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.