Aging 2.0: Connected Independence

Innovative, entrepreneurial, and high tech aging is trending now and will define our future.

November is that time of year when I get the long distance phone calls from my parents and in-laws asking: "What would the kids like for Christmas?" Sometimes, the parent on the other end of the land line quickly adds the caveat, "I don't buy electronics" before I am allowed to answer. Then comes my contemplative pause. How can kids inevitably raised on Angry Birds, Apple, Google, Kindle, Pixar, Tumblr, and YouTube connect to their grandparents? At family gatherings over the holidays, are the generations doomed to side-by-side disconnection, such as MIT professor Sherry Turkle describes in her seminal book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other?

New tablet-based apps, such as DoubleScoop, Kindoma and Scoot & Doodle, are designed to bridge the technology gap between generations, to connect families and to bring grandparents and younger grandkids together. How about teenagers, college students and young adults -- can they find connections to their aging parents and grandparents? Do older people and Generation@ have anything to offer each other? Enter Aging 2.0. With more than 75 million baby boomers moving into grandparenting and elderhood, Aging 2.0 is catalyzing innovation to meet their needs and bringing technology-minded younger people into the movement.

The tech industry has "been creating apps that solve a boredom problem or an entertainment problem, and I think some people are starting to feel like they want to solve important issues" says Aging 2.0 co-founder Katy Fike. "The entrepreneurial community is coming into this space because they are being shown there are really interesting, important issues that they can help solve." They are finding technology-based solutions to relational problems, such as how to help intergenerational family members connect. However, beyond the family, Aging 2.0 is developing an ecosystem, bringing entrepreneurship and innovation to broader issues associated with aging and its costly byproduct, health care.

"The story of healthcare is the story of the aging market" says Stephen Johnston, Aging 2.0 co-founder. Instead of bogging down healthcare and aging in the quagmire of pernicious policy debates, Fike and Johnston combine forces to pursue positive, creative approaches and better solutions. Fike, who has a PhD in gerontology from USC Davis School of Gerontology and a bachelors degree in systems engineering from the University of Virginia, is also the founder of Innovate50, consulting on new consumer insights, products, and services for the 50+ market. Johnston, has a Harvard MBA, was a Fulbright Scholar, co-authored the book Growth Champions, and is also founder of Fordcastle LLC, an innovation consulting firm. On their current global tour, they are bringing together thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and technology evangelists.

"For a large number of people, there is a desire to fix things that historically haven't been working very well -- circumventing the bureaucracy, create a better solution, and cutting costs," says Fike. "There are not a lot of policy conversations in start-ups. Policy might be the macro reason why people feel like they need to decrease costs and increase quality. We are definitely seeing an accountable care piece, pushing for innovation beyond the walls of hospitals."

Aging 2.0 has had a dozen events across America since its inception in April. At recent October events, participants heard from insightful pioneers about moving into the aging market: Gretchen Addi, of Ideo at the Stanford Longevity Center in Palo Alto; Careplanners Founder Alan Blaustein in New York; and Steve Gullans of Excel Venture Management in Boston.

On November 8, two days after election day, Aging 2.0 set up in Washington, D.C. with big picture talks from Ryan Frederick of Point Forward Solutions Speaking on "What Seniors Housing Is Today, Why It Will Change and What it Means to the Ecosystem of Innovators"; David Weigelt, of Immersion Active presenting "Finding Your Brand's MOE (Meaningful Online Engagement) with boomers and seniors," and Robert Jarrin, of Qualcomm. The Washington event included pitches from start ups including BeClose, an innovator in caregiving and aging in place technology and prime wellness, delivering customized exercise programs for improved physical fitness and fall prevention.

"Events are great ways to meet each other and hear new ideas from people doing interesting things. We try to keep it broad perspective initially and have a platform to showcase the companies that are starting up. We are trying to develop an ecosystem, not just have a pitch," says Johnston.

December 3-5, Aging 2.0 will be back in the nation's capital at the mHealth Summit, teaming up with 35 million-member AARP to host the EngAGE Pavilion, which will showcase high tech innovators trending in the 50+ market. "Our goal absolutely is to develop big events that bring people together across the whole spectrum," adds Johnston when asked whether TEDMED inspires Aging 2.0's approach. "This space more than any needs a massive, concerted joined-up effort, by people both who are deep-pocketed corporations, investors, the best designers, the best technologists across the spectrum, and also, of course, including the older adults themselves."