Incubators / Startups

Inside The Hatchery, the AARP’s startup incubator

The organization known for lobbying on behalf of senior citizens is now building its own startups.

The Hatchery's logo, as seen on a wall. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)
The AARP has a startup incubator. Yes, you read that right.

The Hatchery, opened about a year ago, was created as “a sort of physical representation of innovation at AARP,” Andy Miller, SVP of innovation and product development, tells The space, in the AARP’s building in Chinatown, has an open floor plan and flexible breakout office space and plenty of gadgets lying around — all standard elements of your standard startup office. But then you remember that you’re at the AARP. How did this happen?

It turns out, AARP doesn’t just want to be a membership organization lobbying on behalf of seniors, giving discounts or suggesting tips on health. Driven by a philosophy on corporate innovation, they want to be creating their own tech products. Products focused in the areas of health, wealth and self, Miller said.

At The Hatchery. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

At The Hatchery. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

The Hatchery is part of this mission, and Miller’s job is to build these products. So how does it work?

As an incubator, The Hatchery’s model takes a multi-pronged approach, building startup ideas in-house as well as working in partnership with other organizations. For example, The Hatchery has its own accelerator-type program, via which it aims to bring in two to four later-stage startups this spring (for the pilot of the program). While AARP won’t invest directly in these startups, their months at The Hatchery will provide access to experts, potential customers and more.

A startup team at work at The Hatchery. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

A startup team at work at The Hatchery. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

The Hatchery also has a partnership with UNC and a “Tech Nest” program at the University of Illinois.

And then there’s the in-house work.

“We have, I’d say, two and a half [startups] now up and running,” Miller laughs. And these startups aren’t necessarily focused solely on AARP’s target demographic — Miller likes taking a broad view. For example, one startup he’s working on is building a service to educate small businesses on 401K options, the idea being that the more businesses offer retirement plans the more people save and the better off they are down the road.

These two and a half startups are, for the moment, distinct from AARP. Still, they’re staffed by AARP employees and housed in their own little offices at The Hatchery.

For Miller’s part, he’s looking to do more than just build a couple of startups — he’s looking to change the way people see the AARP. That’s why The Hatchery’s open space is free to use for any “innovation-centric” meetings AARP employees may be having. It’s also why the space has played host to events in the #dctech community like the DCVR Meetup, and is looking to do more of this.

“I have a goal to put AARP on the map as an innovation leader,” Miller said.

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