Global aging presents opportunity

  • Article by: ERNEST GRUMBLES and ERIC SCHUBERT
  • Updated: August 18, 2013 - 11:23 AM

How to make aging a Minnesota innovation advantage.

Ernest Grumbles is co-founder of MOJO Minnesota

It’s called the Silver Tsunami, Agequake, Longevity Economy and Age Wave. But no matter the moniker, unprecedented global aging is a wide-open door for innovation, and Minnesota is uniquely positioned to forge partnerships that deliver it.

We’re all aging consumers. Local companies such as Healthsense and Anser Innovation are inventing in this space, but nearly every business works in aging, even if they don’t yet know it. The world’s only growing demographic is people 60-plus. And in the United States, the 60-plus cohort is the fastest growing.

By 2047, we’ll have 2 billion mature consumers worldwide, up from 800 million in 2010. There were nearly 6 million people over 85 in 2010. By 2050 we’ll have more than 19 million people 85-plus. Older adults will outnumber children.

Disposable income of Americans age 50 or older equals $3 trillion, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And an A.T. Kearney study found that people over 50 hold 80 percent of U.S. financial assets.

While rosy for some, many older Americans’ only income source is Social Security. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 43 percent of workers 55-plus say they had less than $25,000 saved for retirement and 60 percent indicated they had retirement savings of less than $100,000.

Innovation for aging is essential, whether you’re a multimillionaire or you’re on Medicaid, especially when you consider there aren’t enough government dollars, housing or care professionals to help with the disabilities many of us will experience.

So how could human ingenuity, skill and compassion link with technology, make lives better and create new economic growth opportunities?

Have you ever left the hospital, returned home and forgotten care or medication instructions because you were too weak to comprehend what the discharge person was telling you?

Have you or a loved one ever had health complications because you’ve forgotten to take pills or taken too many?

What if the physical and financial toll of midnight ambulance trips and repeated emergency room bounce-backs could be safely eased for seniors?

What if a person at work could virtually attend a loved one’s doctor’s appointment without having to leave his or her job site? Could accessible easy-to-use video technology link patients and health professionals to ease such common pain points?

Could technology help connect the expertise of Minnesota retirees with kids to help close achievement gaps? Could simple home-engineered inventions have wider appeal, be commercialized and help others across age spans? Could technology help improve one’s social, spiritual and mental wellness?

Minnesota, which has among the highest longevity rates, has a unique combination of assets to support innovation in aging and living. We’re home to many successful start-ups, large enterprises, investors, research institutions, and leading consumer, health care and senior services companies.

A new Minnesota collaborative — the AgePower Tech Search — seeks to locate, reward and help launch new high- and low-tech innovations that have a positive, near-term impact on the aging experience.

AgePower is open to start-ups, inventors and long-established companies globally. AgePower differs from other incubators because it will match companies with Ecumen customers and team members. Ecumen is a nonprofit senior housing and services company that’s operated for 150 years.

Ecumen will offer a six-month trial for these innovators, providing invaluable customer insight that can help develop a product for broader market launch and consumer acceptance.

AgePower also includes guidance from entrepreneurs, business advisers and investors who comprise MOJO Minnesota, an innovation and advocacy cooperative working to encourage Minnesota’s culture of innovation.

Minnesota invented pop-up toasters, thermostats, masking tape, grocery bags with handles, retractable seat belts, supercomputers, pacemakers, frozen pizza dough and, of course, Post-it notes.

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