With 56 percent of total American spending coming from those over the age of 50, the growth of older adults’ sphere of economic influence, known as the Longevity Economy, is so substantial that forecasters refer to it as a megatrend. It is set to fundamentally overhaul the way we think about and plan for the future, both as individuals and as a society, and Boston is poised to become the epicenter of the longevity-focused innovation that the modern world needs.
As an entrepreneur in this space, I’ve never been more excited about the future. Within Greater Boston, industries are aligning and talking about the future of aging. Government officials are speaking and acting on behalf of this demographic, building infrastructure and policy approaches that will empower a healthier aging population. Startups and cutting-edge technology firms are building purpose-driven technology that includes robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality (my area of expertise, through the work we do at my company, Rendever). Crucially, Boston boasts one of the most forward-thinking health care hubs in the world, which has adopted a proactive approach to working with these startups and industry partners to create a better future for all
That dedication is starting to come to fruition. Five years ago, it was almost impossible for a longevity entrepreneur to have a conversation with a venture capitalist and walk away feeling they had a strong grasp of the profound opportunities posed by aging, as opposed to just the challenges. And one couldn’t even fault them; the longevity industry was still in its early days, and people everywhere had poor societal appreciation for the aging demographic (an issue that still desperately needs to be overcome). There were, however, plenty of investors casually interested in the longevity space, if only because the financial projections were clear: There would be too many older people, bearing too much wealth for the longevity economy not to be worth a bet or two.
But those early bets were limited by the fact that there were few success cases to point to. Worse, the best-known products aimed at older people were boring: designed for ease of use, not beauty or elegance. Complicating matters, many players involved in the medical side of things were relying on Medicare funding, which made it harder to take a startup to “exit” — that is, to an acquisition or IPO. Few large players were interested in purchasing scrappy startups building the new industries powering the longevity economy. And so the question remained: What would it take to demonstrate how truly powerful — and profitable — it could be to innovate for this burgeoning consumer demographic?
The good news is that, as more innovators look to join in, Boston boasts a strong backbone capable of supporting them. There is a growing community of entrepreneurs with a deep understanding of the intricacies of needs of different groups of aging individuals.
We are only at the beginning of an AgeTech boom here in Boston. As we continue, there are a few critical gaps that must be filled. A new sort of startup incubator is necessary — one that goes beyond the industry-standard support for early-stage growth and brings the aging (or caregiving) end-user to the forefront. It would be a community space that nurtures AgeTech startups while offering community services to the local aging population: an open, physical location for idea flow, product feedback, and organic community building. Founders would benefit from the chance to engage with and learn from the demographic they’re designing for, and older adults would get the opportunity to air their desires for products, which would help eager innovators navigate around outdated stereotypes about what older adults want and need. A modern, open space for multiple generations to come together around technology and community life would permit people across age groups to share space, interact, and enjoy life.
Finally, we can’t talk about fueling the fire of aging innovation without mentioning the most standard form of economic fuel: financing. The number of active, aging-specific venture firms is still dismally low, and that needs to change. There’s a big opportunity for a major venture firm to land in Boston and take ownership of this unique opportunity. We ultimately need to create a collective understanding where “longevity” takes hold as a modern buzzword — a conceptual lodestar keeping innovators focused on building a better old age. The next step in this process comes down to providing dedicated structural support. We need the dedicated space and the dedicated investors. These gaps are waiting to be filled by individuals and firms aligned with the mission of making the world a better place to age. If that’s you, I invite you to pay our community a visit. What you find here may amaze you.
Kyle Rand is cofounder and CEO of Rendever.