Disconnect between university research and go-to-market product viability?

I admit it. This blog has only been in place for a few months and already I am just a little tired of reading and posting press articles that describe a new YARC (Yet-Another-Research-Center) examinging technology to help seniors age in place.  There seem to be plenty of grants from the federal government (national Science Foundation, National Institute of Health and perhaps more) to help universities do research on technology for aging in place.  I won't even begin to provide a list (two different Texas school announcements just recently, plus University of Florida, Georgia Tech, UC Davis, Drexel, etc. etc. etc. But if someone has a full list of all the programs, please advise -- I'll post and refresh it regularly.

These researchers are justifiably proud of their model homes, apartments and showcases (especially at aging-related events) that demonstrate their engineering vision for the future of aging. They have plenty of categories covered: programs looking into robots, motion sensors, cameras, wearable technology. The press loves it.  It's all good. Don't get me wrong. And I realize I should have patience. It's early.

But then I search the internet looking for more companies than GrandCare or Quiet Care in the home monitoring industry -- so far haven't found any that are viable.  Or any more devices that bypass PC's and make email available to elders. Or the absence of any motion sensors or webcams in the assisted living facilities I visit. Or the lack of really robust and accepted medication reminder offerings from well-known companies.

And I look at how very willing seniors are to use these products. Yet that AARP study showed quite a lack of awareness among seniors about product categories surveyed. Of course, why would they be aware? The vendor list is relatively short. Geriatric care managers and councils on aging generally don't know about or promote their availability. (I realize that there are exceptions, including this unusual non-profit (and fitting location) Silicon Valley Council on Aging.)

The bottom line -- I do not see any pressure or urgency in any of these programs to promise deliverables with product partners by a specific and near-term deadline, or to aggressively propel research conversion into products. Otherwise I am sure that by now I would see a long list of vendors in just the above categories alone. So let's call me ignorant. I'm open to being set straight on this. Where are the products that should emerge (quickly) from research that confirms usefulness of concepts and design? I realize that everyone is getting prepared for the coming tsunami of baby boomers who will need these technologies. But there are plenty of seniors who need them right now. Urgently.

I'm just asking.

 

 

Stanford -- an exception?

Here is an excerpt from the Director's Message, Center on Longevity at Stanford. Dr. Laura Carstensen acknowledges and wants Stanford's program to be different - emphasis is mine:

"Today, we are proud to say that more than 100 Stanford faculty members have joined the center as affiliates. Their research spans a remarkable gamut, from examining strategies for developing healthy nutritional habits, to building assistive robots, to pursuing stem cell research offering insights into the healing process. Unlike most academic enterprises, the Center on Longevity also aims to speed the development of commercial solutions and rational policies to improve the lives of people worldwide."

 

Susan Ayers Walker, SmartSilvers Alliance

It has been my observation that many universities apply for funding/ grants to research an idea/technology or methodology.  Their students develop a "product" or system, conduct trial studies with seniors , derive research, apply for patents, write a thesis  and  then graduates. 

The product/invention/system/ new technology then  becomes intellectual property (IP) owned by  the University.  Many universities lock up the IP and hold it for ransom for an unreasonable  royalty with terms that stifle bringing that invention to market.   Meanwhile the student gets his PhD and goes to work for Google or some other company unrelated to the aging industry.

The university then starts the process of creating  brand new IP again - rather than building upon the research and IP already created.  Researchers are more interested in creating new rather than expanding someone’s else’s work. This is where not-invented -here mentality comes into play.

 

Lastly -- say you do get permission from the University to "productize" IP -- you then have to deal with Angel and/or  venture capital.  Sometimes the terms  of holding the IP from the university kill VC interest.  Sometimes the product does not get funding because Venture capital  just not interested in a "senior" demographic application.  VCs typically  are more likely to fund a product or gadget for the 12-24 year old demographic or fund a cure for an acute problem rather than a device that manages age related disabilities that are not reimbursable.

The issues are all complex to solve.  Even when the age wave becomes a real issue for society, the good technology solutions still might not be available. 

 Susan Ayers Walker, SmartSilvers Alliance and Sponsor of the Silvers Summit at CES

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