The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation Announces the Lived Experience Advisory Panel

By Mark Ogilbee posted 05-26-2022 06:04 PM


 The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI), based in Toronto and a participant in the AgeTech Collaborative™, is a unique alliance of health care, science, industry, not-for-profit and government partners whose aim is to help improve quality of life for the world’s aging population. Through its funding programs, CABHI helps global innovators gain access to key user groups in order to test, develop, validate and accelerate the adoption of their solutions. 

CABHI recently announced their newest initiative called the Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP), and we spoke with Jacqueline Baptist, who works with marketing and business development at CABHI, to learn more about CABHI in general and LEAP in particular. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 


Can you tell us what CABHI is and what you do? 

CABHI stands for the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation. We’re part of Baycrest, which is a global leader in residential living for older adults, healthcare, research, innovation, and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging.  Baycrest is home to a robust research and innovation network, including one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute. 

CABHI is a solution accelerator. We’re a small team, but we have people with a variety of skill sets, from working in the realms of venture capital and investment, to helping health care organizations adopt and procure solutions. We’ve been around for seven years, and we’ve funded more than 350 companies and projects working in the aging and brain health space.  


What kind of programming do you offer? 

CABHI offers funding programs and acceleration services to mobilize the most promising innovations arising from seniors’ care settings, research, academia, and industry to improve quality of care and quality of life, and to help create more cost-effective health systems. Our funding programs are targeted to innovators according to where they are in the evolution of their solution. For example, we have a program called Spark, which is a funding program with up to $50,000 worth of funding for frontline health care workers who have a great idea but need help developing that idea. Or they could also be students that are interested in the aging and brain health area. We run Spark regularly a couple of times a year, and we bring in a new cohort of innovators that are very early stage. 

And then we have the MC2 program, which stands for Mentorship, Capital and Continuity. This program is intended for companies that are further along in their development, and it has the highest funding levels — upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars — for companies that might be early in their journey but that have a viable, validated product by the time we get involved with them. 

Our acceleration services include coaching, mentorship and networking opportunities to help innovators reach their next milestone. Innovators can be supported with clinical and product validation, usability-testing, solution introduction and implementation in target settings, commercialization of intellectual property, business development, marketing, and financing. To support customer acquisition and rapid growth, innovators are also brokered with CABHI’s network of trial sites and adopting organizations, distribution channels, venture capitalists and investment partners. 


And now you’re launching a new program called LEAP. Can you outline what that is, how it came about, and what it wants to achieve? 

One of CABHI’s core values is to incorporate the actual lived experiences of caregivers and older adults into the innovation work we are doing with our startup cofounders.  

So we started a Seniors’ Advisory Panel based here in Toronto. It’s a group of about 20 seniors who have become experts at co-designing and collaborating with founders and innovators. They complement what founders and innovators are thinking with their real lived experience, and point out possible accessibility barriers and adoption considerations. This is important, because sometimes as innovators we fall in love with our solutions, but we haven't necessarily validated them with the people who we think will use them. So these seniors might tell innovators: “I wouldn't buy this. I don't know how to use that. This other thing you think is a problem is not actually a problem.” These older adults are looking to help them pivot to what the real problem is, to work with them on that kind of level. 

So LEAP, which originally was an acronym for Lived Experience Advisory Panel, has become a way to scale that expertise. We were planning on it being a community with a real, in-life component as well as a virtual component. Then the pandemic happened, so we decided to work on the virtual part first, because bringing older adults together in large groups just wasn't going to be practical for a while. 


It sounds cool, and it also seems not just smart, but practical, to tap into the lived experiences of these seniors who are eager to speak up. What exactly does the virtual component look like? 

Many people who are going to be members of LEAP may not have a lot of confidence or experience in navigating websites. So one of our big challenges has been to build a digital experience that's welcoming, that doesn't feel intimidating, that is equal parts social connection and doing the advisory work with the innovators that the Seniors' Advisory Panel has been doing. 

So we built the LEAP website on the analogy of a community center — it’s basically a virtual community center. It has five core rooms, if you will: a reception area, a storytelling room, a learning hub, an innovation lab and a marketplace. And we started with our own Seniors’ Advisory Panel members. They were intimately involved throughout the whole design of the project. 


LEAP has been in beta testing, and now you’re launching it to the public. How do you hope to build an engaged member community in the world? 

In the 11 months we’ve been in beta, the LEAP community has run over 100 events, and we've learned a lot about the kinds of things that bring people together and keep them together. We've been doing workshops on wide-ranging topics like digital literacy and skill building, optimal aging, and financial wellness, and we've created forums to surface issues and pain points that matter to end users. We have arts-based programming that enriches the experience for members and encourages community dialogue. Along the way, as we build community, we’re building digital skills and confidence that will enhance the value to the innovators who seek out the community’s guidance. We’ve set our year one membership goal at 5,000 members, and we’re up to about 700 members so far. 


What are some of the challenges that CABHI has faced in realizing its mission? 

Sometimes you think about the stereotypical startup founder, and it’s a young adult who's got that fire in their belly about solving the world's problems through technology. But they’re young, so they’re not thinking about aging or working in that space because it's maybe not something that they personally identify with. So there's that. We need more entrepreneurial talent in AgeTech. 

And the opportunities around aging are so much broader than most people expect. We’re really excited about things like digital access and equity. But how do we close this gap between folks like us, who have grown up with computers, and people even 10 or 20 years older than us, who didn’t? So we know what the potential is, but there's a huge learning curve that we have to help innovators and founders get through, if they are going to see the impact they can have in the AgeTech space. And they need collaborators — older adults and caregivers who understand technology, feel comfortable with it and can work hand in hand as co-designers.  Now that we’ve launched LEAP, we’re starting to solve that challenge. 

In a nutshell, what do you want the world to know about CABHI? 

That there's a Canadian powerhouse with global connections that’s bringing a hundred years’ experience of working with and learning from seniors to inform and influence solutions in aging and brain health. 

You can find out more about LEAP — and all about CABHI — at their website.