Brookdale’s recently launched Entrepreneur in Residence program, part of the company’s “Rewiring Aging” initiative, is giving entrepreneurs the chance to live among senior living residents for five days, to encourage innovation that could improve the lives of the aging.
“The majority of start-ups focus on younger markets, but we have seen a growing number of entrepreneurs interested in building solutions for seniors and their families,” said Andrew Smith, Brookdale’s director of strategy and innovation. “The 80-and-above age group is America’s fastest-growing population. We believe there’s an enormous opportunity to enhance seniors’ lives with new technologies, services, products and business models. This program gives entrepreneurs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we hope will inspire even more innovation for the aging.”
Thirty-year-old Mike Eidsaune was the first to take part in the program, exercising, participating, socializing, dining and turning in each evening among people five decades his senior at Brookdale Kettering in Dayton, Ohio. Eidsaune is president and co-founder of the startup Carely Caregiving App (formerly called CareMonster), an app that helps families manage caregiving for an aging loved one.
“This opportunity helped me understand the residents’ needs in a way that would simply not be possible otherwise,” Eidsaune said. “Entrepreneurs design based on their own experience, and so if they are just coming out of college or graduated recently, they generally aren’t thinking about the needs of the aging. This initiative is a great example of a program that can give this perspective and inspire more start-ups to devote their energies to seniors.”
Clothing designer Brenda Wilton, whose company Narrative Apparel designs stylish clothing for those who face physical challenges getting dressed, spent her Entrepreneur in Residence experience at Brookdale Greenville in South Carolina. Her goal was to learn more from the residents about their apparel interests and observe how they and caregiving associates handle and manage clothing.
“The residents and associates were so welcoming,” Wilton said. “They invited me into their closets and shared with me some of the personal struggles they have with regular clothing. As much as I have researched previously, this experience was invaluable to my clothing line moving forward. We all deserve the opportunity to dress with independence and dignity, without pain, frustration and limited clothing options. I want to make that happen for seniors.”
Other entrepreneurs and companies that have participated in the program to date include U.K.-based Haystack Dryers, which invented a body-drying cabin that has become a standard feature at amusement and water parks around the world. The company now is exploring offering a similar but smaller wall-mounted device, called the Care Dryer, to the senior living industry to make bathing more comfortable and dignified for people with a variety of physical conditions. Canadian-based 3Scape Systems, another participant, is researching whether dimensional immersive video therapy can ease depression and anxiety among the aging.
“The Entrepreneur in Residence program may encourage innovation for seniors, but it is also enriching for our residents,” Smith said. “They welcome the opportunity to give feedback and recommendations on services and products that could help improve their own lives and the lives of the aging everywhere.”