More than 2 billion people across the globe will be age 60 or older by 2050, and that presents a number of challenges for healthcare systems. Two Minnesota-based organizations hope to help by sponsoring a contest to encourage new technological solutions to assist this aging population.
The AgePower Tech Search is a collaboration between Ecumen, a nonprofit senior housing and services company, and MOJO Minnesota, an innovation cooperative focused on Minnesota’s start-up ecosystem. The contest seeks to locate, reward, and help launch new technologies that have a positive, near-term impact on the aging experience. Together the two organizations are challenging start-ups, innovators, and long-established companies worldwide to develop hardware, software, or processes that can be tested in a real-world environment to assist with aging. A particular focus is helping people to age in place.
Unlike the more well-known X-Prizes that are spurring medical technology development in other areas, the AgePower Tech Search does not offer a financial reward. Instead, the finalists will gain a six-month field trial among Ecumen customers and employees. Test environments will include Ecumen’s in-home settings, assisted living communities, Ecumen sites providing Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and clinical settings with short-term physical rehabilitation services and/or more intensive long-term care. Finalists will also gain access to the expertise of leading business advisors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, engineers, and others who comprise MOJO Minnesota. The prizes are designed to help the finalists bring their technologies to market through their own investment, outside investment, acquisition by an investor, or other means.
While the challenge originates in Minnesota, a state long-noted for its medical device industry, strong medical provider infrastructure, and longevity of residents, the challenge is open to participants from around the world. Inquiries have already come in from Israel, Ireland and other places. The deadline for applications is October 31, 2013.
The kick-off session for the AgePower Tech Search was held at the University of Minnesota and was attended by more than 50 people, including representatives from established organizations, aspiring inventors, entrepreneurs, and state government officials. MOJO Minnesota’s Ernest Grumbles and Ecumen’s Eric Schubert chaired the event, which highlighted the growing social and infrastructure issues associated with a rapidly growing population. Schubert set the stage with a short video highlighting the growing crisis in aging. Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. population today are over 80 years old, and that number is expected to climb to 19.5 million by 2050. After age 65 the probability of physical or cognitive disability reaches 68%. Spending for Alzheimer’s care alone is expected to grow to more than $1 trillion annually in the United States.
Following the video, Dick Olson, a retired IBM executive, provided a perspective from the point of view of a retired individual who has lived all over the world, does not want to live in a nursing home, and who is a member of the Mill City Commons board, a virtual village of people who provide support, such as rides to the hospital or dog walking, to one another. A.R. Weiler, CEO of Minnesota-based aging services provider Healthsense, described the issues associated with monitoring more than 20,000 clients 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
Finally, Grumbles tied it all together with a more in-depth description of the origins of AgePower and the challenge. The challenge’s mission is provide field testing and consulting assistance for a scalable technology that can improve the quality of life for the aging life. The item, concept, or technology being tested does not need to be market ready but should be for testing in a real-world environment. The audience was encouraged to think broadly and to consider everything from medical devices to appliances, lighting, flooring, and social media.
As was pointed out, there is a “Babies R Us,” but not a “Seniors R Us.” Perhaps it is time now for that emphasis, and this challenge may well serve as an impetus, or at least a call to action.
William (Bill) Betten is a member of the MD+DI editorial advisory board, an author/lecturer, and is currently a consultant to the medical device industry. He most recently served as medical technology director at TechInsights, has broad product development experience in a wide range of medical and other high technology fields, and resides in Minnesota.