Source - Mediacorp/Channel News Asia

6 Startups Tackling The Problem of Modern Aging

6 startups pitched their ideas at the finale event for Modern Aging Singapore on Dec 5.

If you didn’t already know, Modern Aging Singapore is a 4-month program in Singapore that was launched this year by ACCESS Health. During this period, it takes participants from ideation into a viable business plan through workshops and mentorships.

My company has a significant interest in the problem – or rather, opportunity – of the rapidly aging population in countries like Japan, China and Singapore. In particular, around creating digitally-supported programs to prevent or delay cognitive impairment and dementia.  We believe that if we give the elderly the right tools which allow them to meet their social needs, and coupled them with the right incentives, they will be able to adopt and use technology to their advantage. Hence, I was curious to see what came out of the pot.

One of the judging panelists was from Japan (another country with huge aging issues) and he shared several sobering facts:

Imagine the population of an entire city the size of Singapore having dementia. That’s how many people with dementia there are in Japan, 5 million.

By 2040, 40% of the Japanese population will be 65 years old and above

There is a waiting list of > 500,000 people for dementia-related facilities (eg nursing homes) in Japan

Two-thirds of Japanese assets in the banks are owned by seniors >65 years old, mostly earning 0% interest. (lots of potential for Fin Tech)

Oh, and 10% of the Singapore population visits Japan every year and order sushi like a pro. We love them so much 🙂

They definitely have a problem there, and have recognised it. Hence there is a lot of emphasis on making the country age-friendly using technology, such as robotics.  Unfortunately, Singapore is not too far behind in this dubious race to be the ‘oldest’ country in the world.

 

There were 6 teams which made it to the finals:

1. Pillpresso

Pillpresso is a smart medication dispenser (inspired by the Nespresso coffee machines). A caregiver or pharmacist can pour in the pills into the right slots, and at programmed times it will dispense the right pills for the elderly person to take.

Many elderly have multiple chronic diseases, and polypharmacy is common. Such a device could promote better medication adherence and reduce medication errors by reducing the mental effort required for medicine taking at the individual level. It can also track adherence, which is useful for family members and doctors and better than self-reporting.

My take:

There are some tricky and potentially medicolegal issues to overcome, such as what happens if there is a machine error that dispenses the wrong pill (disastrous!), or who will be able to program the medication doses and will be responsible.

Expected retail price is at $299. More than a Nespresso machine btw so the target audience will have to be the middle-upper class families.

2. Altrue – Silver Lining

A sensor device for bedridden elderly patients that can be attached to diapers. It sends notifications to nurses or caregivers when the patient has soiled himself, so that the diapers can be changed, and thus preventing infections and bedsores.

My take:

Not a sexy device, but has an immediate practical value. Key is to get the price point cheap enough, since nursing homes aren’t exactly rolling in cash. Also, they need a plan to incentivize these institutions to use it.

3. SoundEye

SoundEye is a sensor device that uses infrared and sound technology to detect when someone has fallen in their home, and alerts the necessary parties. It looks and feels a lot like a smoke detector, if that helps you to visualise.

soundeye
Source : http://www.sound-eye.com

My take:

There are several similar ‘smart home’ sensor devices in the market. However, their business model is interesting, where a service charge is levied to monitor the home and not for the devices themselves. It’s unknown how the market will take to this, but it will be a lot more sustainable than selling the hardware (where margins eventually head towards zero)

4. Yobiav (Youth Biosecure Avatar)

This is weird.  Almost gimmicky. I didn’t fully understand their pitch (the founder’s heavy Greek accent didn’t help) but they store your stem cells in a bank, so that one day when the technology is available, the stem cells can be used to rejuvenate your body.

My take : As above – Show me any evidence that this works first please.

5. Kampung Spirit

This focuses on building strong communities by connecting children with the elderly, linking up day care centres with eldercare facilities to do activities together.

My take : It’s an interesting concept and has value. However, it would be difficult to scale as a business.

6. Empower

An all-in-one marketplace which consolidates and lists events, jobs, classes, activities for the elderly.  Something like Yahoo! for the greying population.

My take : The business model is still unclear. Also, a significant proportion of the elderly are not online – how do they plan to reach out to them?

 

All-in-all, the ideas that came out of this program were practical and useful. There were no mind blowing, ‘this-is-going-to-disrupt-everything’ kind of innovations – that’s probably a characteristic of this sector where technology is more of an adjunct to human support. I wish them all the best!

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