What's next for healthtech in DC? Look to longevity - Technical.ly DC

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What’s next for healthtech in DC? Look to longevity

Panelists at a DC Startup Week discussion clued us in on DC's potential strengths in the longevity and caregiving markets. "Older adults are figuring out a new way to age in this country," said The Holding Co.'s Patrice Martin.

Speakers at DC Startup Week's Longevity and Caregiving Industry panel.

(Screenshot by Technical.ly, via DC Startup Week)

When it comes to longevity tech — aka that which improves the quality of life and/or extends life for those over 50 — it’s important not to underestimate the consumers in question. Especially when, as The Holding Co. CEO Patrice Martin said, it involves a generation like no other.

“Older adults are figuring out a new way to age in this country, and they’re doing that without a roadmap,” Martin said. “They’re not following what previous generations have necessarily done, and they’re then at the forefront of figuring out what are the services, products, experiences that map onto their lives.”

Martin was one of four panelists to take part in a DC Startup Week panel titled “Market Talk: Why the DMV is Doubling Down on the Longevity and Caregiving Industry and Where Your Business Can Play a Role.” Alongside AARP’s Deborah Jordan; Techstars’ Keith Camhi, and Pivotal Ventures Director of Program Strategy and Investment Renee Wittemyer, panelists covered the future of the longevity and caregiving industries.

According to Jordan, the director of design thinking at AARP, the’re big potential for these sectors to grow. About 10,000 people in the US turn 65 every day, she noted, making up a huge group of potential consumers and people in need of tech solutions. Not to mention, people over 50, make up 35% of the population but 45% of the US gross domestic product, or about $8.3 trillion annually, she noted.

But they’re not just in need of low-tech, user-friendly solutions to make life easier, Jordan said (although she noted that things like readable fonts and clean visual design are plusses). In fact, according to AARP, many in this group own tablets, and one of the top uses is downloading digital games.

“Any misconceptions you may have about the 50-plus, throw them out the window because they are comfortable with technology, they’re online gamers,” Jordan of AARP said during the panel. “They embrace wearables and smartphones. Their adoption [of tech] is just lightly lower than lower cohorts, but they embrace them. They may not be using their technology to the full capability, admittedly, but they’re using technology.”

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But the industry is not limited to those 50 and older. It’s also important, Wittemyer of Pivotal noted, to include caregivers when creating longevity businesses and tech, who oftentimes have to sacrifice time they would have put towards their career to help out a loved one. Creating something like a care system that works for providers, families and aging adults that’s high quality and affordable is crucial, especially for women, who tend to take on caretaking roles.

“That’s really key to accelerating women’s power and influence in society, as well as strengthening the well-being of families in the US,” Wittemyer said. “Our goal, our vision is really creating this world where caregivers don’t have to make these impossible choices between participating fully in the workforce and caring for themselves, caring for their loved ones, and older adults can really live with dignity.”

"Any misconceptions you may have about the 50-plus, throw them out the window because they are comfortable with technology."
Deborah Jordan, AARP

There are also huge potential gains in funding for these types of companies. The problem-solving nature of longevity and caretaking technologies, added Camhi, who heads the Future of Longevity Accelerator at Techstars, also have the potential to create great, impactful startups that can gain access to the District’s wealth of venture capital funding.

“Great startups generally come from founders who are solving problems that they’re seeing, experience themselves,” Camhi said.”And because of the nature of the challenges that we’re addressing, this disproportionate impact on women, disruption to careers, the result of this is that we have a wonderfully diverse class across multiple dimensions that’s not typical of venture funding today.”

Geographically, the DMV also has huge potential, the panelists noted. With DC’s strong med and healthtech scene, plus its policy focus, Wittemyer noted that the region in particular is a great place to develop a network of caretaking and longevity-focused startups and businesses.

“The number of venture capital firms, advocacy groups based there, the way that those things play together, we see this huge opportunity to really connect organizations and build something that’s greater,” Wittemyer said.

But overall, Martin and Jordan noted, the most important lesson is remembering the vitality of the over 50 crowd when creating businesses — and that age really is just a number.

“People want to date, they want to have purpose, they want to build, they want to be participants in society,” Martin said. “We’re all people who want to live our most fulfilling lives.”

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