2012-07-19 07:05:00

Silicon Valley Closing in on $2.6 Trillion Baby Boom Market

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--People would usually relate products for elders to equipment designed for people with disabilities. However, this is a misconception. Today’s products for the senior market include technologies and services that could improve seniors’ mobility, develop closer connections with their family and social networks, and enhance their physical and mental health.

Many entrepreneurs and marketers believe that the burgeoning baby boomer market is creating a huge business opportunity. Speakers at a recent business conference at Santa Clara University (SCU) said the aging of population is a global issue. Industry analysts suggested that the market for products and services for aging boomer has been flourishing. If the market innovates more technologies to help improving elders mobility and independence, it can lessen the society’s burden.

Market Still in Initial Stages

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the boomer and older generations now represent a $2.6 trillion annual market. However, many enterprises are not aware of the huge business opportunity because the market for mature adults is still at its initial stage with the huge boomer generation only beginning to reach their retirement years.

Most people associate Silicon Valley with the rapid growth of semiconductors and IT technology, the expansion of the biomedicine, the spread of solar-energy and the growth of Internet 2.0.

More recently, though, a combination of semiconductor technology and biomedical techniques has brought the eldercare-device industry into the 21st century, including innovative new equipment for improving seniors’ mobility and flexibility.

Those high-tech developments and other creative products and services are becoming increasingly important not only for today’s elders, but also for their adult children—the huge generation of aging baby boomers—78 million in the United States. And the world of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are increasingly recognizing those opportunities.

For instance, Marc Yi, managing director of Intel Capital—the investment division inside the computer chip corporation—recently noted that he and other venture capitalists are closely analyzing the boomer market.

Speaking in an onstage interview at the Ninth Annual Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit cosponsored by SCU’s Leavey School of Business in June, he noted that although Intel is not developing microchips for any given age group, it is not lost on the company that one in three Facebook users is 50-plus—a total of four million boomer and seniors with Facebook pages.

Yi cited Intel Capital’s commitment earlier this year of $100 million the company will invest through its Connected Car Fund. Over the coming four or five years, the global program will sponsor developments in automotive hardware, software and services companies creating new in-vehicle applications that can link vehicles and any connected device, including mobile devices and sensors that can, for instance, minimize hazards—including for seniors or people with disabilities.

In an interview, Yi observed that Japan and other countries have already started investing in the burgeoning boomer market. However, the United States still can find opportunities for innovation in the global senior market.

From Designer Canes to Arthritis Solution

Besides venture capitalists like Yi, the Boomer Venture Summit attracted over 200 entrepreneurs, marketers and experts in aging. Among them five finalists presented their business plans in the conference’s $10,000 business plan competition.

Among many innovative products presented at this year’s summit were the colorful new designer canes by Ohmu; MyWonderfulLife.com, a website for personalizing funerals; and Rota Mobility’s power-saving wheelchairs.

The Business Plan Competition is the highlight of every year’s summit. Some of the nation’s most promising entrepreneurs and marketers compete, and finalists present their innovative products on stage before a panel of investors and experts.

This year’s $10,000 winner is Hylomimetics. Working with Purdue University, Hylomimetics developed a new class of “kinetic orthotics products,” a non-surgical way to provide therapeutic rehabilitation for people with severe osteoarthritis--enabling many to avoid the need for wheelchairs—and to walk independently.

Sugar Wang wrote this article as part of a Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Journalism Fellowship, a collaboration of New America Media and Mary Furlong & Associates. This story is translated and adapted from the original Chinese.

Proud Partners