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Belgium-Netherlands, InnoStars, Belgium-Netherlands, InnoStars

Rethinking the role of older people: Successful entrepreneurs are ageless

16th April 2020

Han van Doorn developed the self-learning, non-intrusive health surveillance app ‘Are you okay today’. Klaartje Gisolf aims at upcycling used furniture and clothing in her ‘Upcycling Fabriek’. The entrepreneurs behind these artificial intelligence and sustainability driven business plans are 82 and 52 respectively. Statistically, start-ups by entrepreneurs of age fifty and up have a two to three times bigger chance of success than companies started by younger people.

The European EIT Health project ‘Silver Starters‘ is carried out in Poland, Portugal, Italy and The Netherlands. In The Netherlands the start-up course and competition for people over fifty was baptised ‘Start-up Plus‘ based on a Facebook poll. “Start-up Plus was an eight week mixed on-line and off-line start-up course using adaptive learning pathways”, says project leader Jolanda Lindenberg of coordinator Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing. There were 45 participants who could all pitch their start-up during the course. Six of them made it to the final in December 2019 in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ setting. The winner got 10,000 euros to invest in the start-up and both the runner-up and third place won coaching hours.

Safe and free

Winner Han van Doorn developed the app ‘Are you okay today’ based on his personal experience. “I don’t want my son Thijs to find me lying beneath a flight of stairs, but I don’t want to be controlled by a ‘Big Brother’ system either”, he explains. “We combined his 10 years of Microsoft experience with my 31 years IBM track record to think of an app. It simply shows him a green traffic light when all is well and an orange or red light when this might not be the case.”

The system is based on a self learning analysis of the electric power usage patterns of individual home appliances. Van Doorn: “The crucial thing is: when something seems off, the app calls me first. Only when I don’t pick up the phone, the voluntary carer will receive a call. It allows me to feel safe and free at the same time and it allows my son to be reassured about my well-being.”

Van Doorn steams ahead confidently. He has generated a lot of publicity, he has ambassadors and potential customers lined up and he has found both a partner and an investor. “We can go live once liability and other legal issues, digital safety and privacy considerations will be addressed.”

Added value craftsmanship

Just like with Han, Start-up Plus offered Klaartje Gisolf the occasion to bring an already existing business idea to the next level. Her Upcycling Fabriek made it to the final. “Each week of the course brought me a step ahead. It helped me to get a clear focus on what I wanted with my company. Coaching during the course helped me a lot.”
The idea of her Upcycling Fabriek (factory) is to add value to products and materials from thrift stores, using the craftsmanship of senior citizens. “Some used products can be sold as they are in thrift shops. But others need an upgrade before sustainable re-use becomes possible. Ceramics, furniture and clothing of the wrong style and colour can be restyled by new glazing, a new coat of paint or a new model. Jeans can be transferred into stylish cushions, a leather coat can be remade into a leather bag.” Since the course Gisolf finished her business plan, which was positively received. She is now in the race for a start-up subsidy in Amterdam-West.

To be continued

“I learned an awful lot during the course. Its timing seemed heaven sent, right after the successful pilot of my app”, Van Doorn concludes. “Furthermore, the coaching hours I won are very useful to consider the business side, which will help my company to survive the crucial scale-up phase.”

Lindenberg: “The course and competition have been a tremendous success. I’m sure a number of start-ups will evolve into successful companies, just like Han’s and Klaartje’s. But apart from that, it has shown all people involved that a second career is possible, that they can do something meaningful and societally relevant despite, or even thanks to their age! It is a boost to their self-esteem and the image of the elderly in society.”
Leyden Academy has already 125 contestants on the waiting list for the next edition. “We will be able to carry out a next issue without support of EIT Health, as we have found outside sponsors, such as Aegon, to continue the initiative.”

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