Young entrepreneurs are finding tremendous opportunities launching businesses that cater to the baby boomer and senior markets. Technology that allows older adults to live independently is a $2 billion industry alone and is expected to reach $25 billion by 2025. Many creators of innovative products designed for caregivers and their aging relatives and friends – things like smartphone apps, clothing, home sensors and more – are in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s.
Some young entrepreneurs have ventured into the boomer and senior space after a personal experience with a parent or grandparent. They realized there was a need for product or service that either didn’t exist or that could be greatly improved upon. Other entrepreneurs look at 50+ demographics and recognize a huge market that is only getting bigger.
- Five million to seven million Americans are long distance caregivers (who worry about their parents and want to make sure they are safe and stay socially connected so they’re less lonely).
- More than 65 million Americans, or 29% provide care for a chronically ill or disabled relative or friend during the course of a year–on average 20 hours per week.
- 54 million working U.S. caregivers have also provided care in the last five years.
- The U.S. population 65+ is expected to double from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.
- 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, with a 40% increase, expected by 2025.
Young Entrepreneurs Live in Senior Communities
Some entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s have a business idea. But, since many have had little interaction with older adults, they need to find out if there’s an actual market for their idea. How better to understand the needs of this demographic, and if there’s a need for or interest in their product, than living among their target consumers?
Brookdale Senior Living, a company with long term care communities nationwide (supporting independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care), launched its Entrepreneurs in Residence program in 2015. So far, young engineers, researchers and developers from 12 start-up companies have moved into a Brookdale community for a week or more. They live, eat, and interact with residents, gaining insight into their needs and feedback on their products.
Last year, Sameer Dhar, 24, the founder of Sensassure, lived in three different senior care communities with four colleagues ages 22-26. Sensassure is a sensor that attaches to an adult diaper (called a “brief”) that lets staff know when it detects moisture so residents can be changed quickly.
Dhar gained more than product ideas. “I had great relationships with many residents. We would go out to dinner and I would participate in activities,” he says. “They became real friendships versus them just being subjects of my study.”
Two years ago, when Reed Hayes and Dennis Lally, both 25, were business school graduate students in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s entrepreneurship program, they also lived in a senior housing community for a week. “It was amazing.” says Lally. Residents’ feedback led them to found a company called Rendever while still in school. The company offers virtual reality programs for older adults. Seniors may not be able to travel to the Grand Canyon, Paris, a grandchild’s graduation, family wedding or go white water rafting—or even leave their wheelchair – however, through virtual reality they can experience trips and events as if they were there. Rendever is already being used in more than 30 long-term care communities. At the time of the article, there was so much demand that the company expected to be in hundreds more by the end of 2017.
Ideas Come from Real Life
Twenty-five year olds Jake Reisch and Matt Reiners came up with their idea for Eversound two years ago after noticing both of their relatives in assisted living had hearing loss. Reisch’s aunt and Reiners’s grandmother weren’t able to fully engage in movies, meetings, exercise classes, lectures or other group events due to hearing deficiencies. How could they help? They wondered.
Reisch and Reiners developed the first wireless listening system with special headphones for senior living communities to help residents hear better. (The device fits over a hearing aid.) A small, wireless transmitter broadcasts an audio signal to all headphones. So far, Eversound is in 18 states and more than 100 communities, including seven large long-term care facilities.
In 2011, at age 32, Sherwin Sheik, a former investment banker, started CareLinx, an online company like Match.com that connects families with paid caregivers. He had watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, struggle to find good, affordable help and his uncle, with ALS, get caregivers to show up through home care agencies. There had to be a better way, he thought.
Sheik’s company eliminates agency fees, saving families money (as much as $10,000-$15,000 a year) and allowing caregivers to earn more. The company vets and background checks caregiver applicants, assigns an advisor to help families through the hiring process as well as after and manages payroll and taxes. More than 175,000 professional caregivers are now on the company site.
Aging2.0, a San Francisco-based international business launched in 2011 by Katy Fike, and Stephen Johnston, then 32 and 38 respectively, advises and connects start-ups that focus on aging. The majority of the founders are under age 40, says Johnston. It makes perfect sense, he believes.
“Innovating aging is a perfect way for young entrepreneurs to explore a fast-emerging and overlooked business area,” says Johnston. “But more importantly, in a world of instant gratification, it can satisfy the hunger that many younger entrepreneurs have to work on something bigger than themselves.”
Young entrepreneurs will have plenty more opportunities to create life-changing products and services for their grandparents’ generation, and soon, for their parents’ as well. The nearly 76 million baby boomers, now ages 52-70, will create an even greater demand for technology and services to help them stay socially engaged and independent longer.
Likewise, the generation of baby boomer caregivers will also seek solutions that help their aging relatives and friends. And if a particular solution doesn’t exist? You can bet the generations’ young entrepreneurs will find a way to meet the need.
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