Monday, August 12, 2013

Contest Seeks Innovations To Benefit Aging Population

Ecumen and Mojo Minnesota have teamed up to launch an international contest that seeks innovative products and services to benefit the growing aging population.

by Rebecca Omastiak
August 12, 2013
Local organizations Ecumen and Mojo Minnesota are seeking both high- and low-tech solutions to benefit people as they grow older.

Ecumen—a Shoreview-based nonprofit senior housing and services provider—and Mojo Minnesota—a Minneapolis-based cooperative consisting of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business advisors, and engineers—recently launched their inaugural AgePower Tech Search contest, inviting individuals, startups, and established companies to submit new products and services that are ready to be tested among the senior population.

The two partners said they are looking for functional prototypes that demonstrate a real-world purpose and are positioned for investor interest and commercial success.

“We’re not seeking ‘ideas’ or ‘concepts,’” Ecumen spokesman Eric Schubert told Twin Cities Business. “The submitter must be working to commercialize the technology within the next 12 months with the focus of having a broad, positive impact in life quality, profitability, job creation, and community engagement.”

Ernest Grumbles, co-founder of Mojo, told TCB that “this is not a traditional business plan contest.” Rather, he said, it’s an opportunity for innovators to “road test” their technologies.
After completing a screening process, Ecumen and Mojo plan to select roughly four finalists who will gain access to field-testing and feedback. Test environments include Ecumen’s in-home and clinical care settings, assisted living communities, and physical rehabilitation centers.
Mojo said it will lend its expertise to help finalists actualize their market potential.

In exchange for the resources Ecumen and Mojo offer, the partners receive a small equity stake (Grumbles said the working figure is 3 percent) in the finalists’ products or services.

“This search fits the sweet spots of both organizations in terms of innovation, collaboration, and helping move Minnesota forward,” Schubert said.

Since the contest opened in July, it has received 10 submissions from locations as diverse as Israel and Ireland. Schubert described one submission as a workplace collaboration tool intended to keep track of work flow and documentation among care givers; another submission outlines a community networking platform and search tool to make senior services easier to find, he said.

Products and services for the aging population represent a Minnesota market in which there is a lot of “low hanging fruit,” Grumbles said.

“There’s a whole system devoted to medical and life care in Minnesota,” he added, referencing institutions such as Mayo Clinic. “[The state] is nationally recognized for social support and old age life improvement.”

“The world’s only growing demographic is people 60-plus,” Schubert added. “It’s our country’s fastest-growing population cohort. And Minnesota has so many attributes to lead in this space.”

Using data from a 2012 United Nations report, Ecumen and Mojo said that approximately 900 million people in the world are over the age of 60 and by 2050, that number will have grown to 2.4 billion. Ecumen President and CEO Kathryn Roberts said that growth represents an opportunity to improve the aging population’s quality of life.

Schubert said the contest taps into a need for near-term care solutions for the aging population by linking human ingenuity with technology.

“Our desire is that AgePower helps locate, optimize, and launch products that link with human skill to make lives better and are commercially viable,” Schubert said. “It’s a vehicle for helping open the door to Minnesota as a global hub for innovation for longevity and wellness.”

The AgePower Tech Search contest is open to applicants until October 31. Interested candidates can apply here.

Ecumen, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, owns or manages 55 independent-living and assisted-living communities, as well as 17 health care centers. It operates in 35 cities in Minnesota, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. It reported $138 million in 2012 revenue and employs 3,952—3,800 of whom work in Minnesota.

Last May, Twin Cities Business cited Ecumen as an example of a business that is successfully using mentorship programs. Click here to read the story.

Mojo Minnesota, which was founded in 2010, is a cooperative of 13 individuals that mentors entrepreneurs and garners federal and state support for local startups. 

Wisconsin's med tech community: Driving a brain gain in health care innovation

As home to some of the nation's leading medical imaging and technology companies, Wisconsin is a leader in health care technology, research and development. Ranging from small start-up companies to long-established manufacturers, the state's health care technology sector is developing products that are improving health care delivery and patient lives around the world.

Recently, some of the state's most forward-thinkers in the medical technology sector met with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to discuss the progress and challenges Wisconsin's medical technology community is experiencing. Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, as a colon cancer survivor, has a unique connection to the health care technology sector in Wisconsin and understands the importance of supporting public policies and partnerships that will protect the future of medical technology innovation in the state.

The tremendous amount of knowledge and talent across Wisconsin has helped establish the state as a leader in medical technology. Known as "brain gain" by both leaders in the State House and the health care sector, the value investment that education and medical research brings to the state's economy and job base resonates with government, industry and the public.

A few examples:

* Medical innovation and health care research are valuable drivers of Wisconsin's state's economy, contributing approximately 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, and nearly $9 billion to the state's economy.

* Data just released by the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance named Wisconsin one of the top five states for medical imaging jobs nationwide.

* GE Healthcare alone generates more than $10.4 million in economic activity in-state, on average, every day, and helps support more than 21,000 jobs at GE businesses and at 1,100 supplier sites across Wisconsin.

At the same time, the challenges confronting health care systems are numerous, and identifying ways to improve health care outcomes and contain health care costs is no easy task. Medical innovation is vital to the development of products and processes that will strengthen our health care system. Bold technologies are in development that hold the promise of helping physicians diagnose Alzheimer's Disease, assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment, and increasingly shift the market to more precise diagnostics that will change the way disease is diagnosed and treatments are prescribed. Combined with the power of data analytics and predictive tools that will help health care providers improve efficiency, technology advancements can help save lives and reduce health care costs.

Continued investment in medical innovation and related education is critical to advancing health care and competitiveness. Wisconsin is a leading example of how the medical technology industry as a whole continues to work with state and federal lawmakers to advance policies that support continued medical innovation. On the federal level, bipartisan members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation have been leaders on the Device Tax repeal and other health care technology issues, and they continue to fight for the interests of Wisconsin's medical device community. Within the state, a strong infrastructure of post-secondary public and private universities supports the quest for medical innovation and ensures a robust future pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, technologists and researchers.

Collaboration across Wisconsin's medical technology industry, state and federal lawmakers and academic institutions ensures that states like Wisconsin can help lead the way to the health care solutions of tomorrow and that the health care industry can transform from its current orientation of focusing on "sick care" to delivering better health care to more people more efficiently.

Mike Harsh is the chief technology officer of GE Healthcare.