Populations around the world are skewing older, faster. According to the World Health Organization, the proportion of the global population over 60 years old will nearly double by 2050, and within a few short years, people ages 60 and up will outnumber children younger than five.
With longer life expectancy come myriad opportunities for individuals to continue developing professionally, explore hobbies and passions, and give back to their communities. But there are also challenges — from health inequities to ageism.
Carrie Earle Allen and Danielle D. Duplin want to change that.
“World populations are aging faster than our existing social and institutional structures can sustain,” Duplin says.
Their solution? “Innovation is desperately needed to help deliver human-centered services,” says Duplin, “with the dual goals to respect individual wishes for a life well lived and to attain economic viability in terms of cost, access, and quality at scale.”
To fuel this innovation, Allen and Duplin have founded AGENCY: The CIC Global Longevity Collective.
Equal parts workspace, network, and programming, AGENCY convenes individuals and organizations from across industries, disciplines, and life experiences to work together on the most relevant challenges facing an increasingly aging society.
From Ideation to Execution
Allen, Executive Director of CIC’s corporate innovation program Captains of Innovation, first conceived of AGENCY after hosting an ideathon on reimagining longevity in partnership with Japanese insurance company Sompo. The three-day event, where over 20 senior care solutions were generated and pitched, highlighted for Allen both the obstacles and the tremendous potential that people can experience by living longer.
Powered by Captains of Innovation, AGENCY connects corporates, startups, scale-ups, resident experts, and elders in the community around a worldwide need.
Headquartered at CIC Cambridge in the internationally renowned innovation district of Kendall Square, AGENCY celebrated its launch on November 1, 2018, with a ribbon-cutting by Secretary of Elder Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Alice Bonner at 245 Main.
This CIC location houses AGENCY’s first coworking community for age-focused initiatives.
Similar coworking hubs are planned to open at CIC campuses in Rotterdam, Tokyo, Miami, St. Louis, and other cities throughout the US.
AGENCY’s intentionally wide reach, both geographically and in terms of its collaborators — launch partners include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Benchmark Senior Living, and Sompo Japan — follows CIC’s model of bringing innovators together with shared space and resources to amplify their growth.
“We’ve seen stunning outcomes, both creatively and financially, when the density of startups, investors, and experts work together in a collegial environment to push the boundaries of what’s possible,” says Tim Rowe, CIC founder and CEO. “Industry clusters provide a center of excellence to tackle global problems.”
Infrastructure and Activation
Stepping into AGENCY’s coworking space, you’ll encounter pods of desks and ergonomic chairs where emerging technology entrepreneurs, scaleups focusing on commercializing, corporate investors, and experts-in-residence from nutritionists to gerontologists all work side by side. This proximity serves as a form of built-in networking, allowing ideas to flow and fruitful relationships to form faster than they could on their own.
Down the hall, a coffee and snack-filled kitchen and colorful common spaces encourage members to connect with the CIC community at large.
Beyond a place to work, AGENCY produces aging-focused programming to activate a broad community of innovators. Through partnerships with companies, nonprofits, or government initiatives, programming can take industry-specific lenses to aging, such as biotech or finance.
Events range from hackathons and design workshops to focus groups and pitch competitions.
The first such competition took place immediately following the collective’s ribbon-cutting, with 10 startups pitching their solutions for brain health, caregiving, and activities of daily living at Venture Café Kendall.
Also as part of its launch, AGENCY collaborated with Wentworth Institute of Technology to host an all-day think tank on the future of aging.
The Role of Startups and Commercialization
For AGENCY’s cofounders, tackling healthy aging within the hotbeds of startup activity at CIC and Venture Café is a natural fit. “Entrepreneurs love solving complex problems that have the upside potential to change the world,” Duplin says.
The universality of growing older means that it cuts across virtually all sectors. Moreover, “aging challenges have to be addressed holistically,” says Allen.
“For example, 21 percent of older adults miss out on activities they enjoy because of driving limitations, and 86 percent do not meet the recommended vegetable intake according to the National Prevention Strategy. These challenges are likely intertwined. If you cannot leave your home, it limits the fullness of your life and your ability to maintain both mental and physical health,” says Allen.
In light of these barriers, Allen, Duplin, and their partners are hopeful that innovation can transform the aging experience.
Opportunities to grow companies in areas as diverse as IoT, data analytics, and transportation are ripe because they also offer direct benefit to consumers.
“We recognize that many company founders are driven to this work from deeply personal experiences with loved ones, as well as stakeholders who have the ethical and economic imperatives to shape an age-friendly society,” says Duplin.
“AGENCY is both a place and a community that supports their endeavors to make the aging journey better for all.”
Photos by Peter Gusmakas