies that win these competitions or otherwise make a positive impression are invited into an eight-week accelerator program where they can connect with other start-ups, dive into research, discover insights about the older demographic and gain access to the collaborative.
The collaborative will publish blog posts and news updates related to its companies and on technology related to aging and 50-plus consumers generally. And it will host virtual events for participants in which founders may talk about weathering the early stages of being a start-up. Information about the participants will be available in a searchable directory.
AARP is also taking a stake in some of the start-ups, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
“We only invest in things that tie to our social missions,” which include caregiving, health care, housing, savings and planning, and work and jobs, says Andy Miller, AARP’s senior vice president of innovation and product development. Any money earned from AARP’s investments ultimately will flow back into the organization to serve the nonprofit’s goals.
“This is us punching out into the world and saying, ‘This is age tech, this is a really important space, and we’re going to lead it and bring people along.’” Robinson says. “The AgeTech Collaborative is part of AARP’s endeavor to command the space we occupy.”
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.