At the Life@50+ Expo attended by 20,000 in New Orleans last Friday, 10 digital health start-up companies presented their innovations during the first ever AARP Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch competition. The event was sponsored by the Thought Leadership group of the AARP, and over 80 companies submitted to present.
The Top Ten finalists had to present two pitches: an investor presentation for a group of 5 judges, and a consumer pitch for your everyday AARP members. Presenting companies were a mix of hardware and software solutions that included telehealth, remote monitoring, and PERS devices, cloud based caregiver and provider services, and social media collaboration solutions. Several of the competitors had digital health solutions that could directly affect the quality of care in senior living communities.
“One of the things that was very exciting about the response to our call for pitch applicants is that we received many responses from companies doing really new things, says Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President, Thought Leadership, AARP. “For example, GeriJoy, one of the finalists, had an online virtual dog to help people with mild dementia. We also saw several companies starting to find new applications for Microsoft’s Kinect technology, in the areas of physical therapy. These types of innovative startups are illustrating the possibilities – using existing technologies in new ways, and finding technology solutions for long-time but growing health challenges.”
The CompaniesAs mentioned, one of the most amusing innovations came from Victor Wang at GeriJoy, a tablet based talking dog solution aimed at helping seniors with dementia. It is a combination of artificial intelligence supported by real time care teams that can keep a senior company through picture sharing and messaging. The touch screen virtual dog verbally interacts with the senior and also responds to touch. Founding members have academic affiliations with MIT, and the company is an accelerator client of BluePrint Health.
Also born out of MIT, QMedic debuted its personal emergency response system (PERS) device at the event. Worn as a bracelet, CEO Sombit Mishra cites the “importance of power optimization, continuous wear and behavioral measurement” in the evolution of PERS devices, and believes products like his are crucial to the future of big data and predictive analytics in the remote monitoring market.” Like many of the innovators at the event, Sombit spoke with passion with concern for his mom was a motivating factor in the creation of his product.
Consumer pitch winner Sherwin Sheik also cited the poor vetting quality of many of the online “find a caregiver” sites, and the bad experience he had in retaining a high quality caregiver for a family member. As a result, his company CareLinx conducts background searches on all its caregivers and then handles time tracking, invoicing, and payment processing. His company’s search criteria delivers consumers with an improved caregiver match based on needs criteria at a savings over larger home care organizations. CareLinx is a client company of StartUp Health.
Investor pitch winner went to AbilTo - a service that combines a video chat service with behavioral therapy programs. CEO Michael Laskoff believes the kind of solutions offered by companies like his are “a critical part of moving from the large, amorphous notion of health care to something more precise and digestible for payors, providers, investors and individuals.”
While not a winner, home health telemedicine company 1DocWay “recognized how intense the demand can be from nursing homes for our product” as a result of the event. CEO Samir Malik went on to say that “three potential client conversations came out of the cocktail hour and lunch sessions after we presented. Clients were attendees.”
For a complete list of companies, see “AARP Top Ten.”“We are excited that entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established companies are working with us,” says AARP’s Jeff Makowka, Senior Strategic Advisor, Thought Leadership, “and not just in hopes of developing a new channel of distribution, but also as a contribution to the larger effort of achieving AARP's basic social mission: to improve the quality of life of all as we age.”
“I think it's great that AARP has committed to this kind of innovation by collaborating with existing ecosystem participants and not by creating yet another accelerator to do it,” says Lisa Suennen, Managing Member, Psilos Group, event judge and MC for the event. “They can marry expertise with existing resources, which is very valuable.” Accelerator and innovation related media partners for the event included Rock Health, Health 2.0, StartUp Health, Aging 2.0, and InnovateLTC, among others.
“The AARP LivePitch was full of talented start-ups in which all the founders had a personal story that illuminated their company mission,” says Alicia Heazlitt, Director, InnovateLTC - an accelerator focused on products and services that intersect with technology for the long term care market. “Innovation in this space is prime, but we still have a way to go before all the stakeholders are communicating and understanding the needs of our aging health tech market.”
“There were many really interesting companies but the question remains for me whether most of them are slightly ahead of their time and/or whether they are really companies or simply products,” says Lisa Suennen. “Time will tell, but it may be a lot of time given the difficulty in launching some of these same kinds of companies over the past 10 years. We are getting closer, but the world is still not ready to be run by smartphones and the reimbursements / incentives aren't quite there yet.”
“It was good to see that most of the companies had actual business models as that is often missing from the seed/A round deals,” Suennen adds, “but given the incredible amount of competition for most of these companies, they will likely be challenged to achieve funding until they show some scale, a chicken and egg scenario that has doomed others before. Hopefully some of these companies will break out of that paradigm.”
About the author: Brian Lang is CEO of Seniors In Touch, a family communication and elder care system for residents of senior living communities. Brian served as head coach herding the start-ups prior to their event presentations, and his company was a media partner for the AARP event. He’s a serial entrepreneur, author, and occasional speaker. In the late 90’s he authored the pioneering book “Making the Internet Family-friendly” for Thomas Nelson Publishers, and this past March presented a first of its kind Panel at SXSW Interactive on “Transforming Social Media for the Senior Community.” He can be contacted via @brianjameslang, or on LinkedIn.
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