The annual What's Next Boomer Business Summit is the nation's leading conference for learning about trends and opportunities in the longevity economy, making deals, establishing partnerships and launching products for older consumers. Now in its 17th year, the Boomer Summit will take place on March 25-26 in Atlanta, Georgia during the American Society on Aging, Aging in America Conference. Attendees at this year's Summit will be able to explore the opportunities that the $7 trillion longevity economy offers and embrace the World Health Organization's declaration that 2020 will kick off The Decade of Healthy Aging.
Summit attendees can look forward to a gathering that offers premier networking opportunities with thought leaders in the aging field today. Registration includes:
This year we are excited to welcome both Dr. Ken Dychtwald and Maddy Dychtwald to the Boomer Summit stage. Dr. Dychtwald is the Founder and CEO of Age Wave and Maddy Dychtwald is the Co-Founder of Age Wave. Age Wave is the nation's foremost thought leader on issues relating to the aging population.
Innovative Session Tracks
There are a multitude of topics to choose from at the Summit including the latest innovations in senior living, strategies for optimizing your longevity economy marketing, details of how the home is becoming a health hub and important updates on the needs and impact of caregivers across the nation.
Lunch with an Expert
Choose your own seat at a table with your favorite analyst, investor, author, corporate or nonprofit executive!
What's Next Innovation Challenge sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs
Have you created a company that addresses the needs of older adults with hearing loss? Hear from a panel of experts and make your voice heard during audience voting after four pitches. Winners go on to the national AARP Innovation Labs competition.
Data and Insights
Attendees will receive the deepest market overview from the leading analysts in caregiving, aging-in-place, financial services, health and housing.
Access to The Media Center
Journalists from major news outlets will interview entrepreneurs and leading experts tracking trends in the longevity space. Learn the latest news in real-time or remotely through a live stream.
The What's Next Boomer Business Summit is where industry leaders and boomer marketing experts converge! If you are ready to take the next step in building your brand in the longevity economy, join us by registering here today.
Only in Washington, D.C. is it possible to convene a gathering in which all the longevity market stakeholders are at the same table. This year's 2nd Annual Washington Innovation in Longevity Summit is an exclusive networking event in which federal regulators, aging industry experts, nonprofit leaders, investors and innovative technology entrepreneurs can meet one another and see for themselves what products and services are leading in the market.
Developments in the longevity market are happening every single day and the speed of change can be dizzying. This Summit is an intentionally small and curated event that offers attendees the opportunity to experience impactful networking and connection building among the best of the best in the field today, both nationally and globally.
The most pressing issues will be addressed including how to support informal family caregivers, the growing number of older adults living with Alzheimer's disease or related dementias and how to foster successful chronic disease self-management. Attendees will also learn about regulatory challenges in aging, funding priorities and cycles, trends shaping senior care and home care, as well as the latest innovations in technology.
This Summit brings a global perspective to the table which sets it apart from other gatherings. There will be more than twelve countries represented at the Summit and each will offer insights from their country's unique perspective in addressing the needs of an aging population. Speakers will discuss privacy concerns and how to harness the influence of the media to grow a brand, build global partnerships and successfully scale your business using mission-driven priorities.
The appetite for innovation is increasing! The magic of this event is truly in the mix, from innovators in senior housing to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to government experts and beyond. Join us next week and you will find out from top investors which companies are truly leading when it comes to innovation in aging, senior care and caregiving.
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.
“Every person has something in them to be honored, learned from, and held up. Kendal communities respect every person whether they are a resident, employee, family member or community partner.”
There are a growing number of options for senior living today but the quality of these communities can differ dramatically. Sean Kelly, President & CEO of Kendal, recently shared with Mary Furlong and Associates, his thoughts on what makes Kendal Affiliates stand out in the crowd. The foundation of Kendal’s mission and vision can be found in its values and practices which highlight the importance of connecting to the community through ongoing and candid dialogue. A perfect example of this could be seen at a recent mini-retreat at Kendal on Hudson where 120+ people from every constituent group (including residents, staff and board) came together to discuss values and what at Kendal was most important to them, what was most exciting and where could things be better. For Mr. Kelly, this gathering was truly representative of the Kendal culture at its best, with people coming together to engage the different perspectives on how life can be improved for every member of the community and the community all together.
