Guest Post By: Ilyse Veron, a strategic consultant, explores health, aging, leadership challenges, and opportunities of the longevity economy from the nation's capital.
Need to avoid obstacles you can’t see? Try SUNU’s sonar wristband that scans the path 16 feet ahead or Loro’s 360 view with facial recognition to augment your field of vision.
“Let people with mobility challenges know our technology will restore their independent spirits,” Loro CEO Johae Song reflected after departing with a trophy from the Grand Finale of AARP Innovation Lab competitions in Washington DC last month. Loro’s personalized wheelchair assistive device placed third ($2000); more established Artiphon (second place, $3000) wowed the crowd with its smart strumming instrument, and Sunu (first place, $5000) presented its sonar wristband that eases travel for people with low vision.
The startup pitch competition with instant voting had taken an American Idol style journey that began last January in Las Vegas at the marquee consumer electronics show organized by the Consumer Technology Association, stopped in Nashville, Boston and the Mary Furlong and Associates Boomer Summits in San Francisco and New Orleans and docked at Washington DC’s Union Market. There in a colorfully lit gritty venue on the Northeast side of the Capitol, a 260-person crowd of investors, entrepreneurs and assorted creative leaders chose innovators due to make life “better together;” hosts wore ampersands to highlight the social connection theme. And the winners received votes of confidence in their missions from the AARP brand representing, a nonpartisan nonprofit with nearly 38 million members.
Audiences in Nashville, Boston and New Orleans had sent the winners with other cash prizes to DC, where Loro had developed for several months prior among international social entrepreneurs at Halcyon House.
AARP SVP for Innovation and Product Development Andy Miller beamed as he recounted the effort to “locally source“ entrepreneurs, and not only in the usual tech hubs like Boston, NY and San Francisco. After more than 100 competed nationwide, the ten “best and brightest startups focused on social isolation” pitched innovations for travel and music as well as inclusive work and personal financial management.
Anthony W.J. Phillips-Spencer, Ambassador from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Brigadier General (Ret.), had personally picked SUNU wrist band pitched by Fernando Albertorio to win because it was a portable and uncomplicated solution designed for the 280 million people living with vision loss or blindness worldwide. The $299 device
enables these people to travel with confidence, and he felt, gain quality of life.
Loro’s facial tracking feature really impressed Brad Gebert of SHRM’s Workforce Innovation Lab. Song had demonstrated how Loro could enable people with ALS who couldn’t speak to request a bottle of water and in many ways to regain their voices. “When you are caught inside yourself by immobility, this device can be such a gift,” Molly Mastin, a sensitive Nashville-based professional, also observed.
Winning products had use for people of all ages. Music therapists who had supported Artiphon’s record-breaking Kickstarter already had found instrument 1 helpful for children stressed out by poverty or mobility
However, many stories that moved voters demonstrated empathy for challenges of longevity. Last summer a Nashville church music leader praised Artiphon CEO Dr. Mike Butera privately for creating an instrument (priced at $399) that made life more meaningful. With the Artiphon invention, a musical friend with Parkinson’s had been able to
play, the leader confided at NAMM, and it meant a great deal to be able to express himself in those challenging final days.
That was one of many stories that generated votes at the AARP Grand Finale Pitch competition last month. For all competitors, making it to the top ten was a win, Miller told MemoryWell, much like those American Idols who get to Hollywood. Whether or not they won a trophy, any entrepreneur in the final showcase could receive guidance from the AARP Innovation lab, introductions, and possibly cut deals. “This prize gives Loro a great lift,” Loro CTO David Hojah commented, “though we still need seed funding. Look for our product launch at 2020 CES Eureka Park.” AARP Innovation Lab has a booth too and an eye out for next year’s startup competitors.