We don’t need to age like those who’ve gone before us. We are the beneficiaries of science, medicine and tech, all increasing our wellbeing and longevity. Now you can see which Australian startups are helping to make this a reality on the Silver Futures Australian Agetech Map. (Map) Half of the startups featured on the Silver Futures Agetech Map are headquartered in Melbourne. The Map is a useful resource for anyone interested in knowing more about the innovations addressing the needs of older people being built in our backyard.
Tech for longer, healthier lives
According to the latest Intergenerational Report, Australians are living longer, remaining healthier and contributing to society well beyond any nominal ‘retirement age’. Technologies will help monitor, personalise and prevent a variety of ailments we face as we get older. Clever combinations of tech can help us age not just gracefully but brilliantly – living where we want and how, and shifting our paradigm from disease management to prevention.
Australia’s care economy will increase from about 8% today to 15% by 2062. Increasing our uptake of technologies will help ensure the care economy is truly caring! It’s not just for those being cared for but also for those who work to provide care. Robots, automation and AI are revolutionising lifting, medicine management, nutrition and digital services are providing streamlined services to drive productivity. Technology can reinvent how we deliver care and harnessing biotech and medtech innovations can also reduce the hands-on care needed.
Homegrown solutions and big opportunities
A number of the startups on the Silver Futures Australian Agetech Map 2023 are focused on enabling autonomy and independence as we age. Other solutions focus on monitoring and screening our well-being to prevent or manage age-related diseases and conditions that keep us independent and autonomous such as hearing and sight loss, incontinence and balance.
Liz Williams, co-founder of Hemideina is tackling untreated hearing loss linked to accelerated cognitive decline, dementia, depression, and reduced employment. Hemideina is set for the global stage and will “provide economic benefit to Australia through export income and highly skilled jobs and manufacturing,” says Williams. “The precedent of Cochlear Ltd’s global leadership in cochlear implants is evidence of the impact Australian technology and entrepreneurship can have in delivering market-dominating Agetech solutions.”
Agetech is a huge opportunity for Australia – for both consumers and investors. By 2050, about 40% of the Australian population will be aged over 55. Australia’s ageing population is due to a combination of fertility rates plunging, lower immigration as a percentage and increased longevity.
Stephen Johnston who recently moved to live in Melbourne – founded the global ageing innovation network Aging2.0 in San Francisco and now consults to US and Japanese corporates about longevity. He welcomes the Map as a vital contribution to an urgent discussion. “There’s a fast-growing global Agetech movement showing it’s possible to save costs, address the caregiving crisis and improve the experience for older adults,” says Johnston. “This Map shows Australia, particularly Melbourne, is building momentum fast and we can be a global player here.”
Where to next?
Silver Futures envisages more startups will emerge focussing on the needs of older Australians who want to remain at home. Over the past decade, Sydney-headquartered startup Mable has raised over $114 million, disrupting how users access help in the home by providing choice and flexibility. The uptake of home care has increased 294% over the past decade, while permanent and respite residential aged care has increased only by 8.3%.
Innovations that help with palliative care in the home, including those that reduce the carer burden would also be welcome. In 2014, The Grattan Institute reported that 70% of older Australians say they would prefer to die at home, yet only 14% of Australians currently do so. Compare that with New Zealand, the United States, Ireland and France, where closer to 30% of people realise their wish to die in their own home.
Australia provides institutional long-term care for almost 20% of the population aged ≥ 80 years, and 6% of those aged ≥ 65 years, which is very high compared to other countries. This is reflected in the mix of the Agetech startups on the map, with many focusing on solutions for healthcare providers. These solutions often focus on the needs for healthcare providers to meet compliance and regulation requirements (especially since the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety). The COVID-19 pandemic has also driven more investment to improve the quality of care.
What is clear is that the Australian Agetech startup ecosystem needs nourishment. While Australia has several initiatives supporting Medtech and Biotech commercialisation such as Medtech Actuator, MTP Connect, and Cicada Innovations, there are no specific accelerators, incubators or programs for Australian Agetech. Disability tech accelerator Remarkable does a great job for disability, which sometimes intersects with solutions for older people. There are some active non-profits, such as The Global Centre for Modern Ageing, an Adelaide based charitable organisation which is a test bed to devise, build and commercialise products and services. Melbourne-based Donkey Wheel House is another, convening stakeholders to influence systems change. The National Ageing Research Institute and the Australian Association of Gerontology Collaborating Research Centres – a coalition of 17 universities and institutes across Australia – are focused on research delivering better outcomes for older people. While most universities have some centre or institute concentrating on ageing, few are focussed on tech and there is little support specifically offered to Agetech innovators.