A great way to see how Kendal’s values and practices play out in real-life is by reading their 2019 Annual Report. Mr. Kelly highlighted several examples from the report that show how Kendal is unique when compared to other senior living communities:
Another way in which Kendal sets itself apart from other communities, is its commitment to being both an advocate and an activist in the aging field more broadly. In 1986, Kendal led the Untie the Elderly© program which resulted in federal legislation being passed in 1990 that required nursing facilities to consider the impact of restraints on the well-being of their residents. This groundbreaking work actually laid the foundation for future advocacy around dramatically reducing the use of unnecessary and harmful antipsychotic chemical restraints from senior living. For the restraint program to be successful, Kendal had to embrace their belief that every person needs to be honored and that they also deserve an opportunity to exercise their free will without a community demeaning (perhaps unintentionally) them or diminishing that right. The Untie the Elderly© program also correlates closely with the person-centered care movement that is now being continued with innovations from organizations like The Green House Project and technology company Embodied Labs. Kendal remains committed to using creativity, technology and innovation with hopes that they can systematize and codify model practices around person-centeredness, for Kendal and perhaps beyond. This devotion to knowing and caring for the “whole person” also provides an important underpinning for Kendal at Home which is among the leading organizations providing care coordination, elements of long term care insurance and a true sense of community for people who choose to be a part of Kendal but not necessarily to live in a “bricks and mortar” community.
Kendal’s leadership in the field is strengthened by the partnerships it has forged with other forward-thinking organizations in the longevity market. Kendal is a part of the Alzheimer’s Association National Roundtable which brings together leading providers from across the national to improve and operationalize the Association’s practice recommendations. Another strong source of partnership for Kendal is colleges and universities which help bring value to residents through intergenerational relationship building and lifelong learning opportunities. Campuses are also a great place to recruit future leaders in the senior living community industry.
Collington, a Kendal affiliate, has an existing relationship with Medstar Health in which they are co-operating an integrated primary care clinic. This clinic is an integration with community members and staff members and has an impact on quality of life across the board for those who participate. These individuals go to the hospital less often and are often more self-directed when it comes to their healthcare. This partnership shows that by creating a purposeful center for health and well-being, a patient’s quality of life can be improved as well as population health more broadly.
Finally, there is the partnership between the San Francisco Zen Center and Kendal to create Enso Village, a Zen inspired Kendal affiliate. Both organizations come to the table with an understanding of the realities that come with age and also excitement around what is possible as one embarks on their aging journey. The partnership is thriving in part because both organizations aspire to a mindful approach to care but also to culture.
Above all, Kendal values every single person in their community ecosystem and shows this by continuously, and increasingly soliciting their feedback. And, every five years, Kendal leadership comes together and re-evaluates their organizational plan based on community feedback and commits to making the next thing they do a little bit better than their most recent accomplishment. Learn more about the Kendal way of life from Sean Kelly himself during the 2nd Annual Washington Innovation in Longevity Summit this December!
The Outpatient App is an all-in-one mobile communications and productivity tool for family caregivers, home care providers, and senior living communities. The app is available on IOS and Android for mobile phones and tablets. The company, which is based in San Francisco, is working to simplify caregiving for everyone involved. The app is available as a free version that is tailored to the needs of family caregivers providing support at home. For professional caregivers in a facility setting, there is also a premium version which allows care providers to manage the needs of multiple residents at a time. Mary Furlong and Associates recently sat down with Brian Corey, Outpatient’s Co-founder and CEO, to discuss the company’s impressive growth and what lessons they have learned along the way when it comes to the longevity marketplace.
Interestingly enough, when Outpatient was first conceived more than two years ago, the team built their app prototype based on the needs they themselves were facing as caregivers. As the company grew they began to host user experience panels to elicit feedback about the product from real caregivers and the people they serve in order to improve its design. By using autonomous analytics, the team can see in real-time where their consumers are spending the most time on the app and what they are clicking. In less than a year, they have expanded their customer base to more than ten thousand people!
