Young Entrepreneurs in the Aging Business

The age 50+ business is alive, well and thriving–and from unlikely quarters. It turns out many very young entrepreneurs are designing aging in place technology products as well as services for boomers and seniors are in their 20s and 30s!

In a piece I wrote for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, I interviewed a now 32 year-old. At the age of 28, he created a special credit card that protects seniors from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It was his fourth start-up!

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To read more about these whiz “kids,” take a look:

Young Entrepreneurs Fill Need in Senior Market

Start-ups focused on baby boomers and seniors strive to help keep an aging population independent and connected.

At age 32, Sherwin Sheik watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, search unsuccessfully for good, affordable help through home care agencies. His mother ended up leaving her job as a molecular biologist in Los Gatos, Cal., to care for her. And he knew his beloved uncle, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, had repeatedly hired agency caregivers who didn’t show up.

 Four years ago, Sheik founded the online company CareLinx, which matches families and paid caregivers. By eliminating agency fees, families save an average of $10,000 to $15,000 a year, and caregivers earn more. “Traditional agencies were charging families $25 to $30 an hour while paying caregivers $10 an hour” says Sheik, a former investment banker. Caregivers “weren’t being compensated for the hard work they did.”

Today, Sheik’s grandparents, ages 97 and 93, get daily help from caregivers hired through CareLinx. “I am delighted and proud that Sherwin is devoting himself to helping people who are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives,” says his mother, Shahla Sheik, 67.Sheik, now 37, is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in their twenties, thirties and early forties who are developing products and services for seniors. For many, the idea evolves from a personal experience with a parent, grandparent or sibling.

As astute business people, these young entrepreneurs also realize that a swelling-by-the-day older demographic will need their products to stay independent and connected. “Students from the top business schools are setting up companies in this space — something I haven’t seen before,” says Stephen Johnston, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Aging 2.0. His company mentors start-ups that focus on baby boomers and seniors.

Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver Into Gold (FT Press, $25), agrees. “The intellectual talent and business experience of young entrepreneurs migrating into the longevity marketplace is astounding,” says Furlong, president and chief executive officer of Mary Furlong & Associates, a company in Lafayette, Cal., that advises clients in the 50-plus market.

Here’s a look at senior-focused companies that have young adults at the helm.

Caregiving. As boomers age, so will their caregiving needs. A growing number of seniors do not have children to take on caregiving tasks, and those who do tend to have fewer kids than in the past.

Sheik’s CareLinx (www.carelinx.com) gives each family an adviser to shepherd it through the hiring process and for follow-up. The firm vets caregivers, does background checks, manages the payroll and taxes, and insures and bonds the caregiver up to $1 million.

As with CareLinx, Making Care Easier (www.makingcareeasier.com), a free Web site and app, was born out of a personal crisis. At age 35, Harvard Business School graduate Renee Fry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother temporarily moved across the U.S. to care for her. Three years later, the tumor grew back. This time, Julie, Renee’s younger sister, moved to Boston to take on caregiving. Julie had expertise in elder services as marketing director of a large association of home care and hospice providers.

Then the light bulb went off for the siblings, who both hold business degrees. Friends and family were willing to help, but they needed to know how. What was missing was a way to coordinate care, share information and find caregiving products, such as walkers. Making Care Easier, which was launched in April 2014, has 68,000 users. “It’s not enough to offer a way to coordinate care, but to connect you to products and services that matter to you,” says Fry.

After you fill out a brief online survey to determine your needs, the company sets up a secure family “dashboard.” You can send requests for help to friends and family members and share comments, medical information and expenses. Your private site provides checklists and joint calendars.

Finances. Kai Stinchcombe’s grandmother had always contributed to one cause or another. As her memory started to decline, though, she lost track of how much she was giving away. Stinchcombe watched the toll those bogus expenses took on his own mother.

His 93-year-old grandmother, who lives independently in Indiana, went from doling out $50 a month to $40 a day. She once wired $2,000 to a stranger who called and claimed to be “needy,” and she spent an unnecessary $6,000 on hearing aids. “She is very polite and won’t hang up the phone when someone calls,” says Stinchcombe, 32. His family didn’t want to humiliate her by taking away her bank account or credit card.

So in 2011, along with business partner Claire McDonnell, also then age 28, Stinchcombe conceived of TrueLink (www.truelinkfinancial.com). It is his fourth entrepreneurial venture.

