The AgeTech Collaborative™ Hosts the 2nd Annual Founders Summit

By Mark Ogilbee posted 05-02-2024 09:26 AM

Dr. Joe Coughlin addresses the 2024 Founders Summit

In April, more than 100 founders and other leaders in the AgeTech space gathered in Boston for the second annual Founders Summit, a conference hosted by the AgeTech Collaborative™ to help founders make valuable connections and learn from fellow AgeTech innovators and industry experts. Besides offering sweeping views of the Boston skyline, the two-day conference offered participants opportunities to network, participate in interactive workshops and get inspired by leaders in the longevity ecosystem.


Day 1: Innovative and Evolving Solutions

Mark Roberge, managing partner at Stage 2 Capital and lecturer at Harvard Business School, kicked off the summit with a keynote address, The Science of Scaling. Noting that the power in the buying and selling process has shifted from the seller to the buyer, Roberge emphasized the need to understand the buyer’s journey and to embrace a new sales paradigm. This new approach includes creating value for potential customers during the prospecting phase, along with spending more time during sales calls listening to a potential customer’s pain points, rather than talking up a solution’s benefits.

He also shared a playbook for tailoring sales pitches to diverse individuals when companies have multiple decision-makers — emphasizing the special importance of identifying and nurturing a “champion” within the company who can sway the buying decision. Roberge ended the address by laying out how startups should leverage hard data, including leading indicators of customer success, to assess product market fit and go-to-market fit in order to know when a startup is ready to scale its sales efforts.

After the keynote, founders huddled around tables to share some of the top obstacles their companies face, such as raising capital, building awareness and hiring great talent. Each table wrote their top obstacle on an index card, then passed the card to an adjacent table, where other founders had several minutes to brainstorm solutions. After several rounds of “passing the problem," the cards returned to the original table, where participants had a chance to discuss, then share with the room, the insights that had been generated by the other tables.


Day 2: All About Deep Dives

Day 2 got underway with Inventing Life Tomorrow in Today’s Longevity Economy, a keynote address by MIT AgeLab Director Joseph F. Coughlin, who challenged founders to come up with solutions that normalize aging. He noted that reaching 100 years old is no longer a rarity, and that the story about aging — that it’s an inevitable decline into infirmity — is no longer accurate: More than ever, older adults want to stay active as they age. This presents an opportunity for startups to imagine an AgeTech space that goes beyond clunky medical devices and similar traditional solutions by innovating products, services and experiences that are exciting and delighting.

He outlined that innovators can do this by understanding and defining their customers not by stereotypes, but by what kind of lifestyle they want to lead for a full third of their adult lives. Startups can then develop products, services and experiences that defy those stereotypes of what older adults need, and then deliver those solutions not just to the user, but also to the buyer — who is often a user’s grown child. Doing this, startups in the AgeTech space can not only serve a growing, untapped market, but can also rewrite the story of aging from being a problem to be solved, to an opportunity to be realized.

After a rapid-fire round of stakeholders sharing vignettes of AgeTech in action, Lunch with Changemakers gave founders an opportunity to chat and network with longevity-economy leaders representing enterprises, investors, government agencies and other AgeTech leaders.

Danielle D. Duplin, Jennifer Maynard and Robin Lipson

The afternoon featured rounds of breakout sessions — nine sessions in all, each moderated by a subject matter expert — that gave founders a chance to dive deep into areas of interest or challenges they face. Following are highlights from some of the sessions.

In the Working with Multi Stakeholder Partners to Pilot and Scale breakout, participants suggested that startups reframe a “pilot” program as a “phase 1” step to encourage buy-in from the pilot partner and to underscore that setting up pilots often takes as much work for everyone as setting up a full-fledged solution. Enterprise participants shared that from their perspective, partnering in a pilot program adds significant value to a startup’s early process, so it is not unreasonable for them to look for consideration in the form of a discounted rate or similar concession.

Participants in the Working with Health Plan Payors breakout session discussed, among other things, how payors prioritize looking for innovative solutions that they can scale to all, or at least a significant percentage, of their members. Contributing to that scalability is a solution’s ability to integrate with existing care management teams and other partners. In the Working with Insurance Providers session, participants explored the advantages of helping policyholders stay healthier, longer in order to delay a claim as long as possible: Doing so saves insurance companies money, but just as importantly, it helps aging adults stay more independent and in their own homes longer.

The Working with Senior Living Operators breakout session explored challenges associated with caregiver shortages and how innovative technologies can help. For example, using ambient artificial intelligence sensors and machine learning can help staff at assisted living facilities understand what’s going on in any given room, helping staff balance high-tech with high-touch in a way that is most beneficial for the resident. By capturing data on staff activities — how many times they visit a particular resident, for example — facilities can use data-driven insights to become more efficient.

In the Working with Financial Services for Health & Wealth session, participants explored how insurance carriers are evolving a more holistic approach to their beneficiaries by extending their services into the healthcare space. This improves the customer experience and customer retention, and also helps prevent or mitigate the effects of conditions such as cancer and dementia. (For more on this, check out our blog post on how Prudential Financial has inspired a new model to support wellness programs in the long-term care insurance industry.)

Scott Frisch and Andy Miller

Wrapping up the conference, Andy Miller, senior vice president of AARP Innovation Labs, hosted a fireside chat with Scott Frisch, executive vice president and chief operating officer of AARP, to discuss the state of AgeTech and where it’s heading.

Frisch described that while AARP’s mission has always been to advocate for older adults at the national, state and local levels, it is also committed to pushing the marketplace forward to provide more goods and services for aging adults. To that end, AARP became a pioneer in what was then a new category of investing — AgeTech — by forming the AARP Innovation Fund, which now counts more than 70 companies in its portfolio (not to be confused with the AgeTech Collaborative™ itself, which has a portfolio of more than 150 companies).

Frisch also noted that from the beginning, startups in the AgeTech space have tended to focus on healthcare specifically, but that a vast opportunity still exists to serve an aging population with solutions focused on things such as mental health and social isolation. “The next frontier is expanding beyond just end-stage health solutions and getting into fun, fulfillment and social connectedness,” Frisch said.

Finally, Frisch shared his perspective on the increasingly ubiquitous role that AI plays in innovation, noting that the solution or product itself — and the outcomes it provides — is more important than the engine driving it.

Through the conference’s keynote addresses, breakout sessions and many informal opportunities to network with leaders and like-minded founders, participants were able to broaden their perspective on AgeTech as a whole, deepen their knowledge on specific areas of concern, and hopefully find inspiration for brass-tacks solutions to thorny problems — all paving the way for ever-increasing collaboration among stakeholders in AgeTech and the longevity economy.