The company is also committed to evaluating how well they are serving caregivers. Based on aggregate data collected so far, Outpatient estimates that their app saves caregivers between 7 and 10 hours of time each week. Furthermore, over 80% of their users are using the app at least once a day. Brian believes that some of this success can be attributed to their commitment to simplicity, focus and craft. Since team members have strong software and healthcare backgrounds, they are able to create a delightful consumer experience by using their consumer and business design expertise. Outpatient is simple because it builds only what the consumer needs and not anything beyond that so they can avoid “feature bloat.” Ultimately, they are focused on their end-user and recognize that they have complex use cases so the app must be easy to use and integrate into their everyday life. Finally, the company releases an app update every 2 weeks without sacrificing on product quality due to the craftsmanship and care the team puts into design, engineering, and testing. Their customers really love the speed with which Outpatient delivers.”
The free version of the app is for caregivers who are providing assistance to a loved one at home and need help creating and managing a care schedule and communicating with other family members about health updates. The premium version supports the needs of professional caregivers by providing automated data entry, workflow assistance and productivity features including incident reporting and staff scheduling. Developers and operators of senior living communities are continuing to approach Outpatient as their needs for mobile communication and data tracking grow.
Achieving peak simplicity is a goal for the Outpatient team and with the recent hire of Paula Avriett as Head of Sales, they are one step closer. Paula joins the team from Kindred Healthcare and brings with her a comprehensive understanding of the longevity marketplace that will help the company better understand the needs and preferences of Outpatient customers. As the company continues to grow, they are confident that they will have data to provide on how the Outpatient app helps with staff retention and increased health and wellbeing of older adults.
Interested in learning more? Outpatient will be at the CALA Fall Conference in Palm Springs, the LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo in San Diego, and at MFA’s Washington Innovation in Longevity Summit in DC this December.
Earlier this year, VitalTech was announced as one of five finalists for the Silicon Valley $10K Business Plan Competition, hosted by Mary Furlong & Associates. Ernie Ianace, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, shared that the experience was a good introduction to Ziegler Link-Age and their ecosystem, and that their participation in the event led to more visibility in the senior living community space.
VitalTech began as a biosensor technology company and has since expanded with the development of VitalCare, their integrated digital health platform. The VitalCare platform supports senior living communities in offering a wide range of care solutions to their residents – from home health care to skilled nursing facilities. The platform supports everything from tracking population health, to remote patient monitoring and Telehealth. It acts as a digital support ecosystem that encourages and supports residents aging in place across the entire care continuum.
Their broad and flexible digital health platform helps improve care, increase health and well-being for older adults, and supports the work of care teams. The platform is also modular, so senior living communities can choose which type of support they need from the technologies. When a company signs on to use VitalCare, they receive complimentary staff training during the onboarding process and have access to 24/7 customer support so the senior living operator doesn’t need to worry about sorting out technical questions.
The success of VitalTech to date is partially a result of the strong strategic partnerships they have built over time. For instance, Ginna Baik, the Strategic Business Development Manager for Senior Care at CDW-Healthcare, was instrumental in helping VitalTech create relationships with senior living operators. Another important partner is The Thrive Center in Louisville, Kentucky, which now lists VitalTech as one of their preferred senior care platforms.
Finally, VitalTech announced the closing of their Series A financing round from two strategic investors: Concord Health Partners, a healthcare focused investment firm, and Stanley Ventures, the investment arm of Stanley Black & Decker. Stanley Healthcare is simultaneously entering into a commercial agreement with VitalTech to resell the VitalCare and VitalBand product lines.
When it comes to suggestions for other companies entering the longevity market, Mr. Ianace concludes “The most successful businesses build from the ground up with boomers and their needs and wants in mind. If products aren’t built so that an 85-year-old can use it, they simply won’t be successful. Beyond design, companies also need to take the time to build strong relationships with thought leaders in this field.”
