Millennials already have their apps — now VCs want tech for people over 50

Key Points
  • Boomers and seniors represent more than $5 trillion in annual spending.
  • DCM, GE Ventures, Intel Capital, Pfizer, Ziegler Link-Age and other venture funds are looking to invest in tech for older populations.
  • Boomer Venture Summit connects founders and funders looking to serve customers over 50.

Tech conferences and pitch competitions typically feature apps and hardware made for millennials, who make up the largest generation. But the design of these products usually fails to meet the needs of an even larger total population: Boomers and seniors.

On Thursday, venture capitalists flocked to a conference and pitch competition called the Boomer Venture Summit in Berkeley, California, to see technologies built to serve this aging population.

The pitch competition is one of the few that matter to institutional investors. And no wonder, given that people over 50 make up 35 percent of the population and represent 53 percent of all consumer spending, which amounts to more than $5 trillion in the U.S. every year, according to the AARP.

"The number of applications we received from start-ups more than doubled over the past year," according to one of the event's co-producers, Michael Skaff, a CIO with the Jewish Senior Living Group. "That's an indication that people are waking up to the needs and size of this market here in the states and in China, which has a massive Boomer population, too."

The summit has spawned some companies that have had both financial success and societal impact, such as PetPlan, a pet insurance provider that does more than $100 million a year in revenue, and PuraCath, a medical device that reduces infections that result from kidney dialysis.

This year, a startup called BaroStitch won the $10,000 cash prize for early-stage startups. The company has developed a medical device that can help heal arteries after heart surgeries that are common among seniors. BaroStitch was founded at Stanford's Biodesign department by Chirag Chauhan, Katie Blevins, Eric Kramer and Vivian de Ruijter.

Other finalists included Quikiks, makers of "hands-free" shoes, and Geneticure, a company that helps physicians find effective treatments for their patients' medical issues based on a patient's genetics.

Among applicants, Skaff said, judges saw machine learning and A.I. being used to solve problems for seniors, like predicting and preventing falls, or finding transportation options. Tech start-ups are developing more specific medical devices than in previous years, he said. That includes devices to treat everything from hypertension and arthritis to more niche health issues.

Investors and executives judging the competition also saw an uptick in the number of mobile apps and services aimed at helping seniors live independently longer, or to improve the quality of their lives in senior living centers, according to the event's creator, Mary Furlong.

Judges for the Boomer Venture pitch competition included a wide range of corporate and venture funds, indicating plenty of interest, and available capital, for startups making tech for the over-50 market. DCM, GE Ventures, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and Ziegler Link-Age were among the pitch judges, while Toyota Research Institute and Intel Capital also met with start-ups in a "speed-dealing" session to match founders with funders.