THE BLOG
04/02/2015 09:22 GMT | Updated 05/04/2015 06:59 BST

EU Needs Social Entrepreneurs to Leverage the Silver Economy

New Opportunities for Innovation, Growth and Societal Transformation

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Long term health and care sit at the tip of a shifting demographic iceberg which is slowly but surely heading our way.

According to a recent report from Age UK:

• There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18

• There are more pensioners than children under 16

• The number of people aged 65+ is projected to rise by nearly 50% in the next 17 years

• The number of people over 85 is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30

• If nothing is done about age-related disease, there will be over 6 million people with a long- term limiting illness or disability by 2030

• The ageing population and increased prevalence of long term conditions have a significant impact on health and social care and may require £5 billion additional expenditure by 2018

For social entrepreneurs, this scenario constitutes both a major societal challenge and a significant window of opportunity. An opportunity facilitated by Innovate UK who are investing £4 million to kick start a 'Long Term Care Revolution'. A Revolution which aims to inspire businesses - large, medium, small, micro, and entrepreneurs - to join forces, in a united effort to imagine new products and services with potential of disrupting the institutional model of long term care; a model which is currently not fit for purpose.

In Brussels, the European Commission is also looking for fresh ideas. They will stage an EU Summit on Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing in March.

I asked the man responsible for overseeing the EU Summit, Peter Wintlev-Jensen, deputy Head of Unit in the European Commission DG Connect, what he hopes the Summit will achieve and what role does he see for small businesses and social entrepreneurs in the mix?

PWJ: "We organised this Summit to further develop thinking across portfolios and sectors, on how to best seize the opportunities and react to the challenges of the ageing population. We're here to listen, so the Summit is a key opportunity for stakeholders to bring their views forward for action.

"Clearly, it is time to innovate. For me, innovation is achieving something significant that would otherwise not happen unless you are prepared to take a risk and do something special.

"What new knowledge will our future policy makers need to facilitate innovation-that-makes-a-difference? How do we trigger innovation that will make care systems more sustainable, while improving our quality of life, and generating new jobs and growth?

"We know that small businesses can be very innovative. That's why we are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and have promised to spend 20% of the whole of our Horizon 2020 R&D budget (around €70 billion) on smaller projects that can be driven by SMEs or SME oriented activities.

"But we realise that a business cannot thrive on grant funding alone. Most of the small companies I talk to have problems securing investment because their business models are not seen as scalable. It is really a pity when people are forced to take their ideas to the US and elsewhere in order to attract investors.

"Over the past 20 years we have funded a large number of research projects; many of them very good concepts, but we still do not see these ideas in the market today and that is a big loss. If we are to attract investment for our European companies and establish scalable markets across Europe we must learn how to exchange knowledge and build capacity to promote best practice in care innovation. And in parallel, small companies must also learn to look beyond their local markets in order to succeed.

"That is why we have launched an Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, involving more than 3000 stakeholders from across Europe. It is designed to help scale up innovations and bring them faster into reality by sharing the risk, providing evidence of the benefits, and thereby creating scalable markets.

"So now you no longer have to go and speak to 50 regions to try and establish a commercially viable business model, you participate in the Partnership and through that you get access to people that want to do the same thing."

Meet the Buyer

I recently attended a match making event organised by Peter's team and the European Health Alliance, which brought together a number of SMEs looking for their first clients.

The formula seemed to work: After meeting with buyers looking for specific new products and services, the entrepreneur was able to identify two or three regions with a serious interest in their solution, which provided the critical mass necessary to help the SME make a more robust case for investment.

Innovate UK is planning similar events in the UK, where delegates will have the chance to meet with buyers and learn more about the Long Term Care Revolution and Horizon 2020 funding opportunities. (Register interest in attending here).

Innovation is a Process, Not a One-Off Thing

PWJ: "We need to encourage and empower organisations to take risks and to reward risk taking and innovation in a way that people actually want to do it. Take health and care for example, where we spend around 10% of GDP in Europe. If we can dedicate just 5% of that for innovation, then we have a huge budget, (repurposed from existing funds) to stimulate new markets for innovative products and services.

"In the next few years, I envisage innovation and technology playing a more important part in late life care and also in making jobs more attractive for young people to want to work in this area, because we need this kind of entrepreneurial culture, and young people are the key to our future if we are to survive and flourish."

Join the Debate

If you are an existing stakeholder or are interested in entering this market you are invited to submit position papers on growing the silver economy to ec-eip-aha@ec.europa.eu. The papers will then be opened for further discussion that will lay the future pillars of a new EU strategy for Active and Healthy Ageing.

More about:

The Long Term Care Revolution

The Silver Economy

• Creative Skills For Life follow CSL on Twitter, where we shine a regular spotlight on innovative, digitally enabled creative developments in healthcare.

Image: Provided by and used with permission from Peter Wintlev-Jensen.