Ever more start-ups’ activities are focusing on the longevity economy. In these times of technological progress, people’s lifespans are increasing and they are eager to take a more energetic approach to their later years, creating fertile ground and golden opportunities for young businesses. Especially for these start-ups, Birdhouse has launched the Ageing & Longevity vertical accelerator programme in collaboration with Belfius Insurance. Why is that? And what will the programme’s focus be? We talked to Dirk Schyvinck, who wrote the book “Wat als we straks 100 worden?” – what if we live to be 100? – and also helped to shape the programme.
We’re getting older
People are living ever longer. Currently, the average life expectancy is around 81 years for Belgians. A century ago, it was closer to 55 (source: Statbel). According to Dirk Schyvinck, this creates opportunities for start-ups that are not to be missed: “Current generations are living their later years more energetically than previous generations. Additionally, we have ways to make longer lives healthier and more enjoyable using technology, creating a perfect combination that opens up enormous economic opportunities!”
“It’s a common stereotype that older people are not tech-savvy or at any rate, much less so than younger generations,” Schyvinck continues. “That no longer holds true; baby boomers, for instance, are clearly much more familiar with technology than the previous ‘silent generation’. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many over-50s becoming very nimble with teleworking and online shopping. That has given a distinct boost to this group’s purchase and use of smart devices.”
Experts on ageing Dirk Schyvinck (left) and Keren Etkin (right)
Over-50s market worth USD 17 trillion
According to Dirk Schyvinck, people aged over 50 make up around 35% of the population in Western countries. This is a group that on average spends a large amount of money: “Over-50s represent a market of over USD 17 trillion worldwide. That’s at least as much as Germany’s entire economy! In many countries, their contributions add up to 20% to 40% of the Gross Domestic Product. In Belgium, this is 23%, and that percentage will only increase. Even so, this group has been underserved by product developers and marketers for years.”
Several American and European Venture Capitalists are already focusing their attention on the new vertical AgeTech market. For example, Dominic Endicott of 4Gen Ventures made the following comparison during a discussion with AgeTech expert Keren Etkin, who is also involved in the Birdhouse vertical: “When you compare the longevity economy’s USD 17 trillion to the financial services market that produced Fintech, you see that the latter is worth about USD 11 trillion. In essence, the longevity market is larger than the one for Fintech.”
The greatest societal challenges for Ageing & Longevity start-ups
For the new vertical accelerator programme, Birdhouse has identified six major societal challenges that start-ups could address. The challenges were defined in collaboration with Dirk Schyvinck and Keren Etkin (TheGerontechnologist, ageing expert from Israel). They relate to six areas: healthy & active ageing, mental & cognitive well-being, mobility & transportation, longer smart independent living & smart residential care, financial well-being and social well-being (neighbourhoods where people can live together longer). Dirk Schyvinck will explain each of these in more detail.
1: Healthy & active ageing
“A longer life expectancy means a greater population of seniors, increasing the pressure on general health and the healthcare system. Healthcare becomes a matter of prevention and personalisation, combining increased self-care and more efficient professional care. The goal is to use technology to offer seniors greater autonomy, make services more efficient and improve convenience. Examples of relevant start-ups include the Dutch Tover and the Walloon Neuropath.”
2: Mental & cognitive well-being
“One of ageing’s major challenges is people’s mental health, not just their physical health. Dementia and other types of cognitive impairment are a massive challenge. Innovation and technology can facilitate more targeted cognitive training or help to prevent damage. Birdhouse alumnus VR Medics is a perfect example of a start-up active in this field.”
3: Mobility & transportation
“Often, everyday objects, and also houses, neighbourhoods and communities, were not designed to accommodate longer-lived residents. As a result, they must deal with obstacles to their mobility, safety, independence and social interaction. There is a great demand for innovative products, programmes and services that people can use to maximise their safety, strength, balance, independence, mobility and means of transportation as they age. Companies active in this area include Braze Mobility and Birdhouse alumnus My Add On.”
4: Longer smart independent living & smart residential care
Recent scientific studies show that staying in your own home for longer can increase life expectancy by a year. While most seniors do prefer to continue living in their own home or environment, a third of people over 65, for example, require assistance with at least one activity of daily living. There is a need for products and services to support them in such activities of daily living in their home environment. Examples: Cubigo and the British Birdie.
5: Social well-being
“Longer lives also mean more people end up living alone for longer. Together, loneliness and social isolation form another of the future’s major challenges. How can we utilise technology to prevent older people from becoming isolated and help them stay meaningfully involved in society? Examples: Birdhouse alumnus Hoplr and the Scandinavian Noisolation.”
6: Financial well-being
“While our life expectancy is increasing, we have not adapted our models of work and retirement to match. To finance longer lifespans, we must provide new opportunities for people to keep working as they age, new models to plan and pay for their care and better ways to combat fraud and scams. Some good examples of related start-ups include SilverBills and My Morpheus.”
Does your start-up want to make a difference to the longevity economy?
In brief, whatever you call it, longer life expectancy, longevity or ageing is a market that offers wonderful innovation opportunities in multiple areas. Birdhouse’s new Ageing & Longevity programme is intended to support such initiatives. Is your start-up active in the longevity economy? Do you want to work towards explosive growth while receiving intensive supervision?