The market for products designed specifically for older adults could reach $30 billion by next year, and startups want in on the action. What they sometimes lack is feedback from the people they hope will use their product. So Brookdale, the country's largest owner of retirement communities, has been inviting a few select entrepreneurs just to move in for a few days, show off their products and hear what the residents have to say.
That's what brought Dayle Rodriguez, 28, all the way from England to the dining room of Brookdale South Bay in Torrance, Calif. Rodriguez is the community and marketing manager for a company called Sentab. The startup's product, SentabTV, enables older adults who may not be comfortable with computers to access email, video chat and social media using just their televisions and a remote control.
"It's nothing new, it's nothing too complicated and it's intuitive because lots of people have TV remotes," says Rodriguez.
But none of that is the topic of conversation in the Brookdale dining room. Instead, Rodriguez solicits residents' advice on what he should get on his cheeseburger and how he should spend the afternoon. Billiards was on the agenda, as well as learning to play mahjong.
Rodriguez says it's important that residents here don't feel like he's selling them something. "I've had more feedback in a passive approach" he says. "Playing pool, playing cards, having dinner, having lunch," all work better "than going through a survey of questions. Them getting to know me and to trust me and knowing I'm not selling them something — there's more honest feedback that way."