We live longer
It's not a secret that the pharmaceutical and medical device industries have been investors' favorites for the last decades. The substantial funds invested in such sectors enabled comprehensive research and development (R&D), by international corporations as well as by an enormous number of starts-ups worldwide. The success of such R&D, besides providing great returns to the investors and some very impressive exits to entrepreneurs, has fulfilled mankind's most basic desire – to live longer!
All demographic projections are telling the same story – we are experiencing an aging revolution not yet known to mankind: by 2030 the global 65+ population is expected to double itself and the 80+ population will triple its size compared to 2010; by 2050 there will be more people aged 65+ than those aged 0-14 and the number of 65+ years old is expected to reach almost 2 billion, over 20% of which will be 80+.
People will live longer and the "golden age" population will constitute a larger proportion from the overall population.
The New Seniors
However, as each one of us knows from personal encounters with older people, living longer is not enough, as an older person's wellbeing is strongly related to his quality of life.
In this respect, it seems like the 21stcentury aging revolution has caught us a bit off guard, creating a new breed of "golden age" population, very different from the old folks that we were used to.
First of all, they are much healthier. The improvement of nutrition, health care and sanitation, together with the medical progress, assists in slowing down the pace of the natural aging process. Accordingly, the majority of the new seniors' thoughts and needs are not focused on health issues nor do they wish to be the identified patients" any longer.
On the other hand, the influence of aging on physical, cognitive and mental abilities, although slower, is inevitable.
Retirement age remains at around 65, meaning that the new seniors will have more "golden years", in which they will have much more free time on their hands.
The rising income gap in many countries may create two different classes of new senior population. The first, those who earned enough until their retirement and are now ready to spend it (by the end of this decade, the spending power of the 65+ population in the USA will already reach $15 trillion, doubling the spending power of such population compared to 2010). The second, those who haven't earned enough but will have the same needs as the first, whom needs might need be fulfilled by governmental or voluntary entities.
As opposed to the past, the new senior population wants to retain independent living (whether at their own home or as part of independent senior living communities). This requires new solutions and different adjustment by governmental and municipal authorities as well as by family care takers. The latter also having to deal with the modern world's symptom of people rapidly changing their place of residence. It is much harder to take care of Mom when she's hundreds and thousands of miles away from you.
The Needs and the Opportunity
The new seniors have many new unanswered needs, which until recent years were oddly unaddressed, neither by business nor by governments.
So we are talking about a market with a huge, and rapidly growing, number of potential customers, which have many unmet needs, most of which are not medical, but are somehow age related.
The facts are evident and so are the business opportunities which lie within this demographic age.
Even more so, it's an opportunity for the technological world. Tomorrow's senior population, the baby boomers and thereafter the Gen X, are tech-savvy and are open to and even expect technological solutions for their needs.
Development of technologies addressing reduction of loneliness, accessibility and transportation, communication, medical prevention, entertainment, communal connections, caregiving solutions and other needs of the new senior population is not only an exciting business opportunity, but also a chance to make a valuable social impact on a vast amount of people.
Accordingly, one would expect that governments will encourage and that high tech investors will seek to invest in start-ups developing solutions for such needs. However, until recently, such activity was almost unnoticed. The senior population was treated as medical patients or welfare cases, or both, with the main aim being keeping them alive with a "decent" quality of life. Needless to say that the high tech industry (except for medical solutions) had no part, nor interest, in such solution, which lack of interest gave high tech entrepreneurs no incentive to try and develop solution for such needs.
The Rise of the Age Friendly Tech
The good news is that recently the winds of change are felt, with a rapidly increasing interest, by investors as well as by entrepreneurs, in this entirely new field of technological innovation. Having this tech focused on the needs and desires of the senior population, with governmental and non-profit agencies in many jurisdictions encouraging such innovation.
Although it was not "tagged" yet like other high tech fields, ‘Elder Tech’, ‘Tech for Aging', '3rdTech’, or as we call it 'age friendly tech', is already here. It began slowly from governmental and voluntary organization dealing with elderly population social issues. These have realized the endless opportunities in technological solutions for the everyday problems they deal with, and it is expected to rapidly grow and distinguish itself in the upcoming future.
From my experience here in Israel, which has its share of reputation as a bustling and highly innovative technological center, I can testify that just a few years ago any mentioning of age friendly technology in the local high tech eco-system would raise an eyebrow over the idea of "technology for old people", as if you don't understand that high-tech is for youngsters.
The progress can be evidenced by a hackathon for age friendly technologies in which I was honored to participate lately as a mentor. It was organized by the Tel Aviv municipality, as sort of a joint venture between their welfare and IT departments and the participants were granted access to many of the municipality's data bases (GIS, etc.) In order for those to assist the participants in developing their technological solutions for the needs of the city's senior population. It was interesting as usual to watch the entrepreneurs trying to reach the technological solutions, but even more exciting was to see the interaction between the entrepreneurs and the "golden age" population in the mid-class neighborhood seniors day center in which the hackathon took place. Senior people, with no technological orientation, giving the entrepreneurs the best possible advice straight from their day to day life. Whether explaining that falling is a concern of mainly those who have already fallen once (targeting of your market) or just laughing at the sight of the very "high tech looking" wearable sensor (in this case, tracking) device and explaining that they will never wear such a thing (go back to your product design).
