AARP’s LivePitch: It’s All About Mom …
and a Talking Dog

During the Keynote presentation at the Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch competition, Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President, Thought Leadership, AARP is interviewed by Brian Dolan, Managing Editor and Co-Founder of MobiHealthNews.

While AARP members cheered President Obama and booed Paul Ryan on their respective Medicare plans last Friday at the Life@50+ Expo attended by 20,000 in New Orleans, 10 digital health start-up companies presented their innovations in a room high above the convention center 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 five 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 (personal emergency response system) devices, cloud-based caregiver and provider services, and social media collaboration solutions. “There are many similar pitch events but I think what made this one particularly interesting and good was that it had a vertical focus, the over 50 market, which leant itself to much more thoughtful presentations and discussion,” said Lisa Suennen, Managing Member, Psilos Group, event judge and MC for the event.

For a complete list of judges, see “AARP LivePitch judges announced.”

“The 80 applicants illustrated the breadth and concentration of innovative activity around several key needs areas. For example, connected independence and aging in place technology, care coordination, caregiving, medication management. These are areas of huge need which will continue to grow,” said Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President, Thought Leadership, AARP.

“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, said Holtzman. “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 and aging in place monitoring. 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 Companies

As 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 PERS device at the event, which is 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, and 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.”

Lisa Suennen, Managing Member, Psilos Group, event judge and MC for the event.

The Takeaways

“We are excited that entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established companies are working with us,” said 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.”

“Our hope in Thought Leadership is that the needs and wants of our members and all people over 50 are kept in mind as these players develop new innovative products and bring them to market,” Makowka said.  “This was a major milestone for us, as together with our media partners we were able to reach out to the major health tech incubator/accelerators and agree to support the event. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of AARP as a trusted advisor and ally in this area by the existing community of technologists looking at aging and longevity.”

“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,” said Lisa Suennen.  “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,” said 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.”

“Entrepreneurs are developing really exciting, innovative products and services,” said Jody Holtzman. “However, we seem to be at an analogous point in the development of these products and solutions markets to that of the computer industry in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, there also was a lot of innovation in hardware and software – all focused on solving specific consumer and business problems. The challenge then, and now, was that while these individual devices might effectively address individual problems, consumers and especially businesses needed them to communicate and act in an interoperable manner. As a result we saw the development of a new technology sector and business – systems integrators. In the health innovation areas of relevance to people 50+ — and I would argue more broadly as well – if we are going to be able to provide solutions rather than individual devices, we again are in need of a new type of systems integrator that has a point of view about living and longevity, and can customize solutions accordingly.”

“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,” said 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 added, “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.”

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 @brianjameslang, or on LinkedIn.

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