EU Needs Social Entrepreneurs to Leverage the Silver Economy…

AAA Founder Ian Spero Looks at Opportunities for Innovation, Growth and Societal Transformation

Long term health and care sit at the tip of a shifting demographic iceberg which is slowly but surely heading in our direction.

For Innovate UK, this constitutes both a major societal challenge and a significant window of opportunity for British enterprise; which is why they are investing £4 million to kick start a Long Term Care Revolution, which aims to inspire businesses – large, medium, small, micro, and entrepreneurs – to join forces, in a united effort to imagine new products and services with potential of disrupting the institutional model of long term care, a model which is currently not fit for purpose. I have written a companion piece to this article touching upon some of the wider issues lurking below the surface of our proverbial iceberg, which you can read about here.

Age discrimination is a primary concern, a fact of 21st Century life that Babyboomers, now entering their 60’s, would not have seen coming during their own revolutionary 1960s. But I guess that’s the point. When we are ‘young’ we imagine that everyone over a certain age is ‘old’. Of course that perception changes as you wise up. But as society continues to perpetuate this myth, the ‘them’ and ‘us’ label is one of the first barriers that must be torn down, in order to maximise the number of citizens that will stand up and embrace the idea of far-reaching and drastic change.

The good news is Innovate UK are not the only ones looking to transform the status quo. We have been talking with many private and public sector stakeholders who see the need for change, and they too are willing to add their voice to an evolving debate. In Brussels, the European Commission is also looking to embrace fresh thinking as a catalyst for change. In March they will stage an EU Summit on Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing, which aims to co-create a shared vision on how A Digital Single Market can support a fairer, more sustainable and prosperous society. (Find out how you can get involved at the foot of this article).

With consumers aged 60 and older predicted to be spending $15 trillion a year by 2020 – according to consultants AT Kearney – I asked the man responsible for overseeing the EU Summit – Peter Wintlev-Jensen (pictured), deputy Head of Unit in the European Commission DG Connect: What he hopes the Summit will achieve; what is the value of innovation, and what role does he see for small businesses and social entrepreneurs in the mix?

PWJ: “The Commission identified demographic change as a major challenge and opportunity for Europe. So, we’ve organised this Summit to further develop thinking across portfolios and across sectors, on how to best seize the opportunities and react to the challenges of the ageing population. We’re here to listen, so the Summit is a key opportunity for stakeholders to bring their views forward for action.

“Clearly, it is time to innovate. For me, innovation is achieving something significant that would otherwise not happen unless you are prepared to take a risk and do something special.
“What new knowledge will our future policy makers need to facilitate innovation-that-makes-a-difference? How do we trigger innovation that will make care systems more sustainable, while improving our quality of life, and generating new jobs and growth?

“We know that small businesses can be very innovative. That’s why we are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and have promised to spend 20% of the whole of our Horizon 2020 R&D budget (around €70 billion) on smaller projects that can be driven by SMEs or SME oriented activities.

“But we realise that a business cannot thrive on grant funding alone. Most of the small companies I talk to have problems securing investment because their business models are not seen as scalable. It is really a pity when people are forced to take their ideas to the US and elsewhere in order to attract investors.

“Over the past 20 years we have funded a large number of research projects; many of them very good concepts, but we still do not see these ideas in the market today and that is a big loss. One of the most frustrating things we see are adjoining municipalities doing very similar things, without talking to each other. If we are to attract investment for our European companies and establish scalable markets across Europe we must learn how to exchange knowledge and build capacity to promote best practice in care innovation. And in parallel, small companies must also learn to look beyond their local markets in order to succeed.

“That is why we have launched an Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, involving more than 3000 stakeholders from across Europe. It is designed to help scale up innovations and bring them faster into reality by sharing the risk, providing evidence of the benefits, and thereby creating scalable markets.

“So now you no longer have to go and speak to 50 regions to try and establish a commercially viable business model, you participate in the Partnership and through that you get access to people that want to do the same thing. And although we don’t fund the partnership itself, we do take account of its partners’ priorities to mobilise further EU funding streams. These cover the whole value chain, from research to education and user training.”

Meet the BuyerLast September I attended a ‘Meet the Buyer’ match making event organised by Peter’s team and the European Health Alliance, which brought together a number of SMEs looking for their first clients.

The formula seemed to work out well: After meeting with buyers representing regions looking for specific new products and services, the entrepreneur was able to identify two or three regions with a serious interest in their solution, which provided the critical mass necessary to help the SME make a more robust case for investment.

I am currently working with Innovate UK planning similar events in the UK, where delegates will have the chance to meet with buyers and stakeholders, and learn more about Long Term Care Revolution and Horizon 2020 funding opportunities. If you are interested in attending follow the link below.

Innovation is a Process, Not a One-Off ThingPWJ “We have to recognise that innovation is not just a supply side issue. You can only innovate if you have the whole ecosystem engaged and playing to the same rules. So you have to mobilise the demand side also – the older adults, the patients, the carers, the GPs and others – and warm them up to innovation.

“Take health and care for example, where we spend around 10% of GDP in Europe. If we can dedicate just 5% of that for innovation, then we have a huge budget, (repurposed from existing funds) to stimulate new markets for innovative products and services.

“We need to encourage and empower organisations to take risks and to reward risk taking and innovation in a way that people actually want to do it. And I think that’s where demand side policies need further evolution, to make that happen on a consistent scale, whilst accepting that innovation is not a one off thing, it’s a process that must be really embedded into those systems.

“Demographic change is no longer just a forecast. We see the actual effects starting to happen: older people, more people in need of care, and less people available to fill in the vacancies. This will massively impact our systems for health and social care, but will also change consumers’ needs and spending patterns. So now we have to do something concrete, because otherwise our public finances can’t keep up with growing costs; and product and services providers lose opportunities to cater to private demand in the future.

“Before acting it is important to listen and compare notes with as many public and private sector stakeholders as possible. We started consultations last year and this is already providing invaluable insights which the Summit on Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing will build on.

“In the next few years I think we will see – across most of Europe – major revision in the way care is performed, with innovation becoming a more important dimension in ensuring those systems are working as efficiently as possible. I also envisage technology playing a more important part in late life care and also in making jobs more attractive for young people to want to work in this area, because we need this kind of entrepreneurial culture, and young people are the key to our future if we are to survive and flourish.”

Join the DebateThe Silver Economy represents a unique opportunity to contribute towards the development of a huge new public and consumer market of ICT products and services, which you can learn about here.

If you are an existing stakeholder or are interested in entering this market you are invited to submitt position papers on growing the silver economy to ec-eip-aha@ec.europa.eu.

The papers will then be opened for further discussion that will lay the future pillars of a new EU strategy for Active and Healthy Ageing. If you would like to register interest in attending one of the aforementioned Meet the Buyer and funding events and/or would like to learn more about getting involved with the Silver Economy and the Long Term Care Revolution, please write to info@creativeskillsforlife.com.

You can also stay involved by clicking on one of the Update buttons above, or follow CSL on Twitter, where we shine a regular spotlight on innovative, digitally enabled creative developments in healthcare.