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In Search Of The Next Big Thing

25/07/2017 13:29 BST | Updated 28/07/2017 09:02 BST

In America there is much talk of the 'Silver Tsunami'. According to Microsoft's Ed Steidl what we should really be talking about is a phenomenal global business opportunity.

As Global Programme Manager responsible for 120 Microsoft Innovation Centers in 33 countries worldwide, Ed is focused on providing tech entrepreneurs, start-ups and early stage businesses with the means to translate promising concepts into sustainable businesses. He's an evangelist for innovation as a force for good who says "Technology is playing an increasing role in everything we do. It's shaping growth, disrupting industry landscapes, and providing the catalyst for transformation."

In marketing terms older adults constitute an untapped goldmine crying out for fresh disruptive thinking. And the good news is Microsoft is ready to help make it happen.

Microsoft's mission statement is to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, and as Ed Steidl is keen to point out, "That really means everyone including the ageing population".

And the tech giants are not the only major league players who believe it's time to act. Roy Bahat who heads up Bloomberg Beta, an early stage venture capital firm with $150M to invest, says "Precious few investors or entrepreneurs are looking to what might be the greatest 'unicorn' opportunity yet: the elder boom."

A marketing wasteland

The facts bear out Ed and Roy's optimism. Contrary to popular belief it looks like older adults are finally embracing the digital world.In the UK internet use among women 75 and over has trebled since 2011, and there has also been a steady increase in the 65-74 age group, for both sexes, from 52% in 2011 to 78% in 2017.

These figures, from the Office for National Statistics, correlate with research conducted for the Agile Ageing Alliance's white paper: 'Better Homes for Older Adults - Improving Health, Care, Design and Technology', which reveals that older adults are looking forward to smart 'Cognitive Homes' with human qualities helping to manage their lives while keeping them safe and healthy.

The vast majority of older adults we interviewed plan to remain in their own homes and are willing to spend their own money on new products and services that support healthy and active ageing, but they do not want ugly, cumbersome devices imposed on them. They are getting used to and want more cool tech and, perhaps most importantly of all, they want suppliers to focus on them as customers, not as patients, end users, or care clients.

A booming opportunity

In the States according to AdAge baby boomers enjoy 47 times the net worth - and therefore far more disposable income - than households headed up by 35 to 44 year olds. They are also the fastest growing users of social media.

With over 40 million members the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a non-profit organization providing a wide range of benefits to people aged 50 and older. According to AARP 41 million Americans age 50+ play video games regularly, AARP also claim the over 60's are the fastest growing group of online daters. Indeed, there are currently 39 million people aged 65 and older using Facebook, Twitter, and Skype in the States, making them the fastest growing age demographic on these sites. (Source: Pew Research Centre).

This surely constitutes a great opportunity for healthcare companies to up the ante and start marketing digitally enabled product and service solutions which people really want to buy? But this is not happening.

According to global management consultants Accenture, although companies are thinking big their innovation output is low. Seventy-one percent of the organizations Accenture interviewed for a Healthcare Innovation report say they tend to pursue product line extensions rather than new innovation. Half say their organizations struggle to learn from their mistakes, and 68 percent say their organization is risk averse with new ideas.

The force behind the next unicorn

Fortunately there are thought leaders out there willing to take a qualified risk. When Bloomberg Beta's Roy Bahat speaks decision makers tend to listen. In addition to his VC business Roy is also the co-chair of Shift: The US Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology which is an initiative announced earlier this year by Bloomberg and think-tank New America to bring together leaders within academia, technology, business, and government to look at the effects of technology and automation on the future of work 15-20 years out.

Writing for Tech Crunch Roy says "The silver tsunami is a wave just waiting to be ridden by a startup smart enough to see older people as the force behind the next unicorn."

"One that goes beyond making life less difficult for older people, one that helps us realize the true potential of longevity: more time to learn and contribute, to create and connect, to love and to laugh. One that goes beyond ameliorating the challenges of ageing, one that adds richness and texture to the older life. One that leans into what older people do, rather than what they can't do. One that still sees older people as users worth delighting."

"What could this startup build? We might see a marketplace for older workers who want the flexibility to work from home while caring for loved ones, financial planning products focused on those with complex family lives, online communities built around the social lives of people with longer histories, monthly delivery boxes of clothes or foods that cater to the tastes of the many groups of older adults who buy differently than the young."

Indeed. "It's difficult to imagine any sector without a technology startup opportunity for older people."

Where there's a will

Clearly there is an abundance of will, now we need to find the way. To this end the Agile Ageing Alliance has joined forces with Microsoft, with a view to formulating a multi-stakeholder group to pool resources and collaborate in an Open Innovation Challenge, which aims to engage private and public sector stakeholders in a cooperative endeavour to substantiate the value of an emerging market and accelerate development of the most exciting solutions that promote Agile Ageing in our Neighbourhoods of the Future.

We are looking for organisations with complementary agendas willing to work together to boost a significantly underdeveloped supply side with considerable scope for social, business and technological innovation. In this short video Microsoft's Ed Steidl talks with Innovation Leads from IBM and Intel about the opportunity.

For further information visit www.agileageing.org

Photo above by Martin athanasiou for AAA (C) Agile Ageing Alliance with permission for use