AARP is working on these tech innovation initiatives at The Hatchery in DC - Technical.ly DC

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Oct. 23, 2019 4:06 pm

AARP is working on these tech innovation initiatives at The Hatchery in DC

From a venture program to product development, here's how AARP Innovation Labs is working on empowering people 50 years old and older.
A view of The Hatchery, an AARP Innovation Lab.

A view of The Hatchery, an AARP Innovation Lab.

(Photo by Michelai Graham)

The Hatchery, an AARP Innovation Lab, has been active in the District for the past three years, but what’s actually been going on around the space?

The Hatchery is AARP’s only innovation lab in the area, spanning 10,000 square feet of space, and it’s shown much growth since it came on our radar a few years ago. As it turns out, AARP is working diligently not only to stay innovative, but to nurture the local #dctech community.

You can’t rent The Hatchery out to host an event for a specific cost, said Jacqueline Baker, director of innovation programming at AARP Innovation Labs; instead, it tries to collaborate with local organizations to bring the community in to the Chinatown space at 575 7th St. NW. For example, the final DC Startup Week pitch competition took place at The Hatchery last month.

Baker has been with AARP, the nonprofit on a mission to empower people 50 years old and older, for six years, working in various roles dealing with tech and innovation within the company. She explained that even though The Hatchery is the organization’s only local physical innovation space, it’s part of AARP Innovation Labs, which has broken out into four focus areas over the years.

The physical space, The Hatchery, falls under this four-part umbrella, housing 23 employees that span across developers, senior level staff, engineers and more.

Another part of AARP Innovation Labs is product development.

“We’re a product shop, so we develop products and services from scratch,” Baker said as we sat in one of the offices on The Hatchery’s product row, which is a row of offices occupied by intrapreneurs building tech specifically for AARP. These folks are working on creating products for people to interact with as they age.

Thirdly, AARP Innovation Labs does startup engagement, which is the part of the ecosystem that Baker runs. In this process, AARP looks to discover products and services that have a use case for people as they age, like a virtual reality product that addresses physical therapy and how people heal.

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Under this startup focus, Baker said AARP normally finds companies through pitch competitions, five of which AARP hosted across the U.S. this year. From these pitch competitions, AARP selected 11 age-tech startups to pitch their solutions focused on addressing social isolation at the organization’s grand pitch finale event on Oct. 16 at Union Market.

Sunu Band, a startup that enables people who are low vision and blind to travel with confidence through a sonar smartband, took first place at that competition. Launched in 2013, the company is based out of Guadalajara, Mexico and Boston, Massachusetts, and even participated in the elite Y Combinator incubator in Spring 2017.

Baker said AARP also finds startups through two main accelerator relationships, one with Boston-based MassChallenge and another with Connecticut-based Upward Labs.

The final vertical in AARP Innovation Labs, is human-centered design thinking. Baker explained that no matter what work the lab is doing, its goal is always to keep people in mind first.

The Hatchery Ventures program aligns with its other focuses as well. AARP selected five tech startups in the seed to Series A funding stages to help them grow and scale their ventures. This group of companies are a part of the inaugural cohort for the program and focus on digital health and social connections. During the program, these participating startups will get in-kind consulting services from AARP, present to investors and other business professionals at a demo day, and attend networking opportunities.

“Our mission here at AARP Labs is to empower people to choose to live how they want as they age — we just do it using disruptive technology and disruptive innovation,” Baker said.

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