In Utah’s booming startup community, ideas percolate and bubble to the surface daily. And many of those ideas come from recent college grads or those just a little older, and are frequently targeted to the younger set.
As tech products flood the entrepreneurial sphere of the state — even spilling over national and international borders — one of the latest hot trends is the Internet of Things, or (IoT). Simply put, IoT describes everyday objects that have internet connectivity to other things, and the ability to send and receive data. In high tech circles, IoT is lauded as one of the most scalable market segments of the tech industry.
While early IoT items — think Fitbit or Owlet Baby Care – might appeal to younger audiences, IoT has a huge potential to become vital to the Baby Boomer set. Jim Dunn, CEO of Bask in Lehi, will even go so far as to say that, in the world of IoT, the 50+ market is “surprisingly overlooked.”
This is despite the fact that “the 50+ community is responsible for over $7.1 trillion in annual economic spending. At 111 million strong, the 50+ demographic is the number one consumer-age demographic in the United States, far exceeding Generation X's 61 million and the Millennials 75 million. In fact, Boomers and older Americans own 63 percent of all American financial assets,” Dunn said.
Additionally, more seniors are opting to “age in place” and are in need of the tools and technology to do so. Dunn’s company, Bask, focuses almost exclusively on helping seniors adapt and work with technology so they can stay connected to their families, and safe in their own homes. After attending the January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Dunn said that while there was a nod to this market segment there, more tech companies need to “up their game in the 50+ and senior market.”
A few companies are leading out in this arena, and their products are brilliant. Dunn said his team was very impressed with a handful of products featured at CES that were dialed into the needs of the senior market. Halo Smart Labs, a company out of North Carolina, is developing a CO2 detector and smoke alarm that will directly contact the police and fire departments when triggered. Dunn said it also has the potential to contact next of kin as well, so children of an aging parent can be notified immediately if their parent is in danger.
He also mentioned a company working on smart hearing aids that are connected to a smartphone, and automatically recalibrate the hearing aid to the different environments as the wearer moves from, for example, a quiet car to a crowded restaurant.
“These companies are answering the needs of the senior market, because they are listening to them and solving their unique problems. By listening and adapting these types of technology to them, we can make better products for them, and they can use it successfully,” Dunn said.
Of the many local Utah companies, a few are actively working to address Baby Boomers’ needs with IoT, but most start out in one market, before realizing seniors are actually their target market. One local startup, Everlights, launched permanent smartphone-enabled Christmas lights last November. They were excited and a bit surprised to see that most of the people backing their Kickstarter campaign – to the tune of $111,000 – were in the 50+ set. Another, Provo digital photo book company Chatbooks has found that even though they started out to solve a problem for the younger set – busy parents with young children – their products appeal to Baby Boomers as well.
“Fewer people have time for scrapbooking, and people don’t print out photos anymore,” said Nate Quigley, CEO of Chatbooks. “With Chatbooks, photo books aren’t a project, and they aren’t expensive. It gives people what they want — a physical scrapbook — without the need to take on another project.”
The Chatbooks platform automatically adds a user’s Instagram, Facebook, or camera roll photos. For every 60 photos, it automatically prints out an inexpensive photo book, and mails it off to the user.
“We’re starting to see interesting things, where the moms of these millennial moms are asking for the books,” Quigley said. “Now with one tap, you can send one your photo books to the grandparents as well.”
Quigley said they are excited about this additional trajectory of their business related to the senior market, and have run marketing campaigns – one called “Code Grandpa” – to address this. Chatbooks, though not entirely IoT, appeals to the senior set because Baby Boomers are very attuned — maybe more so than the younger generation — to going out to the mailbox and sitting down on the couch and paging through a book.
“We really are 100 percent Project Gramgram,” he laughed, referring to a recent Brigham Young University social media ad campaign spoof addressing the need to connect the younger and the older generations through social media. “I like that these grandmas, who are already going out the mailbox, are occasionally surprised and delighted by getting one of these books in the mail.”
Still, there is a gaping market demand in the senior arena, Dunn says, that other startups could see significant business success in. According to a 2015 Forbes report, Baby Boomers make up 70 percent of the nation’s disposable income, and are willing to spend. Those products, IoT or otherwise, that help solve their unique problems will be most successful.
“We’re just seeing the beginning of an evolution of these IoT products,” Dunn said. “But there is potential for them to solve many problems for those at home.”