MISSION 3

To add 5 more high-quality years to later life

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Today there are one billion people in the world aged over 60. By 2050 there will be two billion. By 2100, there will be three billion.

As people are living longer, older people are becoming an increasingly large proportion of the population. Soon we can expect hundreds of millions of people living beyond the age of 100. Most of the time, for most people, being old is a positive experience. On average, older people are the happiest and most satisfied age-group, with satisfaction peaking in the mid-70s. However, whilst most older people are happy with their current situation, they worry about things deteriorating in the future.

They worry about 4 big things affecting their quality of life:

  • Poor health (their biggest concern)

  • Financial insecurity

  • Weak social connections

  • Losing independence

They are right to worry about these things. The average older person will:

  • suffer 7 years of poor health, with long-term conditions that can’t be cured

  • have insufficient income or savings to cover the full 20-40 years of their retirement and the cost of care

  • develop at least one disability which limits their daily functioning

  • struggle with social isolation and/or loneliness

  • endure a poor quality of life and a sharp decline in their life satisfaction in their very old age and/or the last 1-2 years of their life

  • be retired for too long, prematurely losing the stimulation, social network, sense of purpose and income that a job brings

  • face age-discrimination that limits their access to a full-life

We want to add five high-quality years to later life. To achieve this mission we are looking for top entrepreneurial talent to join our nine-month full-time Company Builder Programme, and for a network of experts to support them.

By adopting a mission-led approach, we focus on creatively solving problems which often don’t fit into traditional silos. For example, loneliness causes as much damage to physical health as smoking; losing independence can ruin financial security; poor physical health can lead to social isolation which leads to poor mental health; biological ageing is accelerated by financial insecurity; a strong sense of purpose means someone is much less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s; people with a positive perception of ageing go on to live 7 years longer than those without.

The solutions that our Founders develop will help change what it means to be old, as well as address the diverse needs of older people.

These solutions will not be limited to any particular industry (e.g. financial services, healthcare, transport, entertainment, etc). Nor will they be limited to particular types (e.g. biological, psychological, tech, construction, etc). Instead, Founder’s will unleash their full creativity to imaginatively address people’s needs, drawing on a holistic biopsychosocial approach and a range of industry expertise to find the best solutions, products and services.

There is a huge potential market, which is currently not being well served. Globally, the over-60s spend $15 trillion each year and increasingly control a majority of the disposable income and wealth in the developed world. However, too often their needs are ignored, underserved or badly-designed-for by youth-obsessed businesses and/or unresponsive public services.

In this mission, Founders will develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the common and diverse needs of older people. In designing products and services, they will carefully distinguish between people’s chronological, biological and functional ages. They will address the challenges in a society that perceives and defines old age as beginning at 59 when two-thirds of people even in their 80s and 90s don’t define themselves as old. They will design for each of the different consumer groups identified by the Centre for Ageing Better: the Thriving Boomers; the Struggling-and-Alone; the Downbeat Boomers; the Can-Do-and-Connected; the Worried-and-Disconnected and the Squeezed Late-Middle-Aged.

10 Opportunity Areas

We have identified 10 opportunity areas for this mission. We believe that these are the most important and fertile areas for new products and services. Each of them holds the potential to improve the quality of later life for millions of older people across the developed world. We are inviting Founders to choose which of these areas best match their passions, skills, experience and/or imagination.

1) Assistive technology: Technology has the potential to compensate for any disability. Put simply, tech should be able to address the impediments faced by people with mobility, vision, hearing and communication impairments, or issues with cognition and mood. But in spite of there being a billion people with disabilities, current solutions are often limited to simple monitoring devices and rudimentary assistance. Our Founders will create new solutions that draw on the full range of technologies available: robotics, haptics, neural interfaces, sensors, smart fabrics, autonomous vehicles, computer vision, voice-control and machine learning. They will solve the functional problems faced in each room of the house and they will empower a full life beyond the home through products that replace the ability which has been lost (e.g. seeing, hearing, walking, remembering, lifting, understanding, dressing, etc).

2) Disease prevention: Given that over half of the diseases suffered in old age are potentially avoidable through changes in lifestyle, our Founders will help older people improve their diet, exercise, social relationships and substance use. This will impact on levels of obesity, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression. It will also impact on the Epigenome to influence biological ageing.

3) Longer working lives: Most older people in the developed world retire by their early 60s, leaving too many of them with two or three decades of being under-occupied, under-funded and under-connected. Older people in work have better resilience, mental health, social connectivity, cognitive performance and financial situations. Our Founders will create solutions which enable older people who want to work to work longer. The solutions will include: increasing self-employment and entrepreneurship; retraining opportunities; help to balance work and caring roles; aids to continue working in spite of disabilities and health conditions; new types of jobs (paid and unpaid) which tap into their comparative advantages, in social skills, emotional balance, focus, wisdom and ability to see problems from multiple viewpoints.