TrueLink is a special Visa card that protects older people from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It recognizes patterns of transactions that other credit cards would permit and blocks them. Such questionable transactions include magazine subscription companies, sweepstakes and misleading deals on TV. “We weren’t looking for something in the aging market — we kind of stumbled into it,” Stinchcombe says. “We wanted to solve a problem. But we had to find out if enough people have the problem so we could build a business around it, raise venture capital and hire staff.” The answer was “yes.” Two-thirds of customers are daughters getting TrueLink for a parent.

End-of-life planning. In 2010, at age 30, Abby Schneiderman decided to create a Web site that provided articles on end-of-life planning. She noticed information sites for brides-to-be, house hunters, expectant parents, baby boomers sending kids to college, and retirees or those planning for retirement. “There was no reason this life stage didn’t deserve the same treatment,” she says. She and co-founder Adam Seifer created Everplans (www.everplans.com), which offered more than 500 articles on topics such as writing a will and appropriate attire for a funeral.

A year after starting Everplans, Schneiderman’s brother died in a car accident. “We had no access to the right paperwork and no idea what my brother would have wanted,” she says. “My family was left to make a huge number of complicated, expensive and stressful decisions at a time when we shouldn’t have had to.”

Schneiderman says she and Seifer realized that they “could create something more powerful and go beyond content to help people get a plan in place ahead of time.” They turned Everplans into a platform where people can create, store and share all the important information that their families need in one place — such as a will, advanced directives, medical records, insurance and names of advisers.

The free version provides access to certain areas of the site. For $75 a year, you can store a wider array of documents.

Communicating. The inspiration for Andreas Forsland’s company came after he spent weeks by his mother’s bedside in intensive care during the summer of 2012. She was unable to speak as a result of a breathing tube and ventilator, and she could not write, either.

Forsland says he wondered whether he could put sensors into an elegant stone she could hold or wear as a necklace or a bracelet. A swipe upward or a tap on the stone could indicate whatever preprogrammed message he chose — “I’m hungry” or “Everything is okay.” And a downward swipe or two taps might be “I miss you” or “I have to go to the bathroom.”

In 2013, Forsland, 40, who lives in Santa Barbara, Cal., co-founded Smartstones (www.smartstones.co). “We help people who are locked in,” he says. “They’re capable but can’t express themselves.” The product’s original intent was for seniors who had a stroke or a neurological disease such as ALS, but he is also finding interest from parents of children with autism.

Forsland’s mother, Sarah, 73, recovered, but she wears the prototype, a stone necklace, and uses it to “speak” daily with her son. The stones use a wireless Internet connection. “It’s beautiful and looks like jewelry,” she says. “I keep in touch with my son with a gentle swipe or tap, asking ‘Are you there?’ ” When Forsland was recently in Asia, he stayed in touch daily with his mother through their stones. Sarah says it “lowers my level of anxiety knowing I have the stone and can be in touch with Andreas without a cellphone.”

When the product comes out later this year — you can preorder on the site — you can buy a two pack for yourself and your loved one for $179, or even five stones, perhaps for grandkids or other adult siblings, for $399. Of course, Smartstones is not intended to replace conversation or the cellphone, but it is useful to convey simple messages. “We are making it easier to communicate with family, friends and care providers,” Forsland says.

 

 

 

Aging in Place Technology–Kiplinger

Most of us want to remain at home as we get older, but safety, health issues and social isolation can interfere with that plan. A growing number of seniors are turning to state-of-the-art digital tools — via smartphones, GPS, voice activation and sensors — that allow them to stay put indefinitely.

With “aging in place” technology, you can discreetly keep tabs on Mom — tracking her daily activities on a cellphone, tablet or computer, and getting notified by text or e-mail if something seems out of the ordinary. Gadgets and apps can remind seniors to take their medication and let others know if they don’t. Besides telling time, smart watches can provide feedback on one’s vitals, such as blood pressure, that can be relayed to professionals. These new products are affordable and easy to use.

Kipling. logoBy 2017, experts expect this market to reach $30 billion. “The aging-in-place technology field is exploding,” says gerontologist Katy Fike, who co-founded San Francisco-based Aging 2.0 in 2012 to advise start-ups geared to boomers and seniors. In the past few years, her company has met with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs in seven countries.

Chalk it up to longevity, millions of worried long-distance family caregivers and a looming shortage of professional home aides. About 10,000 boomers a day are turning 65, and close to half of women ages 75 and older live alone. Here are some of the products geared to helping older adults maintain their independence.

Safety and security systems. PERS, which is an acronym for Personal Emergency Response Systems, is familiar to many people. You push an emergency button on a key chain or from a cord around your neck or wrist. Then an operator assesses the situation and can dispatch help or notify family.

