- By John Koopman
Mom’s still living at home, but she’s getting older and you can’t be there to check in on her every day. Peace of mind would come from having a professional check in on her. There’s an app for that.
Dad’s got dementia, and his mind is slipping. You could slow that and give him a better quality of life by bringing specially programmed music and singing into his life. There’s an app for that, too.
Companies offering those two technologies were chosen from 10 health tech startups competing in Sunnyvale, Calif., in a Shark Tank-style event sponsored by AARP. The AARP [email protected]+ Live Pitch featured four venture capitalists and an audience of several hundred who considered each entry’s technologies, ranking them on whether they are unique, how much of a need there is for the product and would they refer the company to a family or friend. All of the inventions focused on caregiving.
Penrose Senior Care Auditors of Dallas, Texas, took the venture capitalist judges award for Penrose Check-Ins, its system of app and proprietary technologies that combine with home visits by auditors. The auditors check a proscribed list related to the family member’s well-being.
The Medivizor app reduces the clutter and misinformation seniors often get when they turn to Dr. Google for help, its creator said.
The audience favorite was Los Angeles-based SingFit, which Next Avenue has written about. The company’s app and music software stimulates the minds of dementia patients and helps caregivers provide a better body-mind workout.
The winners received plaques from AARP, but the real prize comes with exposure gained through the contest. The companies get media coverage (such as this article), a chance to meet with AARP management and five hours of AARP Innovation team mentorship.
“We were very impressed with our finalists this year, and how their businesses will improve the lives of caregivers and those they care for,” said Jody Holtzman, senior vice president, Enterprise Strategy and Innovation, AARP.
Turning Ideas into Action
All the presentations aimed at making life easier for either the aging patients or their caregivers, or both. The explosive growth of Silicon Valley and the race for new and better technologies for health care issues is driven by an ever-aging population and an understanding that caring for the elderly is no easy task.
Each presenter indicated that he or she got into the business after caring for a loved one or watching a family member go through a difficult time.
“When my father was in care, I found things didn’t get done,” said Penrose CEO Rhonda Harper. So she helped create a company that would ease the worried mind of the caregiver, whoever that may be.
The other winner, SingFit, is all about improving the lives of dementia patients, who are among the most challenging for caregivers. Rachel Francine, SingFit CEO, said music and song can elevate the mood of a patient and improve speech.
The youngest presenter, 17-year-old Kenneth Shinozuka, created a wearable sensor designed to help older people avoid falling, or to summon help if they do fall. “I knew I wanted to use technology to solve problems,” he said.
Facing the Money Questions
The presenters were questioned by a panel of four venture capital judges from Comcast Ventures, GE Ventures, Johnson & Johnson and JP Morgan Asset Management. Much of the discussion, not surprisingly, concerned business models and revenue possibilities.
Some used “freemium” type apps, others followed subscription models and others sought to make money licensing their products through healthcare agencies or institutions.
The other competitors were:
- Cake. CEO Suelin Chen said her Boston-based company’s app helps users make end-of-life choices and leave behind sufficient documentation to avoid problems. The patient creates an online profile and can determine who can see which information, giving him or her more control over health care decisions.
- Medivizor. The Israel-based company develops a profile of each user and then tailors information and news related to his or her health needs. The app reduces the clutter and misinformation older patients often get when they turn to Dr. Google for help with medical questions. CEO Tal Givoly said the system improves itself with time as patients indicate which information is relevant to them.
- Picnic Health of San Francisco aims to help users gather and collect all medical records from all sources, keep them in one place and coordinate among health care providers. CEO Noga Levinen said the system shows a timeline of a patient’s health care, including all available reports and images, such as CT scans.
- Savor Health. This New York-based company uses an app to help design healthy eating plans for cancer patients. Depending on the patient’s needs, the app can simply suggest menus or can provide a detailed health plan and food delivery. CEO Susan Bratton said the company would branch out into developing meals and menu plans for patients with other serious illnesses in the future.
- SeniorHabitat of New York provides unbiased reviews and information regarding senior care facilities and helps schedule tours for patients and caregivers. The idea is to help prospective residents make better decisions on facilities to keep down the cost and stress of being in a home or having to move multiple times. CEO Melissa Louie said her company is the Match.com for people seeking senior living.
- SensaRX of New York developed the “Safe Wander” button sensor. The small, slim and unobtrusive button fastens to a patient’s clothing. Sensors detect movement and can transmit information to a caregiver’s smartphone. CEO Kenneth Shinozuka said the technology is designed to reveal health issues, such as faltering steps, early on to help prevent falls.
- UnaliWear. This Austin, Texas,-based company makes a watch that acts like a medical-alert device but looks like, well, a wristwatch. It can give the wearer directions and medication reminders, as well as contact family members or authorities in case of emergency.
- Well Beyond Care of Austin, Texas, is a site that links patients and caregivers with an experienced nurse who can train and guide online. Chief Nursing Officer Lauren Tarrant said the site helps match caregivers to patients with specific requests, such as language or background.