To date, investment into Agetech in Australia has been underwhelming, but Agetech solutions tackling end-of-life legal and financial concerns have attracted some mainstream investment. Willed has attracted $6 million from institutional investors and Safewill has been backed by Westpac’s Reinventure fund.
Unlike other countries, Australia has no specific Agetech VC funds. Chris Gray who co-founded aged-care software provider iCareHealth – which was sold to Telstra in 2014 – has been actively investing in Agetech for years and has stakes in the likes of Hayylo and Umps, and has provided philanthropic funds and guidance to other community initiatives addressing ageing through his organisation, Agnes. Gray says he looks forward “to the moment when the mood changes and people realise that we need to collaborate to elevate our changemakers so that we can reimagine ageing”.
As a result of the Aged Care Royal Commission, an innovation fund, Australia Research & Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA) has been established to support Agetech research. ARIAA is offering grants of up to $160,000 to support a translational research project that improves the sector’s service delivery, technology adoption, and quality of care. Startups that have benefitted from these grants include Talius, Brenna, Gretel and Dossy. But while these ARIIA grants are useful for pilots they are not large enough sums for scaling solutions and even their Ideas Incubator is currently entirely focused on solutions for aged care.
Even then, entrepreneurs focused on aged-care solutions are trying to weave their magic in a weary market while navigating the heavy hand of existing health and aged-care systems. Those in the industry need to to look beyond the day-to-day tasks if they are to address the embedded problems. “We need to go beyond a scarcity mindset if we want to tackle sector challenges at their root cause,” Merlin Kong, former head of innovAGEING, states “Unless we do that, we’re merely putting out spot fires with no long-term change.”
A vision for bright Silver Futures
Tech champion Rachel Slattery who heads up Silver Futures is optimistic about the potential of Agetech. “So much of the recent discussions around ageing, including the latest Intergenerational Report, has given us the Wicked Witch but no Dorothy and no Land of Oz!” says Slattery. “But I believe there is a wonderful future beckoning, where we realise chronological age is a blunt instrument, where innovations in tech and medicine benefit us all and we realise that we are not spending more time being old, rather staying younger for longer!”
The Map shines a light on Australia’s Agetech startups and encourages those in any position to influence change to help turbocharge this essential ecosystem.
For other startups on the Map realising their impact relies on unpicking the existing silo approach to healthcare, disrupting the embedded business models and shifting our focus from disease management to prevention. We need systemic will across Australia to create an ecosystem that encourages Agetech innovation, commercialisation and investment. It’s a win-win-win: the success of our innovators will help us all to live longer, contributing lives, drive local jobs creation and export opportunities.
How did we build the Silver Futures Australian Agetech Map 2023?
Silver Futures is still working on the boundaries we will set for the Map going forward. International Gerontechnologist Keren Etkin, who publishes the Global Agetech Market Map, has been guiding Silver Futures to include companies that predominantly focus on older people. While most of the companies included on the Map are young, some are older and are ASX-listed. For instance, Melbourne-headquartered Cogstate which is working on the early detection of Alzheimer’s is ASX-listed and was founded in 1999.
For those who want to be on the Map or those who are on the Map who we are not yet in contact with and would like to suggest changes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We recommend Keren Etkin, The Gerontechnologist for those who want to read more about the global Agetech opportunities and to see her Global Map.
Canada’s AGE-WELL was established in 2015 to support Canadian research and innovation in technology and aging. In 2019, AGE-WELL worked with roughly a dozen startups; now, there are over 60. You can read about Canada’s ecosystem on Keren Etkin’s blog here.
Portable’s Future of Death and Ageing in Australia Report is an interesting read – while we can assume the future will have more tech, redesigning death and ageing needs to start with a wide lens.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2023). Older Australians. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/older-people/older-australians
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2023). People using aged care.
Dyer, S. M., Valeri, M., Arora, N., Tilden, D., & Crotty, M. (2020). Is Australia over-reliant on residential aged care to support our older population?. The Medical Journal of Australia, 213(4), 156–157.e1. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.50670
Hal Swerissen, Stephen Duckett (2014) Dying well. The Grattan Institute.
The Treasury, Australian Government. The Intergenerational Report 2023