Market Wisdom Comes With Age

By Margo Weisz, Partner, City Lights Group

Margo Weisz, Partner, City Lights Group

Nine years ago, Dr. Char Hu, a PhD in molecular physics, was doing research on Alzheimer’s disease when his work became unexpectedly personal. His maternal grandmother was diagnosed with the disease. Armed with the latest research, his family and he felt well equipped to secure the services they desired. But they were left wanting.

"Medical bills create a huge strain on families, and yet, even with significant spending, many people still don’t receive the quality and access to services they desire"

Residential services for those with Alzheimer’s disease were expensive, six to seven thousand a month, while the quality of care appeared meager. Dismayed with the options, Hu’s family decided to open an Alzheimers’ residence to deliver the kind of care they knew people desired. They learned a lot. Employees in the industry were underpaid and burnt out; the work was unpredictable with wild variables, and staff members were rarely provided the training to handle the rigors of the job.

Perhaps most importantly, the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia preferred to stay at home, a more comfortable and affordable option. In fact, 87 percent of adults 65 and older prefer to stay home as they age, despite the varied health situations they face. With a global adult population that is growing three times the rate of the already fast-growing general population, the need for innovation in care is vast.

Aging is something we all have in common. We are doing it longer. We are doing it better. We are saving for it. In fact, in the U.S, the 50+ demographic is over 111 million, far exceeding the number of Gen Xs or Millennials. And, we are growing fast. Over the next decade, the growth of older adults will far outpace any other age demographic.

While the U.S. currently spends more on healthcare than any other country, critical unmet medical, as well as social, needs among older adults persists. Medical bills create a huge strain on families, and yet, even with significant spending, many people still don’t receive the quality and access to services they desire. The extraordinary growth of the aging demographic paired with the considerable margin for increasing efficiencies and adding service equates to an unprecedented market opportunity.

Yet, a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau survey found that while 50 percent of consumer expenditures are made by the 50+ demographic, only 10 percent of advertising dollars are targeted toward this group. People aged 50 and over spend an estimated $7.6 trillion in annual economic activity. The needs and desires of older adults are mighty, and the market opportunity is ripe.

Dr. Char Hu understood the juncture. The prospect of improving the quality of life for older adults, and taking advantage of an open market, led Hu to develop a new technology platform, called Helper Bees, aimed at connecting home care providers who possess the specific expertise to older adults with corresponding care requirements.

The current homecare model provides low wage jobs to workers and doesn’t differentiate between caregivers with specialized training and those without. Not surprisingly, turnover is high and people using the service receive a myriad of different providers with differing levels of experience. The result is low-quality care.

Hu’s platform allows caregivers and receivers to choose each other based on training, experience, and even personality and interests. Caregivers can manage their own jobs and charge for their services based on their skill level. For example, a caregiver that has training in Alzheimer’s, or diabetes management, can charge a fee commensurate with their expertise.

Helper Bees serves as a broker, much like Airbnb, for caregivers and families. Hu’s platform allows users to provide ongoing information to the community. Beyond background checks, which are done by Helper Bees, the platform allows for public reviews, which Hu believes has created a culture change around accountability and the quality of care.

New technology innovations, such as Helper Bees, are finding a fertile environment and client base. With a goal to stay healthy, independent and integrated into community life, older adults are utilizing an array of new technologies to meet their needs – outside of an institutional environment. Trends toward living well, and living longer have begun to spark advancements in an array of innovations that support independence across every facet of life, including housing, transportation, and social engagement. Trends in healthcare such as activity monitoring, medication compliance, readmission reduction, and caregiving, focus on the primacy of independence.

Rarely in the economic landscape is a market so ripe for opportunity. In addressing the needs and desires of older adults there is a large and growing market, a multitude of efficiencies to be employed, and a great demand for services in every facet of life. Additionally, there is a concentration of asset wealth waiting to be spent. Perfect conditions. Market wisdom comes with age.

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