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What types of firms enable technology innovation for older adults?
For engineers and visionaries – a grandmother inspires. I hear it so often – the entrepreneur’s grandmother, father, mother inspired the inventor to move forward with inventions – that includes long-time players like GrandCare Systems, It’s Never Too Late (IN2L) or Eric Dishman and Intel -- good examples – but it also includes brand new entrants like myLively and Serality. Or an inspired and wealthy founder with a long history of entrepreneurship and business tries something new – GreatCall (from the telecom industry) and now CareZone, founded by an ex-Sun executive.
The corporate opportunity – seen, attempted, and sustained. Fujitsu doesn’t quit – this week’s mention in Engadget of their prototype of a new GPS cane not only provides directional guidance through visual symbols – no multi-lingual speaking required -- but it alerts if heart rate is out of whack or it enables a remote administrator to set a directional course. Philips of course, has as one of its missions to innovate and distribute technologies for older adults. Qualcomm has sustained interest in providing platform-level innovations and seeds many startups, including Lifecomm – which then seems to have rolled into another big company (and its role in an NCOA foundation) -- Verizon.
The grants – getting things started. Between the NIH, NSF, and CMS innovation grants, not to mention specific small grants for an on-campus entrepreneur here, and an enterprising startup there, grants get things going for many companies, including AFrame Digital or MedSignals. For reasons that are not entirely obvious to me, the grant-funded companies often seem to continue down that path, playing a technology role in lengthy studies to determine efficacy – and perhaps awaiting that single study that will drive committed CMS reimbursement. Otherwise, there seems to be no rush for the grant-funded to find a specific corporate opportunity to scale through those partnerships into the broader market.
Organizations whose mission is to help older adults are missing in the innovation action. Washington is filled with associations whose charter it is to help older adults – the Social Security Administration, CMS, AARP, Administration on Aging (AoA), NCOA, N4A, the Long-term Care Coalition, the National Alliance of Caregiving Coalitions – the end of the list is simply because this paragraph was becoming unwieldy. Which of these organizations sees its mission to guarantee that technology innovation for older adults is funded, developed, distributed, successful, and collects input from those experiences to recommend other technologies? Which of these organizations sees an opportunity to lead the others into encouraging Fujitsu or Philips to create just-right technologies and tech-enabled services that their mission-based constituents need and expect? Given that we are in the 21st century, that this is 2013, that the technology has already been invented, why not play a leadership role?