Looking forward, VitalTech is continuing to pick up speed, as it prepares to launch its third generation of senior wearables VitalBand LTE which supports mobile personal emergency response (MPERS) this fall. This design will also provide on wrist EKG monitoring and geo-tracking services. This summer, it will release the second generation of its popular Bluetooth enabled VitalBand wearable. Furthermore, the company is excited to see that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services continues to support payment for remote patient monitoring, PERS and Telehealth platforms and looks forward to the release of new payment codes in January 2020. This kind of federal support will help the company continue to improve patient outcomes, lower overall costs, and enhance quality of life and care for patients across the health system.
PS Salon & Spa was founded in 2008 to transform the typical senior community “beauty shop” in a professional salon and spa experience. For the past 11 years the company has experienced consistent growth thanks to the unwavering commitment they have to their customers. There are currently more than 900 PS locations in 37 states with 1,600 employees who, as of January 2019, have performed 5 million salon and spa services for senior community residents. According to PS CEO and Co-Founder John Polatz, the company’s culture is rooted in their core values of People, Empathy and Respect, and their success can be attributed to the meaningful relationships they have built with families and residents alike: “The biggest lesson we have learned is to know exactly who your customer is and develop your model accordingly. If the customer isn’t happy or doesn’t feel connected to your product, you cannot succeed.”
PS is also a believer in the power of partnerships to drive growth and establish trust. In January 2018, they partnered with Paul Mitchell, the global and highly-respected hair care company. Both companies realized that their values were aligned and that they shared a four decade relationship with this demographic. Paul Mitchell grew in popularity in the early 1980s, and some of those original Paul Mitchell customers are 70-80 years old and customers of PS today. When those customers are searching for a trusted brand name, Paul Mitchell comes to mind and so PS can reassure customers that the products PS uses and the training PS professionals receive are coming from the brand they have trusted for decades.
One of the company’s priorities is to provide the highest-quality service to their customers which includes older adult residents in independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care settings. PS is uniquely positioned to reach both the resident customer as well as the family member and loved ones of that older adult by engaging in a dialogue with those individuals about authorization of salon services, especially when a resident may be experiencing cognitive decline that prevents them from expressing their preferences. Furthermore, PS took another step toward facilitating engagement between residents and families launching this year their revolutionary “PS Celebration Accounts”, which allow loved ones to be a direct participant in the resident’s salon service by providing an avenue for contributing money toward their experience. Family members and loved ones can go to the PS website and contribute money to a resident’s salon account and receive a digital message when the funds are used. This satisfies a longing in family members to find a way to connect with the resident when they don’t live nearby or don’t have the time to visit as often as they’d like. There are now thousands of family members who have peace of mind by using this feature which is more than just a practical transaction solution but a way to connect families to residents emotionally and culturally in a convenient way.
There are new opportunities for innovation and growth in the field that PS is currently pursing. The company has started to build partnerships with resident engagement technology solutions for senior communities so that PS is listed as a service and connection point on those platforms. Technology adoption isn’t always strong in senior communities, so offering a way for a resident to access their PS account and manage their salon services digitally can help increase user engagement for the resident engagement technologies. In the near future, PS plans evaluation opportunities to expand Celebration Accounts to include more than just PS salon services and products. Eventually the accounts may allow family members to buy other types of products and services of interest to residents in a digital marketplace where PS acts as an affiliate or direct representative for other product solutions in this space.
With almost 30 years of health care experience, Katie Guhr has spent the last thirteen years with profit and loss responsibility over Medicare Advantage products. Katie was most recently with Centene Corporation where she was the interim Medicare CEO, focusing on growth, organizational structure, compliance, quality, strategy, product and sales and marketing.
Earlier this month, Katie joined a panel of experts at the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit for a session on Payments, Pilots and Partnerships in the longevity market. She shared with Mary Furlong & Associates three of the most important takeaways from that session. First, the Medicare Advantage space is a large and rapidly growing market. Estimates suggest it could reach 70% market penetration by the year 2040. The largest Medicare Advantage players today according to national membership statistics released by CMS in June are, UnitedHealth Group, Inc, Humana Inc., CVS Health Corporation, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Anthem Inc. Anthem was one of the first companies to introduce the concept of social determinants of health benefits for plan year 2019.