4) Neglected health conditions: Too many of the specific health challenges faced by older people are badly served, treated as ‘minor issues’ or just a fact of being older, when in fact they have a major impact on the quality of life for older people. Whilst important in their own right, these ‘minor’ issues can lead to major health issues (e.g. gum disease causing Alzheimer’s) or trigger a vicious circle of losing independence and confidence. Our Founders will create new solutions to address these underserved needs, including: foot health, chronic pain, visual and hearing impairment, arthritis, urinary and faecal incontinence, nutrition, osteoporosis, hydration, oral health, circulation problems and chronic airways disease.

5) Social isolation and loneliness: Isolation and loneliness pose big risks to both mental and physical health, including depression, cardiovascular illness and the likelihood of admission to emergency rooms and care homes. Our Founders will develop new solutions that improve general connectivity, nurture high quality and intimate relationships, enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy, and address the specific needs of the very old where loneliness and isolation are at their highest.

6) Integrated healthcare: Although older people with long term conditions consume the majority of health care services, those services are not designed around their needs. Clinicians are fragmented by specialty (eg by organ), by setting (e.g. hospital), and by short-term intervention (e.g. prescribing an individual tablet). Our Founders will address this disintegration by designing new products and services which join up services for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and condition management around the older person’s needs on a human-centered and longer-term basis, rather than along professional or organisational lines. Their solutions will: empower the older person to direct and manage their healthcare; personalise prescribing; create trans-disciplinary services; transform the quality of life for older people at risk of, or living with, longer-term conditions.

7) Financial services: Too many older people lack an adequate financial solution for their later life. The financial longevity needs of older people are challenging, including for many, the lack of private pensions, inadequate savings, illiquid assets, uncertain life expectancy, risks of high care costs and/or the desire to financially assist children and grandchildren. Existing products (e.g. equity release, annuities, savings plans) are struggling to attract older people. Our Founders will design attractive solutions that help older people plan, manage, release and/or increase their financial resources to ensure that their longevity does not impact on their wellbeing.  

8) Care-givers: Given that the amount of care which older people require from their spouses and families will double in the next decade, our Founders’ solutions will improve the quality and sustainability of how families provide and purchase care. They will design solutions that address the needs of: working women who are also carers; increasing numbers of older people who are childless or disconnected from their children by geography or earlier family breakdowns; broken markets for paid care; people needing suitable housing; those caring for a spouse who are themselves in poor health; care providers struggling to recruit and retain care workers.

9) The Oldest Old: The ‘oldest old’ are the fastest growing age group. Up to half of people over 85 are estimated to be frail, a progressive condition, which increasingly results in balance and gait impairment, extreme fatigue, unexplained weight loss, frequent infections, acute confusion and fluctuating disabilities. 1 in 6 people over 80 suffer from dementia, which often complicates other conditions of the very old, like cancer, heart disease and stroke. Any of these conditions can leave individuals very vulnerable for a period leading up to, and including, the end of life. Our Founders will create new solutions which specifically meet the needs of the ‘oldest old’, maximising their dignity, comfort and stability in their final years of life.

10) Digital Divide: Older people are often excluded from mainstream products and services because they are less likely to use the internet and smart devices. Traditional channels (e.g. shops, bank branches, old media, etc) are being replaced by digitally-enabled solutions. These trends particularly affect people outside major cities. The digital divide could accelerate as important industries are digitally disrupted (e.g. transport). On the other hand, older people are rapidly adopting more digital products and services. Our Founders will build on this trend, and the capabilities of new interfaces like face, audio and sensors, to accelerate the digital inclusion of older consumers. This will be a combination of increasing access to solutions enjoyed by other age groups, as well as creating new solutions that are specifically attractive to and useful for older people.

Inspired?

There are three main ways you can be a part of this Mission: as a Founder, Fellow or Research Fellow.

Founder: Are you a creative, entrepreneurial person who wants to build a brand new business to improve the quality of later life? Join our 9-month, full-time Company Builder Programme in London starting 30th September.

Learn more and apply here.

Fellow: Are you interested in supporting the Founders to build their new business as an expert advisor? Would you like to join our network of experts from academia, entrepreneurship, creative industries, technology, corporates, public services and investment?

Register your interest here.

Research Fellows: Are you an early career researcher looking for a full time research and development role in a new setting? Do you want to use skills and expertise to help shape new solutions and create new knowledge?

Applications are now closed but if you are interested in the role please email research@zinc.vc with the subject line “Research Fellowship Enquiry”.

If you would like to find out more please attend one of our weekly Meet & Greets sessions or contact us on info@zinc.vc. Alternatively we can keep you informed of progress and emerging opportunities via our join us page

We hope you are inspired by this mission. These are ambitious goals, and it will take time to solve all of these problems. However, they are problems that have to be solved, as they have a major impact on the needs of hundreds of millions of people.

As with our other missions (in mental health and places hard-hit by automation and globalisation) we will stick to this mission over many years until we feel that the problems are solved.