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The more things remain the same, sometimes they change

Don’t see the products your constituents need? Launch a fund to get them created. Sometimes organizations become frustrated with the pace of change and decide to do something about it. One of those is Link-age in Mason, Ohio, a group purchasing organization that buys on behalf of 450 senior living communities in 39 states. The organization, led by CEO Scott Collins, is launching a $20 million ‘gray’ national fund to accelerate creation of products and services for seniors. Local investment banker, John Hopper, managing director of the new Link-age Ventures (partnered with CincyTech), rightly observes: "We haven’t bumped into anyone else in the industry doing anything similar." Says Collins: "Entrepreneurs are eager to address the market, but few understand the needs."  The investors will make money when the companies are sold – which they surely will be if they do find new and innovative ways to address, as Scott Collins indicates, the food, shelter, transportation and socialization needs of older adults -- well beyond the boomer age ranges of 48 to 66. 

Tired of searching for user testing groups? Cultivate an in-home panel.  It’s one thing for a university to view a senior housing group as a ready-made test environment for new tech, as the University of Missouri folk have done with Tiger Place.  But as seniors increasingly want to and are staying in their homes, why not create an in-home living laboratory? So say the researchers at Georgia Tech, who plan to grow the pool of age 50+ home testers to 550 by 2014.  Brad Fain, director of HomeLab and a principal research scientist in the Georgia Tech Research Institute says: "Evaluation of a pre-market or mature technology by Georgia Tech’s HomeLab will provide a company with documented evidence for marketing, regulatory compliance and product design."

Fatigue with the marketplace? Make your own market.  The Link-age fund executives, explicitly stating that entrepreneurs don’t understand the needs of seniors, pack a lot of message into a few words. With all the research efforts spread across graduate programs at schools like the MIT AgeLab, Oregon Health and Science University, Georgia Tech – you would think that by now we would have a very long list of just-right products and services for seniors (the real ones, not the ones having 'three days of endless fun' flocking to AARP’s Life@50+). Yet just look at how the tech market of vendors is still relatively small, filled with passionate and enthusiastic individuals who want to do the right thing – if they only knew what that might be.

How to figure out what the market needs?  Ask the end user.  Let’s start seeing more well-publicized and broad-based surveys of older consumers that are sponsored by Medicare insurance plans, senior housing organizations -- both non-profit and for-profit -- large retailers, car manufacturers (issues with in-car technology) and consumer goods companies.  All need to move the ball forward matching the tech they represent versus the tech people need.  We should not continue to see this as a never-ending discovery process, lurching along until the boomers reach the age of 86.

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