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As Singapore sees more seniors, startups can step up

As celebrates its 55th year of independence, those that were alive to see the nation born should look forward to a long and active retirement

Photo by James Hose Jr on Unsplash. Photo by James Hose Jr on Unsplash.

Looking ahead into the new decade, it’s clear that sharing services and new digital products will continue to radically transform people’s lives—and that includes how seniors live in their retirement.

Singapore is turning silver as more people from the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) celebrate their 65th birthdays. And they’re not just living longer—they’re living longer as healthy and active members of their community, ushering in a booming silver economy.

Increasingly affluent and surprisingly tech-savvy, this growing group of senior citizens is creating a new market for tech startups and other businesses that are able to offer convenient, easy-to-use digital solutions.

The “Uberization” of home care

Earlier this year, Singapore-based elderly care startup Homage announced the close of its Series B funding round, which it plans to funnel into its expansion across Asia. The startup offers a digital platform that connects professional care providers with elderly people and their families in need of home-care support.

Launched in 2016, Homage now hosts a network of over 1,000 care professionals in Singapore and Malaysia, and partners with more than 20 hospitals, community organizations, and nursing homes. It’s also raised over USD 15 million from the likes of Golden Gate Ventures, HealthXCapital, EV Growth, Alternate Ventures, and KDV Capital.

Other digital startups have cropped up offering similar platforms or apps. Caregiver Asia, for instance, operates an online marketplace to match people with freelance caregivers. Since its launch in 2015, the company has seen demand for its service grow, and today, it has a network of more than 10,000 caregivers across Singapore and Malaysia.

The opportunity

While these companies have revealed the possibilities of home-care services, there are other commercial opportunities that Singapore’s digital entrepreneurs can pick up on. One example is offering “active-aging” products and services that can help the silver community stay active, healthy, and independent.

In 2019, the spending power of baby boomers worldwide was estimated to be roughly USD 15 trillion. More importantly, the aging market doesn’t only include those over 65 years old, but it also involves their children.

Around the world, digital entrepreneurs have begun to recognize the scale of the active-aging opportunity, and plenty of tech-based companies have sprung up, offering products and services aimed at the senior demographic.

Such innovations vary widely, from health monitoring devices, telemedicine services, wellness, nutrition, and fitness technologies to home automation systems, mobility devices, and others.

Singapore a sandbox for digital innovation

Singapore is already home to many businesses operating in the healthcare space. In fact, it is estimated that the city-state has around 9% of Asia’s health tech startups—the largest number after China and India.

The government’s commitment to digital innovation and adoption, coupled with strong internet connectivity and high mobile and smartphone penetration, has given its entrepreneurs a significant leg-up and established Singapore as a “sandbox” for digital innovation within ASEAN.

Some of these companies are developing products that can be used by the elderly to improve wellness and prevent age-related diseases. For example, Biofourmis, a biotech company founded in Singapore, has developed an AI-based system that uses wearable devices to collect and analyze patients’ health data and predict the likelihood of medical events such as heart attacks.

Read this: Wellthy Therapeutics takes care of patients with chronic diseases

The company has raised over USD 40 million in equity financing from high-profile venture capital investors, including Sequoia Capital and MassMutual Ventures SEA. In 2019, it inked a partnership with a major multinational pharmaceutical company to further develop its products addressing heart disease.

Other examples include Holmusk, a Singaporean digital health and data science company that works in partnership with Caregiver Asia. It created GlycoLeap, a mobile app that provides dietary advice to help prevent and manage age- and lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Challenges remain

Despite these notable successes, only a small fraction of the 174 digital health startups registered in Singapore in 2018 was developing healthcare or active-aging products aimed at the elderly.

This may be due to several reasons: a perception that seniors are less comfortable using digital technologies, concerns over reputation, or an idea that entering the space will limit the total addressable market.

But companies can overcome these challenges.

First, digital entrepreneurs must devise a viable revenue model that maximizes its addressable market, while also knowing who will pay and how they will pay for the product or service. The revenue models can either be business-to-consumer or business-to-business.

Companies like Homage and Caregiver Asia provide their service directly to caregivers, the elderly, or their children, while others like Biofourmis or Holmusk partner with businesses or healthcare providers.

Second, organizations must carefully consider how to market and position themselves.

Many seniors may be reluctant to use platforms that are exclusively designed for the elderly or those that appear to use complex digital technology. To overcome these problems, companies can position their products as simple-to-use solutions or platforms to empower seniors. They can also direct marketing efforts at caregivers and the children of aging parents.

Creating a new pillar

In recent weeks, the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the world-class status of Singapore’s healthcare services and its ability to serve the senior population during an unprecedented public health crisis.

Yet as Singapore celebrates its 55th year of independence, those that were alive to see the nation born should look forward to a long and active retirement further enhanced and transformed by new digital innovations.

The city-state’s talented entrepreneurs, working in collaboration with the government, investors, and incumbent healthcare providers, should grasp the opportunities presented by this growing band of silver consumers, and, in so doing, build a new digital pillar.

This article first appeared in Tech in Asia.