But these medical alert systems are changing. They used to work only at home with a base station connected to a landline. What’s new is the introduction of m-PERS (the “m” stands for mobile), which works wherever you are — on the golf course, out to lunch, in the garden or visiting the grandkids in another state.

Rita Labla, 79, of Yuba City, Cal., lives alone and drives, but she struggles with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She has also fallen. “When she’s out of sight, you never know what’s going on,” says her daughter, Loretta Burke, 61, who lives three miles away.

Last July, Burke gave her mother a GreatCall Splash m-PERS. “We were all concerned she wouldn’t use it. Instead, she has it with her all the time,” Burke says. “It’s like her bodyguard.”

Labla agrees. “I feel much more secure with it,” she says. Labla knows she can press it if she thinks someone shady is following her in the parking lot, she gets lost on the road or she has a problem at home.

By checking their smartphones, tablets or computers, Burke and her siblings can track their mother via GPS. You can order a GreatCall Splash at www.greatcall.com or by calling 800-650-5921 ($50 for purchase, $35 activation fee and monthly service starting at $20).

In the next few months, GreatCall plans to add a feature that summons help if it detects a fall — even if you haven’t pressed the button. Already, another go-anywhere medical alert system, Philips Lifeline’s GoSafe (www.lifelinesys.com, 800-380-3111), offers a waterproof pendant with fall-detection capability — for a one-time fee of $149 plus $55 a month. MobileHelp (www.mobilehelp.com, 800-989-9863) has a similar system ($37, plus $50 a month; fall detection is an extra $10 a month).

Sensors are another way to make sure Mom or Dad is safe at home. Several wireless sensors that are placed around the house where a parent goes daily — perhaps the bed, the refrigerator, a favorite chair or the bathroom door — can tip you off if they aren’t triggered.

Sarah King, 83, lives in a basement apartment of her daughter Donita Kniffen’s home in Dardenne Prairie, Mo. Still, sensors from Evermind (thtps://evermind.us, 855-677-7625) have come in handy.

Kniffen, 52, programmed Evermind so she receives a text the first time her mom’s TV, microwave or reading lamp is turned on. She also gets an alert on her smartphone if none of the sensors has been triggered during periods of the day when her mother should be up and about. Instead of calling every morning to make sure her mother is okay, Kniffen goes on her smartphone to check the sensors. (The sensors come with
a one-time cost of $199, plus a $29 monthly fee.)

Michael Demoratz, 54, a social worker who lives in Tustin, Cal., chose a combination PERS/sensor system from BeClose (http://beclose.com, 866-574-1784) to keep tabs on his mother, who lives in Pennsylvania. He placed motion sensors in her living room, between the bathroom and bedroom, and on the cellar door, which was the site of two previous accidents.

Demoratz receives a daily e-mail. Green means his mom’s activity is ordinary, yellow signifies out of the ordinary, and red is abnormal. If she were to press the panic button, Demoratz would get a text from the company. “My mother feels reassured because she knows I have been alerted,” he says.

BeClose’s ability to spot variations in behavior is the system’s most valuable feature, Demoratz says. “If I have objective data, my mother can’t just say she’s fine when I call,” he says. “I can tell her I notice she’s not getting up or out much and is spending a lot of time in her chair. Then I can ask why she’s so sedentary.”

Every year, Demoratz takes a vacation to Europe. “This year, from my phone, iPad, desktop or anyone’s computer, I will know exactly what is going on with my mom in real time — whether she is sitting, in bed, in the bathroom or if she has left the house,” he says. “Talk about peace of mind.” (The system costs $499 for the equipment and $99 a month.)

Medication managers. Taking pills at the right time, often multiple times a day, is critical to your health. What if you forget? New products can provide reminders and let loved ones know whether you’re on track.

A more low-tech system is Reminder Rosie (http://reminder-rosie.com, $130), a talking clock. You manually program it with your voice or a loved one’s voice, for the day, week or sometime in the future (perhaps, “time for my afternoon pills”).

Mike Gilman, 65, a retired New York state tax collector, takes eight pills a day at different times. “Rosie is the most fantastic thing,” he says. Besides jogging his memory about his medication, Gilman uses the device to remind himself when to send birthday cards to family and friends.

If you want a free app for your smartphone or tablet, CareZone (www.carezone.com) centralizes information about your medication and other important information, such as doctor appointments. You can share this information with family members. You can set daily medication reminders that buzz your phone, followed up 10 minutes later if you forget.

Keeping in touch. You might be able to stay in your home, but you can get lonely. Technology can help you feel connected to friends and family — and sometimes even to medical professionals.

