Living longer should be seen as an incredible achievement. Yet media reports about living longer can often be presented negatively. Though there are some very real challenges, there are some fantastic opportunities and possibilities. An ageing society can present wonderful opportunities for businesses to help people make sure their extra years are good years. The Dementia Innovation Hub caught up with Mike Morgan, Business Development Manager at Newcastle University, and the new National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation (NASI). Mike’s role is to support businesses to innovate for an ageing society. His current work in NASI builds on the university’s ‘Changing Age for Business’ programme.
“We help businesses to think about the implications of an ageing society in business terms”.
Mike argues businesses are motivated to make a social impact, but also by the economic opportunities that are emerging.
“Over 50s in UK own 80% of wealth, but only 10% marketing money is spent on them. There is an untapped market of people who aren’t getting the products and services they want”.
Products for older consumers have traditionally been based on stereotypes, which is high risk. A common approach has been for businesses to assume needs, develop the solutions, validate them and take them to market. And then they often fail. Though they may work from a functional point of view, they may not capture the imagination of consumers. A good example is the market for bath grab rails. People are unlikely to buy products that look like they belong in a hospital. Designers do talk to consumers eventually, but the best approach is to start getting evidence and insights early on. That way, needs are properly understood and not based on assumptions.
Mike puts businesses in touch with experts and consumers to shape the development of products and services that will make a difference. NASI can help at any stage of the product development cycle: from taking an initial ‘light bulb’ moment to the next stage to thinking though marketing strategies for existing products. At every stage of the product development cycle, working in partnership can help to add value. Having independence in this space, NASI and the University acts as a hub linking people together; enabling vital knowledge transfer between businesses, researchers, government bodies and consumers. Taking this approach can also open up a number of potential funding streams that can help to scale innovations.
The national centre can help companies understand what’s needed to take a product to market. This might involve adding knowledge from research, such as technical information or an engineering insight. It might mean putting businesses in touch with key partner organisations such as Voice North, which is a large panel of older people who engage with the university to consider research and innovation opportunities of an ageing society. Harnessing the wisdom and experience of older people is invaluable, as it prevents businesses developing products and services based on flawed stereotypes. Voice North members support innovation by taking part in focus groups, which can provide insights into marketing. By providing better insights based on real evidence, there is a much greater chance of success.
There is a real need to innovate so that people with dementia and their carers can live well. There are enormous opportunities to make a difference. A Dementia Innovation Hub gives a focal point for businesses to develop a broad range of solutions and services around dementia. Mike points to the growth market in dementia-focused digital technology products and services. Many are designed to support people living with dementia keep their sense of identity and to share their likes and dislikes with carers. He suggests such emerging technologies can potentially make a real difference by enabling positive engagements in care environments. There is an important role for the Dementia Innovation Hub to help build evidence of the benefits of the products and services currently being developed. Mike suggests the Hub can “…help the wider public know what to adopt, to have greater choice and be more confident in making consumer decisions”.
Mike would love to see the development of other Hubs as part of the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation. These could focus on age-related themes such as diabetes and arthritis, but with a focus on prevention. Or they may develop around infrastructures such as housing and transport. By bringing together business expertise with the latest research evidence, the Dementia Innovation Hub and the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation provide much-needed focus to speed up and scale creative innovations for an ageing society.