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Need More Than an Uber? This Company Wants to be Your Ride

Start-up with ‘door-through-door’ service wins AARP pitch event

spinner image onward co-founder kim petty talks into a microphone with the words agetech after dark from aarp in the background
Kim Petty, co-founder and CEO of specialty ride-sharing service Onward, makes her pitch before a crowd of about 200 at AARP’s Age-Tech After Dark in Las Vegas.
Linda Dono, AARP

Older passengers who might order a Lyft or Uber sometimes need more than a simple ride to their next appointment. They need the kind of door-through-door service that Silicon Valley start-up Onward promises.

Rather than take you from one curb to another, specially trained Onward companion drivers will enter a person’s home, help them put on shoes or coats and carry belongings ranging from walkers or wheelchairs to a gurney. Among other requirements, they must pass background checks and know CPR.

At a destination, the driver may walk a client through grocery store aisles or into a health care facility. On the way home, a driver might stop at a pharmacy or pick up other essentials before safely bringing that and the passenger back into the house.

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“Transportation is the No. 1 responsibility for caregivers in the United States,” says Kim Petty, Onward’s cofounder and chief executive. Onward beat four other start-ups at an invitation-only pitch competition Jan. 6 featuring actor and comedian Ken Jeong.

AARP’s AgeTech Collaborative hosted the contest at the CES trade show in Las Vegas. AARP has run pitch competitions with start-ups since at least 2017 through what was then known as AARP Innovation Labs. As part of the AgeTech Collaborative, AARP hosts more than a dozen pitch events throughout the year to identify innovative products and services to make aging easier. 

Many of these competitions are focused around a particular theme, such as women’s health, transportation and financial wellness. Others are general “open mic” style events. Some of the winners and start-ups selected to pitch have the opportunity to join an eight-week program with AgeTech Collaborative experts to help them grow.

AARP estimates that the 50-plus market contributes nearly 46 percent of the U.S. economic output, rising to more than half by 2050. More than 56 cents of every dollar in consumer spending comes from this age group.

spinner image a woman helps another woman into the backseat of a car
Onward’s drivers help clients get to, into, out of and beyond the vehicle they schedule to pick them up.
ONWARD

Cost. Onward charges riders a flat fee of $45 plus $2.50 a mile in the San Francisco Bay Area where it operates. A one-hour minimum, any tolls and parking are required. Additional time is prorated. Tipping is permitted. Onward has partners such as UCSF Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that can help qualifying riders with fees.

Growth. CEO Petty looks to expand to other markets, first in California this year, then to other states with high populations of potential older riders.

Though it caters to older folks, anyone can book a car through Onward. Unlike traditional ride-share services, Onward is not on demand. Rides generally must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance and can be booked online by calling a concierge team or via an iOS or Android app.

Onward’s website states it is “not in the business of going fast or hurrying riders. It is not the population we service, and we’ve built our pricing to reflect this stance.”

The company says it often can pair customers with a driver whom they like and trust.

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“They build relationships, and drivers learn the needs of specific riders,” Petty says. “Because of that, we hear things like, ‘I’m only going to my dialysis appointment today because of my driver, Jessica.’ ”

Drivers may keep a blanket handy in case patients are cold when they finish their kidney dialysis appointment.

Other companies made their pitches to an invitation-only audience of about 200 at the Venetian’s Sugarcane restaurant in Las Vegas.

spinner image a woman uses a smartphone to take a picture of her food
Snap a picture of your food to learn more about what you're eating.
HINTERHAUS PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES

Opsis

Product. At Golden, Colorado-based Opsis, knowledge about the foods you eat is power.

Its Plateful app, expected to be available for beta testing in early 2023, allows you to scan meals or a package that has a barcode with your smartphone camera to learn about portion size, nutrition information and the effects on your health. The app eschews manual tracking of food choices in favor of artificial intelligence-based processing that learns your preferences and helps you change your diet for the better.

Cost. Free

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PeerLyfe makes social networks simpler for older adult communities and their residents.
PEERLYFE

PeerLyfe

Product. PeerLyfe, in beta testing, is a social media platform for computers rather than smartphones that’s designed for communities serving residents 55 and older. The goal: Help combat loneliness and allow older adults to find others with common interests.

It was developed after its under-age-21 cofounder discovered frustrations with Facebook, Nextdoor and other social media when interviewing residents at The Villages near Ocala, Florida, for another idea he was developing. The company is based in Lakeland.

Cost. Free to people using it, a fee for the communities, which could pass it to residents or offset it with ads.

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Wesper's sleep system helps diagnose problems from the comfort of home.
WESPER

Wesper

Product. Wesper’s Home Sleep Lab patches pair with Wesper’s iPhone app, a system cleared by the federal Food and Drug Administration, to track breathing problems and sleeping positions from your own bed without heading to a sleep lab.

The patches gather data while you rest to help the New York-based company’s sleep experts create a personalized treatment plan to alleviate anything from insomnia and loud snoring to sleep apnea.

Cost. $249

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XanderGlasses take the concept of TV closed captions to conversations.
XANDER

Xander

Product. Xander has created working prototypes of augmented reality glasses for people with hearing loss. XanderGlasses from the company based in Somerville, Massachusetts, give you captions similar to what you see on your smart TV.

The glasses show subtitles of what a person is saying in real time, and a user can continue to look at the person during their conversation rather than glance down at a smartphone. The glasses’ technology can hear and transcribe words even when a room is crowded and noisy.

Cost. To be determined.

This story, originally published Jan. 7, 2023, was updated to add more context about AARP pitch competitions.

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