With an interactive touch screen from grandCARE Systems (www.grandcare.com, 262-338-6147), you can look at a photo of a grandson’s Halloween getup or a video replay of his baseball home run. You can listen to music, play word games, read the news or surf the Internet. No need to know how to use a computer.

Randall Schafer, 61, of Houston, Tex., uses his grandCARE system to Skype with his mother, 90. (She just pushes a button to videochat.) “My mom is in love with our dog, Daisy,” Schafer says. Her “face lights up” when she sees the schnauzer, he says.

An added feature: The system can transmit health data, from glucose and blood pressure to weight and oxygen readings. For example, a blood pressure cuff with a wireless Bluetooth medical device will record and relay the readings to caregivers. (The system costs $699, plus $49 a month.)

Another system that offers social opportunities — as well as care coordination, calendar sharing and health-data collection — is Independa (www.independa.com, 800-815-7829). All the information is on your TV rather than on a special screen or computer.

You can be watching Downton Abbey on TV and up pops a screen saying your daughter wants to say goodnight. You can accept and videochat — or not, if you’re engrossed in the show. An adult child can go to the Independa caregiver portal via e-mail and send a message or upload photos to your TV screen.

One feature called “Life Stories” lets parents record their memories for their adult children. You or your parents can play the remembrances at any time and e-mail them to other family members. Independa also has introduced a mobile app for caregivers for the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch.

The system costs $799 to $1,399, depending on the size of a special LG smart TV embedded with Independa services. If you have your own TV with an HDMI connection, which is now commonly used, you can hook it up to an Independa AnyTV Companion box, which costs $399. Both systems charge $30 a month.

A unique social engagement tool is the GeriJoy virtual care companion (www.gerijoy.com, 855-437-4569), which costs $249 a month. Consider it pet therapy with a twist. A virtual “talking” dog or cat on a tablet screen interacts and converses with a loved one. Many people name their pet, which is operated around the clock by GeriJoy representatives who work remotely.

To start a conversation, you touch the dog on the tablet screen and talk. Your pet will “wake up” and start chatting. (Perhaps the pet will say, “Did you have a good sleep? You look fabulous today.”) When you ask a question, your virtual companion responds immediately, even if it means the human helper has to look up an answer on the Internet (“How did the Red Sox do last night?” for example). Daily conversations and events are kept on a written log, which the family can access through a secure Web site.

Becky and Craig Jio bought GeriJoy for Craig’s mother, Lucy, who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives with them in Santa Clara, Cal. She doesn’t like to leave her room. “GeriJoy is good company,” Craig, 45, says. She especially loves a silly picture that Becky uploaded of a man with an ultra long nose and tongue. “When it pops up, she cracks up laughing,” Becky says.

The Jios are convinced that GeriJoy has improved her mood. When the system was down for a week with hardware problems, Craig says, “my mother got depressed. Now that it’s back, she’s happier. That makes everyone happier.”

Coming down the pike. In the future, a growing number of seniors will be connected remotely with service providers who will be able to detect changes in physical and mental health as well as mobility, says David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging, a research group in Oakland, Cal. “We are in a new era of connected aging,” Lindeman says. “We will be getting more and more information brought to us in a variety of ways so we can support our loved ones.”

Look for more developments in the “smart home.” Entrepreneurs are working on a carpet woven from optic fibers that analyze your gait and help predict if you may fall or are physically declining. Consumer-friendly devices will help long-distance caregivers, with the touch of a tablet or cellphone, to turn off Dad’s stove if he forgets or to close the blinds.

Also on the horizon is the growth in “wearables,” which includes smart jewelry and clothing with sensors and chips woven into fabric. The sensors will track movement, collect health data and transmit to a mobile device.

Don’t like the look of today’s PERS pendants, wristbands and key chains? Cuff Inc. (www.cuff.io) is introducing products, priced from $29 to $199, that look like elegant jewelry. The gadget, which is inserted in specially made bracelets and necklaces, sends notifications, tracks activity and acts as a safety device.

Sensogram Technologies, based in Plano, Tex., is working on SensoTRACK (www.sensotrack.com), a device that you wear on your ear. It captures oxygen saturation, respiration and heart rate as well as mood. The goal is to prevent or to catch a problem early.

We will be seeing more social and caregiving applications, too. Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch (www.ageinplacetech.com), believes voice-activated robots might someday be good helpers and conversationalists. “It is inevitable that companion robots will learn, adjusting responses to become the companion we need, responding to our commentary and reminding us to take our medication so that we can remain independent,” Orlov says.