Tech startups focus on caregiver needs
Want to learn how a loved one or patient with macular degeneration sees the world, or what navigating the day is like for someone with dementia?
Then you might want to try the virtual reality (VR) simulations created by Embodied Labs to help you experience key problems and issues facing older adults and their caregivers.
With the software and a VR headset, family members, caregivers and healthcare professionals can come to better understand a patient’s perspective.
The company recently placed first in a national AARP “Grand Pitch Competition” for startup companies to showcase their innovative products and services for older adults, winning $5,000.
All the competing companies offer “intergenerational solutions for health, wealth and self,” according to AARP spokesperson Tara Dunion. “These companies won regional competitions and earned a spot for the grand finale here in D.C.”
Embodied Labs founder Carrie Shaw was thrilled with the win. “What an honor and great signal that the work we are doing for caregiver education and training is resonating with the community,” she said.
The judging system for AARP Innovation Labs’ 2018 Grand Pitch Finale was unique, with the audience of about 500 attendees voting based on their interactions with and observations of the presenters. The audience “was by invitation only and included a mix of local technology executives, industry influencers, and the local entrepreneur community,” said Dunion.
Innovation for older adults
AARP opened its Innovation Labs last year. It aims to engage startups throughout the country to identify challenges and transform the market for older adults. This year’s grand pitch event was the culmination of a competition that generated hundreds of entries nationwide.
Shaw heard about a regional pitch event from Mary Furlong, founder of the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit and Business Competition, where Embodied Labs also presented. “I attended her summit and pitched in the regional event alongside four other regional finalists,” Shaw said. Embodied Labs placed first there and was invited to the D.C. finals.
For Shaw, the grand finale event was an excellent opportunity to network with other companies “working across different facets of aging care.” She describes meeting “academics that had immersive technology programs at their institutions, folks from United Healthcare, a lawyer who works as a patent officer for the U.S. Government, and business owners who operate home care and senior housing organizations.” There were also potential investors among the audience.
For the actual pitch, Shaw drew on her personal experience as a millennial caregiver for her mother, who had early Alzheimer’s.
“I think most products [being developed today] have helped elders, but few products have been geared towards caregivers,” she said. Her company’s technology is specifically designed to help caregivers and healthcare professionals become more effective through the immersive experience of virtual reality.
“With VR you can transport yourself into the perspective of another, embodying what it is like to be an age, race, culture or gender different than your own,” Shaw continued. “We help caregivers understand the perspectives of those they are caring for, as well as give them an opportunity to role-play difficult scenarios in VR before encountering them in real life.”
Embodied Labs offers a subscription-based service with regular updates and new simulations. Among the simulations currently available are ones for vision and hearing loss, progressing through Alzheimer’s disease, and being a cancer patient.
The company hasn’t announced plans to expand for next year yet, but Shaw says she’s “looking forward to doing so soon,” so there may be big changes.
Connecting caregivers with tech
Tech UR Elders, a service that recommends technology that can help make a caregiver’s job easier, placed second in the event. Founder Renee King is another millennial caregiver, who has taken care of both her mom with ALS and alcoholic father for the past two years.
After her mom collapsed from cardiac arrest, King’s life changed drastically, she said. Her days were filled with doctor’s appointments, lawyer meetings, managing the family finances, grocery runs, and more.
It was more than a little overwhelming at times. “It is easy during tough times like this to just wallow in self-pity,” King notes on her website. “I did that, and I still do at times. But now I prefer to wallow in solutions — technology solutions!”
Tech UR Elder is a website that matches users with the right caregiving technology to help make their job easier and more effective.
As second place winner, Tech UR Elder was awarded $3,000. More than just money though, the awards offer winners the chance to collaborate with AARP’s Innovations Lab and benefit from the organization’s influence and scope.
In third place was Zogo Finance, a new mobile banking app that aims to improve the financial relationship between parents and teens. The startup won $2,000.
Co-founders Bolun Li and Simran Singh are young students who met at Duke University. They created Zogo together with students David Neyhart and Varun Nair, who combined their expertise in entrepreneurship, engineering and finance to invent the technology.
Through the app, parents can automate a teen’s allowance, set up tasks to reward them, and provide funds in the form of a regularly scheduled paycheck.
“And teens have to complete certain exercises, such as reflection on previous purchases and learning knowledge, in order to get that allowance,” explained Li. There is no cost associated with using the app.
At first glance, the app may not seem as relevant for the older generation, but “seniors give money to teenagers all the time,” he said. “Zogo is a tool to help [people] not only transfer money, but also transfer financial knowledge and habits to their teenagers, and from the result of the competition, I think the seniors really resonate with our mission.”
Li attributes his team’s youth and innovation with setting them apart. “When most of the other pitches are about services specifically for senior caregiving, we are the only one that offers a solution to connect seniors with the next generation,” he said. It’s an excellent learning tool for seniors to use with their grandchildren, he added.
The app is currently available only to select schools in North Carolina, though Zogo is accepting users for its waitlist. Li said Zogo will be available in this area in January to lower-income youth through the company’s partnership with D.C.-based America Saves.
“It’s a great stepping stone for us to continue conversation with AARP on potentially working together,” said Li.
The other five startups who won at their regional pitches and competed in D.C. include:
- Loop, a family communication device that allows people to share video and photos, and video chat (joinloop.com).
- Mobile Serve, a website and app designed to help organizations of all types and sizes track, manage and report their social impact (mobileserve.com).
- My Wound Doctor, a website that provides caregivers and patients with clinical wound care treatment protocols and personalized supplies (mywounddoctor.com).
- OhmniLabs builds motorized robots with two-way communication that can be remotely adjusted to allow family members and healthcare professionals to communicate with patients anywhere (ohmnilabs.com).
- VoxeLight Sunscreenr, a special viewer that shows you missed a spot when applying sunscreen or when you need to reapply it (sunscreenr.com).