Second, payers in this space are excited about the growth and they need innovative partners to deliver services to members that both delight them and ensure a good user experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, entrepreneurs need to approach payers and investors with a clear value proposition that they can articulate in a succinct way that is supported with evidence and case studies from the field. “When you speak the language of the investor or payer it means they will have a clear understanding of your product’s value and the potential partnership path will be clear,” Katie shared.
Reflecting on her time at the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit and the value it has in the field, Katie shared her enthusiasm for the innovation that was showcased during the two-day event. She found it impressive to see that so many organizations are entering the longevity space and using their imaginations to explore what the possibilities can be for serving older adults. She finds that Summits like this one can spark imagine when it comes to reinterpreting what care can look like.
Beyond the in-depth breakout sessions offered, Katie found that the Summit competitions were particularly engaging and the companies pitching were of a high caliber. In her work, Katie is seeing seniors who are working longer, not just for a paycheck but for a sense of purpose and so she was pleased to see Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE) move on as a finalist in the Silicon Valley Innovation Competition sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs. Another important theme from the Summit was the growing importance of in-home monitoring as seniors want to stay home longer during their healthcare journey to avoid the expenses associated with hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
As an expert in the longevity field, Katie had some important words of wisdom for innovators and entrepreneurs who are just entering the longevity marketplace. First, take the time to get to know the population you are interested in serving. Make sure your innovation addresses a real need. Listen to the stories of your potential customers and spend time in senior communities and with providers. When you put in this kind of effort, investors will see your business as authentic and your pitch to them will ring true because you will have collected evidence about your product’s workability. Second, entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that they are entering a highly regulated and compliant system. So along with having a passion to serve the beneficiary in this system, companies should take the time to learn about the underlying layer of regulation that exists.
With more than 30 years of investment banking experience in the senior living industry, Dan Hermann, President, CEO and Head of Investment Banking at Ziegler (www.ziegler.com), understands the longevity economy like few others. He knows the ins and outs, the barriers to entry and the key challenges providers face. He also knows the immense potential the $7.6 trillion economic sector yields for both entrepreneurs and investors.
Ziegler has built an extensive network of alliances that keeps the national boutique investment bank dialed into promising emerging companies in the longevity space, scouring the showroom floors at major tech conferences and trade shows like CES and HIMSS for potential investment partners. The firm manages the Ziegler Link·Age Funds, LP, a joint venture that, to date, has invested in 24 companies providing solutions along the aging services continuum.
“At Ziegler, we’re interacting with care providers in the health system and senior living settings, as well as home care, on a daily, hourly and minute-to-minute basis,” he said. “We’re partnering with the companies that emerge with groundbreaking solutions that then grow, raise capital and are often enticed to merge or sell to the bigger strategic players. We’re in the flow and more integrated than just about any investment bank.”
Read below for more insights from one of the key investment leaders in the longevity economy.
How important is continued innovation in the senior living and longevity arena?
We’re in a capitalistic system where disruptive innovation gets rewarded and attracts capital - the health care system is no different. It’s approximately 20% of the economy...is immensely expensive and growing at a rate two to three times inflation.
So, it’s ripe for innovation. This can come from continued value-added services that provide and extend care. There are tech-enabled services that will save money through acceleration, elimination of waste and so forth. Then there’s new disruption that leads to broadened areas of care and experience - an incremental new element like virtual reality. It’s becoming beyond novel for the senior living marketplace...it actually helps reduce loneliness and create emotional engagement, giving seniors experiences that they couldn’t accomplish on their own. Companies like Embodied Labs are booming with virtual reality right now.
What do you look for when investing in a company?
Ideally, they’ll be adding clear, incremental new value, usually focused on at least one point solution. PayActiv, for example, improves the process of getting cash to employees instead of them getting (high interest rate) credit cards or payday loans. It’s very affordable, and we knew our senior living clients would pursue it.
We look for a long enough runway, with limited competition, to give a company time to grow. And then we look for quality management teams that are led by passionate leaders who understand how to grow a company with third-party venture capital and private equity.
