To help them move forward, the Province of Noord-Brabant, on behalf of the European Coral network and Brabant Region of Smart Health brought five developers together with market experts at the AAL Forum on 23 September 2015 in Ghent under the motto: ‘Show and tell!’.
Motivating end users
Smart Health tools can be of enormous support to elderly people to help them cope well at home. Think of apps that remind them when to take their medication, alarms of various kinds and tablet-based memory training. To successfully market these it is essential that the product really meets the needs of the end-user. Experience has revealed that this can be pretty complicated to achieve. ICT products quickly become too complicated for elderly people or arouse digital technology phobia. In Ghent, during a session with experts from the Coral areas Southern Denmark, Eastern Sweden, Slovenia and Liverpool, the discussion centred on how to motivate seniors to start using a smart health product before the group moved on to answering the question ‘how do we scale up for the market?’.
Pleasure instead of health
An important observation from all the experts in the room was that a product should definitely not be perceivable as stigmatising. No one likes to be branded ‘ill’ or ‘in need of care’. A ceiling detector that sounds the alarm if you fall over is therefore preferable to a visible alarm button around your neck. In other words, dtop a product being perceived as a health-item. The emphasis should be on its contribution to a pleasant life, ease and enjoyment. A smartphone primarily appeals because you can easily send messages and pictures to family, yet it can also be used for care functions.
A product should also be simple to operate so that older people don’t get put off. Ensure that is has an appealing, clear design, is sufficiently large, with few ‘buttons’ and low speeds. Learning to use a product should also be easy and preferably fun. In Sweden, seniors were taught to use tablets at a cosy iPad café. That worked really well, as was explained by a number of those present.
Max was 85 when he got a smartphone, the GoLivePhone. “Just to test it. I’m not going to use it mind you, because I still have a landline.” A year down the line, he and his mobile phone are inseparable. For all his contacts with family, but also to remind him to take his medicine and because there’s an alarm on it.
Learning from grandchildren
A good approach is to use the ties between seniors and their grandchildren. The frown when an 87-year old father has to start using a tablet usually originates with their 60-year old son or daughter who often has little experience with digital technology themselves. The younger generation has no hang ups, is digitally adept and is only too happy to explain things to their grandparents. The latter will be extra motivated if they can use WhatsApp or Facebook to stay in touch with their grandchildren.
Using impact investors to scale up
|If an innovative product is entirely end user-proof it is time to scale up production with a view to reaching a large audience. This requires input from investors and financiers, however this group has, so far, not gotten on board much, states Mariëlle Swinkels, the Province of Noord-Brabant’s strategic advisor during a brief presentation. “We also need a new type of investor: impact investors. These not only look at the immediate financial yield, but also at the social and societal benefits such as quality of life for care receivers, reduced care costs and new jobs. It’s a more comprehensive way of looking at things.”
In order to attract impact investors it is important for entrepreneurs and their innovative products to exit the wings and be seen. Five of them were given the opportunity to do so at the conference. They introduced their products during short pitches, explained the advantages, the price and which market they wish to conquer. A panel of four experts in the field of user-friendliness, care investment, marketing and company perspectives provided instantaneous feedback.
Unique selling point
The panel questioned the entrepreneurs as to their product’s unique selling point that has to be absolutely clear. Products often start to seem similar. For instance, multiple vendors now offer a simplified interface for smartphones. Demonstrate why your product is unique, was the panel’s recommendation. They simultaneously pointed out the opportunities for cooperation with other entrepreneurs. A product may possibly be able to combine multiple functionalities thereby becoming better. Or target markets other than care e.g. the wellness market. Seek out other entrepreneurs to study the options.
The panel was strict about product pricing. The price can easily become too high to appeal to a truly large market. Outsource production to somewhere where it can be done cheaper and personally concentrate on other matters, was the panel’s advice. And hurry to market your innovation, because your competitors are fast.
Finally, keep an eye on the people around the end user i.e. the care professionals and family, as they are an important factor when it comes to purchasing a product or not. Convince them of the advantages too.
The five entrepreneurs were primarily looking for a way to take the next step. This not only involves more funds, but also acquiring knowledge and expertise about how (foreign) markets work, which channels they could go through to market the product, how you reach those and which marketing works as well as increasing the company’s capacity to work on this.
The prize awarded at the end of the session on behalf of Coral for ‘Excellent Smart Health Innovation’ focused on the same need as it consisted of a cheque for support from some ‘old hands in investment and marketing’. After a brief round of speed dating with the entrepreneurs, the panel and the audience awarded the prize to Frank Verbeek of Gociety Solutions for the GoLivePhone. This smartphone offers a large number of care functions to users in a low-threshold manner including an alarm, fall detection, activity monitoring, navigation and diary management, alongside making calls and using the Internet.
Award winner Verbeek thanked the organisers on behalf of the five entrepreneurs for the opportunity ‘to make some noise’ for their products in front of the participating researchers, users, entrepreneurs, care institutions and investors. Host Henri Swinkels, Member of the Provincial Executive for Quality of Life and Culture of the Province of Noord-Brabant gladly accepted the thanks. “We enjoy providing space for innovative ideas. There are a large number of care and senior-citizens’ organisations in our province and that makes this a wonderful environment to make new contacts in. Hopefully, what came about here can also be translated to other European regions.”
Swinkels indicated that there will be other opportunities ‘to make some noise’. In any case on 21 October 2015 during the next international impact session that will be held during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Entrepreneurs with other innovative smart health products will explore the opportunities presented by the Chinese market. Millions more users who also wish to live independently at home for as long as possible.
The products pitched:
1. Bestic AB: an easy to operate robot arm that enables people to eat independently by Catharina Borgenstierna (Sweden), www.besticinc.com
2. GoLivePhone: a smartphone suitable for seniors by Frank Verbeek (The Netherlands), www.gocietysolutions.com
3. Fearless System: a ceiling detector that sounds the alarm if someone falls; the camera images are anonymised by Michael Brandstötter (Austria), www.cogvis.at
4. Obli: a holder for a bottle or carafe that uses sounds and coloured lights to remind people to drink enough by Wil Philipsen (The Netherlands), www.obli.info
5. De Compaan: a wood-framed tablet that is easy for the elderly to use and comes with helpdesk support by Joost Hermanns (The Netherlands), www.uwcompaan.nl