Startup Studio Alive Ventures Raises $12M to Advance Good Design for Seniors
Leslie Ignacio is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is a recent California State University, Northridge graduate and previously worked for El Nuevo Sol, Telemundo and NBC and was named a Chips Quinn Scholar in 2019. As a bilingual journalist, she focuses on covering diversity in news. She's a Los Angeles native who enjoys trips to Disneyland in her free time.
Startup Studio Alive Ventures raised $12 million to fund entrepreneurs designing products for a graying population and it's enlisting the help of people like famed Apple designer Don Norman to rethink the golden years.
Seniors have often been an afterthought for designers, who often focus their products on youth. But the growing spending power of Baby Boomers, along with their more active lifestyles and longer lives have altered how entrepreneurs are viewing those in their retirement years.
"Most startups and corporations purporting to serve older people are really solving for someone else's ideas of what seniors want — what doctors think older adults ought to use or what caregivers wish older people would do," said Alive Ventures founder John Zapolski. "We created Alive Ventures to invent the kinds of products and services older adults told us they want for themselves."
Long Beach-based The SCAN Foundation, a charity that seeks to improve services and healthcare for the elderly, funded the startup studio, which worked in its incubation program for 18 months.
Norman, an octogenarian who helped coin the term "user experience," is featured on Alive's YouTube series "Old People Are Cool, Design for Them Sucks."
"Why do we have such ugly stuff, that doesn't really completely fit the need for the elderly — and we have such beautiful stuff for people who are younger?," Norman asks. "I think the answer is that the market perceives, the businesses perceive the elderly as a niche market."
Old People are Cool, Design for Them Sucks - with Don Norman, John Zapolski and Ayse Birsel.
Norman points to the importance of diminishing stigmas behind designing products only for the elderly and creating products that work for people of all ages. He argues the change has to come from those in management positions, by showing them the profit that can result from it.
There are 55 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2030, Baby Boomers — who will all be over that age — are projected to outnumber children, according to the Census Bureau.
Alive Ventures hosts a series of workshops across the U.S. where it recruits older people to help figure out what design works for different products and play a role in their development.
And it wants companies to pay attention.
"Part of the reason why I'm an entrepreneur is because I think it's really hard to change big existing companies from the inside. It's actually easier to create a whole new model and put pressure on those existing models from the outside," Zapolski said in the YouTube series.
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Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.