Ecumen, a nonprofit operator of senior homes in Minnesota and much of the Midwest, said Friday that it is joining a $26.6 million private equity fund investing in businesses that are creating new products and services for seniors.
The fund, a joint venture of a Chicago investment bank and an Ohio-based consortium of senior home operators, is part of a growing wave of investment activity in the senior space, lured by the combination of aging baby boomers, health care reform and swift changes in technology.
"We're entering a longevity economy," said Eric Schubert, a vice president for Shoreview-based Ecumen. "And we're asking, 'How do we create new points of value for people who are aging?' "
The fund is the result of two years of development effort and footwork by Link-age Ventures Inc., a Mason, Ohio, group that provides resources and services to senior home operators, including Ecumen. It joined with Ziegler, a Chicago investment bank with a record in the health care industry, to set up the fund. Ecumen is one of about 70 nonprofit organizations that contributed to it.
The fund, called the Ziegler Link-age Longevity Fund, will look for opportunities to take stakes in firms in health management, telemedicine, prevention and wellness and so-called "big data" analysis geared toward seniors. It will not invest in real estate, said Scott Collins, chief executive of Link-age.
"There are so many different technologies coming out now that we feel, if not purpose-built, they could be shifted to meet the needs of this demographic," Collins said. "Getting old is not just about aging in place anymore. It's about thriving."
He said firms seeking capital can approach Link-age, where the fund's chief investment officer is based. Investments will be vetted jointly by Ziegler and Link-age.
Similar funds have been set up by AARP and a San Francisco firm called Generator Ventures, which has pushed to get Silicon Valley investors and start-up firms focused on the opportunities in the senior market.
AARP since 2012 has been visible at technology conferences urging venture capitalists to help fund the ideas of older entrepreneurs as well as products aimed at the older generation. And the founders of Generator Ventures have also started Aging 2.0, a global network of entrepreneurs who are focused on senior care and medical technologies.
Ecumen has gotten attention in the Twin Cities for promoting businesses that are developing new products for seniors. Along with Mojo Minnesota, a local group of entrepreneurs and investors, Ecumen in February sponsored a contest to spotlight such firms and the senior market. The winners included two Minneapolis firms: Playtabase, which is working in smart home automation, and Formychildren.com, creator of a family Web service that is still under development.
Ecumen's investment interest is "basically no stone left unturned," Schubert said. "We look very broadly. It could be health care. It could be something that's fun."
He added that the company is not simply interested in investing in products and services that work in senior apartments and other properties that are its core business.
"One of the things we're intrigued by is how do you make living at home viable and a good experience for people long-term?" he said.