What Events and Trends Shaped the past Decade in Age Tech?

The Age Tech ecosystem has grown and matured in the past decade. Ten years ago, when I was looking for products and services for older adults, most were “big, beige and boring.” In the past decade, companies realized that Age Tech is not just about usability, it’s also (perhaps more importantly) about desirability.

As another year of aging innovation ends, let’s look back at some of the events and trends that shaped the last decade in Age Tech.

The past decade marked a turning-point in internet use by older adults. For the first time in history, more than 50% of older adults were online. As the decade progressed, smartphone ownership, broadband and the use of social networks have also increased, especially among younger retirees (baby boomers).

The bottom line: the infrastructure that so many innovators depend on, can now be found in the homes and pockets of older adults.

With 10,000 boomers retiring each day in the US alone, the Age Tech industry had to adapt quickly. When boomers look into purchasing products and services for themselves or their parents, they expect those services to be tech-enabled and well-designed. While the first half of the decade saw the rise of several Age-Tech startups who took on the mission of digitizing senior living and home-care, the second half was a design renaissance for consumer products, that updated not only their usability, but also their desirability.

The bottom line: “big, beige and boring” is out, sleek is in.

In 2012, Stephen Johnston and Katy Fike saw a need for creating a global community for innovators in aging, and founded Aging2.0, a global organization that strives to accelerate innovation to address the biggest challenges and opportunities in aging. Aging2.0’s community has grown in the past decade to 40k+ innovators across 24 countries and 100+ cities, and is currently building the world’s first collective intelligence platform for innovation in aging, The Collective.

In 2015, AARP launched its own innovation lab, The Hatchery, with a mission to bring together the best, most creative entrepreneurs to share ideas for keeping people 50 and older top of mind as they design new products and services.

Coincidentally, the middle of the decade was also the most common launch date for companies included on the Age Tech Market Map.

(note — since the inclusion criteria for the market map include companies that are live and funded/ commercial, and the map was first published in 2018, companies that were established earlier in the decade and closed were never included, same with companies that were established later but haven’t yet raised any funding/ reached commercialization).

In 2016, two organizations launched programs to bridge the gap between the aging and tech industries:

Brookdale Senior Living, the largest provider of senior living in the US, launched its Entrepreneur In Residence program , which allows entrepreneurs to temporarily move into a senior living community. Brookdale developed the program to help those creating products and services for the aging population to better understand what seniors want and need.

The Center for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) launched its Industry Innovation Partnership Program that provides funding and validation opportunities for companies worldwide in the field of aging and brain health.

The bottom line: even innovators with no background or connections in aging, can compete in this market, with a little help from industry insiders.

A boom in tech-enabled home care happened around 2015, with several startups launching in the US and the UK. Some of those startups raised mega rounds of funding from top tier funds . Also in 2015, regulatory changes in the US extended the Fair Labor Standards Act to include home care workers, and some of those tech-enabled home care startups had to shut down operations in subsequent years.

The bottom line: while there is definitely room for innovation in home-care, becoming an operator as a strategy to disrupt the market might not be the best way to go.

The world’s tech giants took notice of the longevity economy, the world’s fastest-growing market. 60+ year old people are fueling the global economy with spending power in the trillions (USD). According to the AARP, by the year 2030, nearly 132 million Americans age 50 and older will spend upwards of $84 billion a year on technology products . Amazon, Best Buy, Apple and even Google , have gained a foothold in this market with products and acquisitions.

The bottom line: when tech giants start looking into this market, you can bet on exponential growth.

Halfway through the decade, we witnessed the launch of the first dedicated Age Tech fund . Since then, perhaps following up on the publication of the Longevity Economy book by MIT’s Joseph Coughlin, we have seen more investors look into Age Tech (both dedicated and generalist funds).

The bottom line: VC funding that was desperately needed is starting to flow into this market. Hurrah!

As the decade progressed, some of the industry’s veterans, like GreatCall got acquired, and some, like PointClickCare reached peak valuations. 2018 was a great year for Age Tech in that aspect.

The bottom line: exits and unicorns are a strong validation for the financial potential of this market.

VUI — Voice first user interfaces emerged. Smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home offer an intuitive user experience and almost anyone can use them, regardless of how tech-savvy they are. However, five years after the launch of the original Amazon Echo, the main barrier for adoption by older adults is still the installation process. For devices that don’t have a built-in display, you still need an app for pairing your device with your wifi network, and older adults who are less tech-savvy or don’t own a smartphone still require assistance.

VR/AR goggles were used in senior living communities and by healthcare providers, helping older adults with rehabilitation , reminiscence , pain management and more.

Design matters — products for older adults got a much needed design makeover, with award-winning products like , and leading the charge.

The next decade will definitely be interesting for Age Tech. 2020 has only just begun, and there have already been 2 major announcements that indicate a continuous growth of this ecosystem:

Ziegler Link-Age announced an additional $50M longevity fund .

Techstars and Pivotal Capital ( an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates), announced the launch of a “Future of Longevity” accelerator .

Originally published at https://www.thegerontechnologist.com on January 12, 2020.

Keren Etkin is a Gerontologist and the creator of thegerontechnologist.com

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