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Aging2.0: What do business users and senior citizens have in common? Good technology to survive

Boston was selected to participate in a unique challenge known as 30in30in30: That’s 30 pitch events in 30 cities in 30 days. Who’s doing the pitching? Startups, many of them with a technology bent, that are building products and services for aging adults.

The Boston winner, a startup in Cambridge, Mass. called CareAcademy that specializes in online education for in-home care providers, took home $1,000 and moved on to the virtual semi-finals round where the pitching continues — this time to folks affiliated with Aging2.0, a “global innovation platform for aging and senior care” and the event’s organizer.

Before the festivities got underway, Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, took to the podium to talk about how to build useful, usable technology for seniors, but it wasn’t a stretch to see how Coughlin’s advice could be relevant to CIOs.

For example, Coughlin encouraged attendees not to design for seniors, but to design for themselves first. “Aging is the one class that, with any luck, you get to be part of. So, as you think about innovation, ask yourself: How do you want to live?” he said. The same goes for CIOs: Building enterprise tools you would find useful or easy use in your personal life will go much further with the business than something that’s cumbersome and non-intuitive.

Technology that’s built for older adults who don’t get how to use it can’t be blamed on the customer’s age. “There is still a dominant stereotype, especially amongst designers and amongst engineers, that if you don’t understand my mental model of how technology works,” that’s your problem, Coughlin said. The real problem, however, isn’t the customer, it’s the “bad technology,” he said.

Coughlin also said venture capitalists are interested in investing in products and services geared toward older adults, but, based on research he’s done, they aren’t. Why? “They didn’t see management teams that understood the population — people who had the intimacy of understanding the marketplace,” he said. In other words, before designing, know your audience. That’s certainly a thought that should resonate with most CIOs.

What do startup go-getters think the aging would enjoy? Here’s a rundown of some of the pitches heard at the 30in30in30 event:

The startup: The History Project
The presenter:
Niles Lichtenstein, co-founder, CEO
The idea:
A digital toolkit where users can build, essentially, time capsule of family history. Users can marry old family photographs with more modern digital images, tell stories through voice or print, include important family recipes and so on. Sounding a lot like Facebook? Said Lichtenstein: “Too often I hear people say they can’t capture their story or the stories of someone they love because the process feels complex and overwhelming.”

The startup: CareAcademy
The presenter
: Helen Adeosun, co-founder, CEO
The idea
: An online education, which includes a certification component, to help caregivers, who access the material via mobile device, develop the skills they need. Courses are taught by experts from the field. “By 2050, 27 million aging adults will depend on an in-home caregiver,” Adeosun said.

The startup: Forever Fit
The presenter: Chris Parchmann, founder
The idea: To provide an easily accessible exercise program for older adults. (This was one of the few  low-tech presenters at the event.) “We bring exercise to location as opposed to seniors having to go to the facility, which can be difficult for them,” Parchmann said.

Startup: Triple Aim Technologies
Presenter
: Ken Accardi, co-founder, interim CEO
Idea
: A system that makes managing chronic disease via telehealth affordable and scalable for patients with chronic conditions. “Disease management is this concept that if you teach people everything they need to know about their disease, they can manage it. Triple Aim said, ‘How can we make this scalable and simple,'” Accardi said.

Startup: QMedic
Presenter: Sombit Mishra, CEO, founder
Idea: A medical alert service that “intelligently” routes calls to an appropriate in-network care provider as opposed to always sending patients to the emergency room. “Think of us as the OnStar for care management,” Mishra said.

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