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Finding new ways to care for the older people in our lives: Q&A with Techstars’ Jason Towns

5 min
A young woman sits on a couch next to an elderly woman. The two are looking toward each other and smiling.
Photo by Silvia Jansen | Getty Images
When you ask someone, “What do you do?” they’re likely to tell you about the work they do for a paycheck: maybe they’re a teacher, an accountant, or a barista. Some people might mention the work they do to care for their children (“I’m a stay-at-home dad/mom.”).

But few people will immediately volunteer that a large percentage of their time goes to caring for an older family member. And yet, in this country, there are 40 million family caregivers of adults; one in three baby boomer women cares for an elderly parent. It’s critical to recognize this work, and, what’s more, to support it.

Techstars recently launched an accelerator program focused on exactly that, calling for innovative services and tools that can help make things better for older Americans and those who care for them.

Read on for our conversation with the managing director of that accelerator, Jason Towns, and for a list of the companies selected to participate in the inaugural year of the program.

For people who don't spend their days thinking about it, can you help paint a picture of what "senior care," or caring for older adults, encompasses?

Jason Towns: Defining “senior care” can be tough, as it’s an umbrella term for a wide range of services and solutions. Generally, the term encompasses care services for seniors who can no longer safely live independently, often due to health or mobility challenges. Care can be home-based or administered through caregivers employed by senior living communities. Formal caregivers are paid staff, while informal caregivers (often forgotten in these conversations) are often family members and loved ones.
Participating in the care of my grandfather during his final years was one of the most impactful components of my childhood.

What's your personal connection to this topic? 

Towns: Participating in the care of my grandfather during his final years was one of the most impactful components of my childhood. Granddad was one of my heroes, and now getting the opportunity to accelerate innovation that has the potential to improve the lives of older adults and caregivers is exciting to me. I’ve spent most of my career identifying overlooked opportunities in underserved markets and this work falls squarely at that intersection.

What are some of the main ways this pandemic has shifted the unmet needs of individuals providing and receiving senior care? 

Towns: The pandemic has really exacerbated many of the challenges already impacting seniors and many of the companies selected for our 2020 class are addressing these issues head on.

Prior to the pandemic, 43% of older adults reported feeling lonely. The health impacts of social isolation rival that of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Startup Naborforce is combating this huge problem of social isolation and loneliness by providing a platform to connect older adults to their “nabors” in the community, for social engagement and on-demand support for errands, transportation and help around the home.

Additionally, the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on senior living communities. ConnectCareHero, has developed a platform that helps overburdened staff plan and execute activities programming for seniors, while giving families more access to the day-to-day lives of their loved ones. And UpsideHōM is offering an exciting co-living solution for older adults, an alternative to traditional aging in place and senior living options.

Did you notice any commonalities among the founders of the companies you chose to fund?  

Towns: Navigating the selection process through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic provided insight into each team's grit, level of commitment and ability to respond to market change in real time. These were unexpected, but valuable data points. Each founder has some unique insight into how they’ll need to accommodate the impact of the pandemic and how their solution fits into the new normal.

The 10 companies will participate in a 13-week program which will provide resources, mentorship, and training to the entrepreneurs.

  • Braze Mobility: Braze Mobility has developed the world’s first blind spot sensor system that can be attached to any motorized wheelchair, transforming it into a “smart” wheelchair. With Braze Mobility, users can more easily spot obstacles, helping to reduce the risks of injury and wheelchair damage and help users maintain their dignity and independence.

  • Candoo Tech: Candoo Tech provides on-demand tech support and training specifically designed to help older adults stay safe, independent, and connected. The company provides one-off sessions, device setup, and ongoing support for members looking to use technology to connect with family members, attend telehealth appointments, and go online.

  • Naborforce: Naborforce connects a network of community members, “Nabors,” to older adults for assistance with basic tasks and social engagement. These “backup” sons and daughters address the caregiver shortage while also helping combat loneliness.

  • UpsideHōM: UpsideHōM offers the only fully managed, shared living option for older adults to address the problems of loneliness and cost of housing.

  • ConnectCareHero: ConnectCareHero is an activities management platform that enables the teams supporting senior citizens to streamline state-required documentation, keep families easily connected, and provide a place where they can plan curated activities.

  • MemoryWell: MemoryWell is a digital platform that uses storytelling to improve the care of older people. Using its network of professional writers, MemoryWell works with families, senior living communities, and home- and community-based providers to replace intake questionnaires with brief, intimate stories designed to build empathy and be poignant keepsakes for families.

  • Rezilient Health: Rezilient Health's robotic telehealth platform allows physicians to not only provide standard video visits, but also remotely control the positioning of medical devices that are located with the patient at another physician’s office, pharmacy, or nursing home, among other locations.

  • Rubitection: Rubitection is developing a skin health and wellness system to improve detection, assessment, and care management of vascular and dermatological conditions like bed sores and foot ulcers for seniors at home, in nursing homes, or in hospitals.

  • Authored: Authored creates apparel that is thoughtfully engineered with discreet openings that adapt to body needs and limitations. The startup’s clothing promotes and prolongs independence, enables safer dressing, and reduces stigma and injuries.

  • Wysefit: Wysefit is a fitness app created specifically for older people. Taught by certified instructors and health professionals, the app's programs address the needs of people as they age—from stretches to help with arthritis to exercises to build muscle and reduce lower back pain.