Kai Stinchcombe's start-up True Link Financial is on a mission to protect seniors. After seeing his grandmother with dementia struggle to manage money, Stinchcombe knew he wanted to help seniors prevent being scammed. So the company developed a highly customizable prepaid debit card for older adults, which family members can use to block certain purchases or limit spending.
To fuel True Link, Stinchcombe also realized that he needed something else: help navigating the byzantine senior-care niche.
So True Link joined a yearlong program hosted by the tech accelerator Aging 2.0, whose mission is to transform senior care and aging. The accelerator helped True Link tap into a wider, deeper network of investors, customers and mentors to light their path.
"Aging 2.0 has put up a flag for everyone," said Stinchcombe, 32. "If you're out there on your own, you'll only be meeting contacts one at a time. Only a few of those contacts may work." However, he added, being part of a start-up community means sharing information that can speed connections.
The tech accelerator has aggressively been helping start-ups like True Link find the tools they need to survive and thrive in an industry that's slow to innovate. It helped True Link attract companies such as Cambia Health Solutions, a nonprofit organization focused on creating and investing in innovations designed to serve the changing needs of individuals and families when it comes to health care.
Aging 2.0, which was started just two years ago, has already pushed 31 early-stage companies through its one-year program pipeline. It has attracted investors and corporate partners for its start-ups, including senior residence operator Brookdale Senior Living and medical supplier Medline Industries.
Besides transforming senior care, which many say desperately needs a makeover, the payoff is also potentially huge. The so-called longevity economy, which serves the needs of Americans over 50, is currently a $7.1 trillion market and composes 46 percent of the U.S. economy, according to Oxford Economics. As baby boomers age, the niche is forecasted to grow to more than $13.5 trillion by 2032.
"What we're saying is that there's all this potential," said Stephen Johnston, co-founder of Aging 2.0 and a former executive in the mobile industry. "And the market isn't delivering innovation. So we've found great companies and brought them together."
Besides a web of contacts, the accelerator also takes a 5 percent to 7 percent equity stake in the start-ups.
And so far, Aging 2.0 is working with a slew of companies who share equally transformative goals. They range from home-care services and wearable devices to transportation and financial services.
Lift Hero, for example, connects seniors with friendly, reliable drivers — many of whom are medical professionals — who have their own cars. Lively's medical alert watch is a fashionable wearable that can act as an emergency alert or even medication reminder. CareLinx is an online caregiver marketplace that's quickly gaining traction, said Johnston, by helping families find, hire, manage and pay caregivers in a highly fragmented, costly industry. And Caremerge connects caregivers, patients and families online or through mobile devices and helps them make better informed decisions.
"Seniors will need quite a range of services," said Laurie Orlov, founder of the market research site Aging in Place Technology Watch. "And some of them will be tech-enabled."
Home care needs to be the most disrupted niche, she added. "Baby boomers don't want to move into assisted living facilities and can't afford it, anyway," she explained.
So Silicon Valley's most famous venture capitalists are already betting on the aging niche, especially home-care giving. Marc Andreessen, Netscape co-founder and partner at Andreessen Horowitz, is backing the online caregiving marketplace Honor, for example. He's invested $15 million in the company that sends workers to seniors' homes to help them with tasks ranging from eating and cleaning to caring for complex medical conditions.
Aging 2.0 start-ups have their own star backers, too. Mitch Kapor, the Lotus founder who now has a venture capital firm called Kapor Capital, is backing True Link. Though he declined to give the exact investment, Kapor said that most of his seed investments are in the $100,000 to $250,000 range. He's also a member of True Link's board. "Our investments focus on companies that can have positive social impact," he said. They're mainly in underserved populations, he explained, but can also include groups like seniors, whose interests aren't well served.
Accelerators like Aging 2.0, he added, can help speed the innovation curve.
The wearable technology start-up Smartstones also turned to Aging 2.0 for accelerator help. Smartstones, about the size of a river rock, are packed with sensors that can communicate messages through taps or swipes that can help people with disabilities communicate better. The start-up wanted to be part of the Aging 2.0 community to connect with more customers, said Andreas Forsland, founder of Smartstones. Aging 2.0 helped Smartstones connect with key distributors, influencers and customers, he said.
"The aging market is very complicated," he continued. "And there's a lot of government regulation on XYZ. But Aging 2.0 helped with understanding the market." Forsland said that transforming senior care is challenging. "There's a lot of complacency," he explained. "And the attitude is that if it isn't broken, don't fix it."
Future seniors will be more demanding about senior care, Forsland said, adding that if care facilities don't try to be more innovative, their pipeline will dry up.
—By Constance Gustke, special to CNBC.com
This story has been updated to reflect that Cambia Health Solutions is a nonprofit organization focused on creating and investing in innovations designed to serve the changing needs of individuals and families when it comes to health care.