We also look for partner investors that bring strategic input to table.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the aging/longevity space that are seeking funding?
It’s rare that the companies we invest in need regulatory approval, so that makes our area much easier.
Prior to looking for your first institutional capital, you want to have your product refined, be in market with a start of clients beyond the pilot stage and have an understanding of how you plan to grow the company through incremental new sales within the space. The bigger you can build the real client base, the easier it becomes because then it’s about scaling.
And be aware of the competitive environment. While you’re working on your solution, don’t be naive. There might be a company in Boston and a company in California working on the same thing, trying to solve the same problem.
What’s the benefit for entrepreneurs and investors in attending events like the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit?
When done well, it’s a great opportunity to bring together like-minded organizations that have the same interests.
Mary (Furlong) has a good understanding of entrepreneurs that are emerging in the aging services space. The companies that participate in her events typically have a very legitimate point solution or new service that adds unique value to the sector. She also does a great job maintaining relationships with companies that previously participated and have grown and can provide guidance to others.
It’s a good matchmaking effort that always leads to an engaging conference.
It’s a long and winding path from conceiving a solution to a problem and turning that idea into a marketable product, but it is plenty doable with the right amounts of determination, expertise and support. Entrepreneurs and innovators who are uncertain how to navigate the process might consider taking cues from Carrie Shaw, CEO and Founder of Embodied Labs.
Embodied Labs has developed an immersive learning system that uses virtual reality (VR) to simulate challenges and scenarios faced by older adults and their caregivers. The company creates research-based VR experiences that give caregivers and others a first-person glimpse at specific conditions, and helps caregivers navigate interactions with those who have the conditions. Embodied Labs offers a growing catalogue of experiences, or labs, that address such conditions as Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration. The goal is to offer caregivers a holistic perspective on how certain conditions affect brain activity.
And, as is sometimes the case, the platform’s origins are rooted in the founder’s personal life experience. When Shaw was 19, her mother – only in her 40s – was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “My relationship to my mom’s illness was to avoid it because I didn’t really know how to be helpful,” she said. But, as time progressed, Shaw became her mother’s caregiver. She also earned a degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and joined the Peace Corps, serving as a health education volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Around the same time, she learned about medical illustration as a potential career option and decided to pursue a master’s degree in Biomedical Visualization from the University of Illinois at Chicago. While Shaw doesn’t consider herself “a techie,” she met a fellow student, Thomas Leahy, who was focused on human-computer interaction, specifically through VR.
Shaw’s personal life and educational path were converging. She and her sister, Erin Washington, along with Leahy, founded Embodied Labs in 2016, the same year she graduated from UIC. The next step for the newly minted business owners was to secure funding – and, like most start-ups, Shaw said they took “...a lot of interesting, crafty paths to stay afloat.” The group leveraged personal networks and found willing investors in friends, advisors and others. They also found success with pitch competitions such as Creative Startups Winston-Salem and USC’s VR Hackathon Challenge, and they received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The group funneled all of the money into product development and took the platform to market in early 2018, with a narrow focus on home care and senior housing. Sales were solid, which helped the company close additional pre-seed investment funding. The group also kept traveling to events to speak, network and pitch their platform to industry experts who provided valuable feedback and a pipeline to additional capital.
One such event was The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s XR in Education Prize Challenge, which netted the company the $250,000 grand prize. Another was the AARP Innovation Labs Pitch Competition, held during last year’s Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit, which is hosted annually by Mary Furlong & Associates. The group won the competition, and Mary Furlong also connected them with venture capital and investment firms that have since backed the company.
Embodied Labs has raised more than $1 million in seed funding to date and now has more than 100 subscribers and counting. The company has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), among other well-known national media outlets.
Shaw advises entrepreneurs starting where she did a few years ago to remember that the product itself is only part of the equation. Other crucial success factors are having the right business model and infrastructure, and connecting with the right people.
“Create an ecosystem that supports the topics your business is involved in,” she said. “Really, the world is small once you start building a web of people that can contribute to your business.”
Mary and her team will be bringing you news, trends, research and opinions about the longevity market.