Contest Seeks Innovations To Benefit Aging Population
Local organizations Ecumen and Mojo Minnesota are seeking both high- and low-tech solutions to benefit people as they grow older.
Ecumen—a Shoreview-based nonprofit senior housing and services provider—and Mojo Minnesota—a Minneapolis-based cooperative consisting of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business advisors, and engineers—recently launched their inaugural AgePower Tech Search contest, inviting individuals, startups, and established companies to submit new products and services that are ready to be tested among the senior population.
The two partners said they are looking for functional prototypes that demonstrate a real-world purpose and are positioned for investor interest and commercial success.
“We’re not seeking ‘ideas’ or ‘concepts,’” Ecumen spokesman Eric Schubert told Twin Cities Business. “The submitter must be working to commercialize the technology within the next 12 months with the focus of having a broad, positive impact in life quality, profitability, job creation, and community engagement.”
Ernest Grumbles, co-founder of Mojo, told TCB that “this is not a traditional business plan contest.” Rather, he said, it’s an opportunity for innovators to “road test” their technologies.
After completing a screening process, Ecumen and Mojo plan to select roughly four finalists who will gain access to field-testing and feedback. Test environments include Ecumen’s in-home and clinical care settings, assisted living communities, and physical rehabilitation centers.
Mojo said it will lend its expertise to help finalists actualize their market potential.
In exchange for the resources Ecumen and Mojo offer, the partners receive a small equity stake (Grumbles said the working figure is 3 percent) in the finalists’ products or services.
“This search fits the sweet spots of both organizations in terms of innovation, collaboration, and helping move Minnesota forward,” Schubert said.
Since the contest opened in July, it has received 10 submissions from locations as diverse as Israel and Ireland. Schubert described one submission as a workplace collaboration tool intended to keep track of work flow and documentation among care givers; another submission outlines a community networking platform and search tool to make senior services easier to find, he said.
Products and services for the aging population represent a Minnesota market in which there is a lot of “low hanging fruit,” Grumbles said.
“There’s a whole system devoted to medical and life care in Minnesota,” he added, referencing institutions such as Mayo Clinic. “[The state] is nationally recognized for social support and old age life improvement.”
“The world’s only growing demographic is people 60-plus,” Schubert added. “It’s our country’s fastest-growing population cohort. And Minnesota has so many attributes to lead in this space.”
Using data from a 2012 United Nations report, Ecumen and Mojo said that approximately 900 million people in the world are over the age of 60 and by 2050, that number will have grown to 2.4 billion. Ecumen President and CEO Kathryn Roberts said that growth represents an opportunity to improve the aging population’s quality of life.
Schubert said the contest taps into a need for near-term care solutions for the aging population by linking human ingenuity with technology.
“Our desire is that AgePower helps locate, optimize, and launch products that link with human skill to make lives better and are commercially viable,” Schubert said. “It’s a vehicle for helping open the door to Minnesota as a global hub for innovation for longevity and wellness.”
The AgePower Tech Search contest is open to applicants until October 31. Interested candidates can apply here.
Ecumen, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, owns or manages 55 independent-living and assisted-living communities, as well as 17 health care centers. It operates in 35 cities in Minnesota, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. It reported $138 million in 2012 revenue and employs 3,952—3,800 of whom work in Minnesota.
Last May, Twin Cities Business cited Ecumen as an example of a business that is successfully using mentorship programs. Click here to read the story.
Mojo Minnesota, which was founded in 2010, is a cooperative of 13 individuals that mentors entrepreneurs and garners federal and state support for local startups.
To learn more about AgePower, register for Tuesday's launch event, which will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.