From the investors' side, less than two years ago, we assisted a client of ours, the leading retirement communities chain in Israel, in launching a venture capital fund dedicated to investing in disruptive solutions for aging. Since its inception, the fund was approached by dozens of entrepreneurs, indicating that the Israeli entrepreneurs understood the opportunity in this new exciting high tech field and in accordance with their reputation, are planning to take on the opportunity. However, this is only the beginning, as our client is still the only VC fund in Israel focusing on age friendly tech.
In the US it seems like the scene is even more bustling with a handful of nationwide organizations and events where new age friendly tech products ae introduced and presented (CES 2018, Aging 2.0 and GuideWell Innovation, the What’s Next Boomer Venture Summit, AARP Live Pitch, just to name a few).This is backed by several funds created in recent years targeting investments in companies developing innovative solutions for seniors. In 2014, Generator Ventures launched a fund to invest exclusively in the aging and long-term care market. In 2015, Ziegler, a leading healthcare investment bank with a significant presence in senior living and Link-Age Ventures created the Ziegler Link-Age Longevity Fund. It is dedicated to investments in companies that provide innovative technologically based products and services to meet the growing needs of seniors and senior living providers. AARP, the gigantic US senior citizen organization with 37 million members and JP Morgan Chase launched the AARP Innovation Fund to invest in early-to-late stage companies that have technology and solutions that better the lives of older people.
We truly believe that these examples are only the beginning of accelerators, incubators and venture capital funds dedicated to start-ups addressing such needs and desires, which are popping up in the major technological hubs worldwide. Due to the complexity of the challenges which the age friendly tech market is expected to meet and the linkage between such challenges and the health care, welfare, municipal and governmental systems, we understand that many of the solutions will require multidisciplinary cooperation between the public sector and the private high tech industry.
So, what does it include?
Symbolically, the age friendly tech represents the new era in which the new senior population demands to be asked: "How can we contribute to your wellbeing and make your life better?" instead of the "Where and how much does it hurt?" that used to be the most common questions addressed to the old senior population by their caregivers.
The age friendly tech can be roughly divided into the following categories of products and services:
Communication and Engagement - solution assisting seniors to remain active and to stay socially connected with their families, friends and local communities. These solutions cover a very wide range of products and services, from simple and intuitive interfaces for existing communications products and devices. Those are usually developed and built for much younger users and tend not to be elder friendlysuch as: a platform offering travel various services customized for the needs of "golden age" traveler or a personally customized hearing aid, and up to artificial intelligence based aging at home platform, transforming every TV into an interactive based communication solution for seniors living at home.
Home Safety and Security - solutions for monitoring and maintaining the functional status of seniors in their own home environment. Such solutions can range from a simple application sending the senior an alert if the stove was left on or if the water tap remained open, and up to covering the senior's home with sensors that can monitor and manage almost anything that happens in the home.
Health and wellness - solutions for monitoring and managing the physiological and mental status in order to maintain wellness.An ultimate example for these solutions is technologies related with falling. According to aging.com, falls are the single largest cause of death and injuries in older Americans. Around 33% of the elderly fall at least once per year, and these falls result in over 2 million visits to the emergency room. The direct cost of falls to society was already around $30 billion way back in 2010. On top of all that, come the psychological effects of a fall. Seniors who fall can become more afraid of falling, and this fear can reduce their quality of life, which by itself increases even more the risk of falling again. It is clear why fall related issues are basic components of age friendly tech. Start-ups try to deal with prevention of falls altogether, but also with reducing of the damages caused by falls when they do occur, either by "softening" the fall or at least by detecting it and sending alerts to third parties (emergency services, family, neighbors).
Home Care Tools – solutions for caretaking of seniors in their home environment. These solutions are intended to assist professional personnel, or the family caregiver in support to the elderly need in independent and full life at their home environment. The products may include a simple take-your-medication reminders, but also a virtual reality based physiotherapy tools enabling and encouraging the senior to properly perform his physiotherapy at home. A different example may be a tool for establishing and maintaining a network consisting of family members, neighbors and professional caretakers, to immediately handle any emergency in the most efficient manner.
The Israeli law firm of Yossi Avraham & Co. has acquired a deep understanding and unique know-how and experience of the needs of senior population and of the business and legal challenges that any business will face when trying to answer such needs and provide products or services to such population. We believe that such understanding and know-how, together with the strong connections we developed with all layers of the age friendly tech ecosystem, investors, entrepreneurs and start-ups and governmental and non-governmental organizations related to age friendly tech, allocates us in a leading position in the Israeli age friendly tech market, enabling us to provide first class customized services both to investors interested in this uprising technology field and to technological companies focused on such technology.
Adv. Michael Gitterman is a partner at the law firm of Yossi Avraham & co., and head of the Hi-Tech and Venture Capital department.