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Technology for seniors – dial down passion, dial up market readiness

The passion of innovation for seniors. Rant on. It’s the most I have seen in the past five years: the halo that surrounds finding new companies that could, perhaps, help older adults, even if they were designed for some other purpose. Many assess them, invite them to networking events, cultivate and encourage their expectations about future opportunity and even award them prizes. The criteria for selection/participation of these entrants are not always disclosed, but phrases about criteria are on the sponsoring entities' websites. New entrants will "have an already developed, scalable and financially sustainable product/service" or they will be "capable of scaling" or they will judge "how easy is it to get the product?" Or the product/service will have "sustainable competitive advantages, positioning or efficiencies." So you might be persuaded that the companies that enter, apply, win, or gain investment must actually exhibit these characteristics.

Today’s entrepreneurs start with an idea - sort of. No that doesn’t mean they’ve started working on an idea.  In today’s environment, they start networking at events, even exhibiting at CES long before the product will be designed, alpha- or beta-tested, or pilot sites signed up. [Note to reader, all of those startups in that CES link are gone.] They are entering competitions with an idea that can be described in a paragraph (maybe) on a completed website (even more maybe) with a named launch date (very, very maybe).  Perhaps the opening screen shows a photograph of a happy senior, the app targets a gargantuan problem but is really a smartphone app with barely a feature. Or the winning idea is really a tool for mothers with children, but it could be re-purposed for seniors. But there they are at the cocktail party, in the audience, on the competition website, maybe even winning -- and most important, they have made it to this point through their supportive funding or competition sponsors.

But seniors get little benefit from half-baked ideas. By now the reader must think this rant is curmudgeonly and even downright mean. But if the category was other than the halo and no-deadline world of aging, I would bet that the criteria for selection would be tougher, and the success rate would thus be greater. With so many here-today-gone-tomorrow offerings that pass the passionate-entrepreneur test ("This is for my grandmother"). But they are not ready for anyone's grandmother -- their new website is coming soon, check back soon for more info, they are very soon to accept pre-orders), the market observer could believe as every media writer likes to say every few months – "the next hot market for wearable tech is Grandma."  Is that so?  Does the product meet any of the criteria in the first paragraph? Note that each of the above quoted criteria originates with three different well-funded organizations cultivating innovation for seniors – these are not university research programs.  Entrants would therefore appear to exhibit these characteristics before entering, but particularly before being selected. But do they? Rant off.

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Right on!
Maybe a qualifying experience for anyone trying to get into the business of elder technologies should be spending some time with grandma. And I don't mean cashing the birthday check and if they really engaged, sending a thank-you note. I think the first requirement for these entrepreneurs should be to live with grandma for sometime. Then maybe they would begin to gain the empathy required for their customer's real needs.

John Boden

One of the criteria for new ideas for Seniors should be the timeframe of
execution probability - 1/3/5/+ years realistic implementation and proof of that it can be done (delivered to the market in proposed time). There should be a non-partisan 'group' that ideas could be submitted to that would judge the 'ideas' based on the criteria of time-to-market (in addition to other important issues).
This would direct capital flow to benefits TODAY since ROI would be
quicker. It would also judge the long-term projects worth waiting for.
John, your point about the viability of inexperienced young entrepreneurs is well taken. They may not have a good grasp of the true problem or it's priority. Software complexities is their game, but they do not spend much time on execution or UI so there is much failure because PEOPLE find their APPS or PRODUCT confusing and not very intuitive. I am a senior now, who has experienced many problems with product all my life - "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING...?

Hey Larry,

What in particular about those apps made you think "what were they thinking?"

What types of struggles do seniors encounter when using those products or apps?

User Interface: Text too small? Too big? Colors are off? Not simple?

I think Laurie is completely right about this, but coming from Silicon Valley, I meet entrepreneurs all the time who fail to understand, or even interview, their market. The problem Laurie describes is not specific to the eldercare market, although it is also true that designing a product for oneself is far easier than understanding someone else's key needs, so could also contribute to market failure. An entrepreneur has to be optimistic or nothing new would get done. On the other hand, getting up in front of other people to find funding and team members is also part of the process for getting a developed, scalable, and financially sustainable product/service unless one is already a successful serial entrepreneur.

Hi Laurie,

Interesting post on new start-ups and their actual failures to create meaningful products for the aging space. But if you were advising a new start-up in this space, what would be the 3 most important things they should focus on?

Rather than the fancy events, launch parties, etc. how does a start-up in the aging-tech space really succeed?

You mention "The companies that are going to be successful are the ones that have this maniacal focus on the user and how they interact with technology, with each other, and with their families,"

Just thought I'd start the dialogue...btw, I really do like your posts and input.


I just re-read and re-published 10 tips for getting started.

Ya, I actually read this yesterday...Good stuff.

Follow-up question: Where do seniors and caregivers get the majority of their news and information from?

Are they still reliant on paper newspapers, tv channels (Cnn, CNBC etc,) or have they started getting their information from online sources (Facebook, Twitter,etc - My guess is no, but I am not a senior so I'm trying to test my assumption) Or do they rely on agencies like AARP, etc.

From the Pew Research Center on Older Adults & Technology Use, "In April 2012 the Pew Research Center found for the first time that more than half of older adults (defined as those ages 65 or older) were internet users. Today, 59% of seniors report they go online—a six-percentage point increase in the course of a year—and 47% say they have a high-speed broadband connection at home" (

But what sites besides Facebook do they get their information?

Anyways, thanks for your reply...

Every day more 65+ are versed in technology.

They will take that general knowledge with them.

What are the problems: can you live with someone else so you can keep your house or apt?
Why can't tech match up people and verify their identities and oversee it with housekeeping services?

What about cooking? How could eating be more neighborly?
What about meet ups with a senior focus?

What ages are we talking about? Boomers, 70-80, 80+?

What kind of sensors can you put on things so they can be found?

Can you sell things before you need to move so it isn't such a chore?