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Multicultural Boomer Power Flexes Creative Business Muscle in Silicon Valley

Posted: Jul 10, 2012

Photo: Rajiv Mehta has created an iPhone app, Tonic, that keeps track of all of a patient’s medications and wellness activities. (Richard Springer/India West)

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—HyloMimetics, a start-up developing technology to impede cartilage degradation, thus obviating the need for surgery or total knee replacements in the treatment of arthritis, won the $10,000 cash prize at the ninth annual Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit at Santa Clara University in June.

The start-up was co-founded by Kathmandu, Nepal-born Shaili Sharma, who refined the company’s technology while doing her Ph.D. dissertation at Purdue University.

Sharma was unable to attend the one-day conference, which was targeted to highlight opportunities for caregivers and service providers in the growing baby boomer and senior generation markets.

HyloMimetics team member John Paderi, who accepted the award, gave a well-delivered, rapid-fire elevator pitch detailing the company’s innovative approach, a presentation that surely helped persuade the contest judges to elevate the company ahead of four other finalists at the summit.

Winner Prevents Arthritis from Worsening

In a phone interview, Sharma said she studied cartilage repair and regeneration after entering graduate school. “I became a part of HyloMimetics when I joined Dr. Alyssa Panitch’s laboratory at Purdue,” she said.

Sharma added that current treatments for cartilage degradation “only attempt to treat the symptoms and not the disease.” HyloMimetics’ technology improves the “mechanical properties of cartilage in the knee and can also prevent the degradation cascade often seen during the onset of arthritis,” she said.

“This treatment option will prevent arthritis from worsening in patients, and they will no
longer have to undergo invasive procedures, such as surgery or a total knee replacement to treat arthritis.”

A “Purdue Realization and Entrepreneurship Doctoral Fellow” for 2010-2011, Sharma attended boarding school for 10 years in India —in Nainital and New Delhi.

She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota at Duluth.
The Nepal-born entrepreneur said she learned at Purdue “what it takes to take a medical device from bench-top to bedside. The realization that my dissertation research can be directly applied to help solve a dire clinical need is a great motivation to get up and go to work every morning.”

HyloMimetics plans to raise funds to do “a preclinical trial on a large animal and a small-scale clinical trial in Europe,” Sharma said. “After demonstrating safety and efficacy we hope to bring this technology to (doctors’ offices) and into people’s lives.”

Buying Power of Boomers

A key point of contention at the summit was the considerable and growing buying power of boomers and seniors, as opposed to whether or not the power justifies venture capitalists directing their investment decision based on those markets.

Some venture capitalists at the conference were reluctant to buy into the senior-buying-power mantra. Marc S. Yi, managing director at Intel Capital, said he doesn’t invest
in “any age group” and doesn’t want “to be limited by targeting a demographic.”

Nevertheless, John Cochrane, president and CEO of be.group, a provider of
lifestyle options for seniors, said “a senior tsunami” is coming. “The 75-plus population owns 75 percent of what’s out there,” he exclaimed.

Andy Cohen, chief executive officer of Caring.com, which provides information and services to help adult children care for aging parents, said, “43 million people are now
struggling with caregiving.”

Recent figures of life expectancy peg the average life expectancy of men in the United States at 83 years and women at 85, he added.

Cohen said surveys show that 86 percent of those polled who care for adult parents said it “impedes their jobs” and 48 percent said it “hurts their marriages.”

The Boomer Venture Summit featured a plethora of companies innovating in senior and boomer care.

Innovations Serve Many Cultures

One entrepreneur who is working to ease the burden for caregivers taking care of relatives is Rajiv Mehta, president of Bhageera Consulting. He has created an iPhone app called Tonic, which keeps track of medications and wellness activities.

“The vast majority of (wellness activities) are day-to-day and hour-to-hour,” the Indian American entrepreneur said.

“These mundane tasks need to be (handled), and that’s where it breaks down. It is the challenge of the mundane,” he observed. “We provide a tool to make it easier.”

“On average, caregivers spend 20 hours per week; a third average 47 hours a week,” Mehta wrote in a Web post. “And it can go on for many years — on average 4.6
years, while 15 percent have been providing care for over 10 years.”

“Unsurprisingly, Mehta noted, “the noneconomic impact — physical and mental health deterioration of caregivers and the fraying of family relationships— is significant.”

Marketing services with multicultural sensibility is another trend. Iranian American entrepreneur Sherwin Sheik, founder of San Francisco-based CareLinx, said his company operates under a fee-for-service model, providing a service that links caregivers to those in need of home healthcare services.

Caregivers list what they want to pay. CareLinx provides consumers background checks of the caregivers, a shared calendar for appointments, feedback ratings of caregivers and a “payment-processing tool, he said.

“Our services are completely free, except when we handle the payment process,” he said. Those looking for caregivers “can describe the services they need and find a match. It takes just 10 minutes to register. The “national average to pay for stay-at-home care is $45,000” annually, he added.

Sheik pointed out that many in the Filipino and Latino communities are in the provider community and they can improve their margins by linking up directly with the clients instead of working through agencies.

The company asks questions about caregivers and clients to highlight multicultural sensitivities and concerns, he said.

“My family is from Iran, so we are looking for people who are willing to recognize cultural differences.” “We also ask questions about [receptivity] to pets and sexual

Keeping Seniors Connected

Seniors sometimes just need something to keep them connected to loved ones.
Family Ribbon, founded by Russian American immigrant Ivan Osadchiy, provides an easy-to-use application for the iPad that has a user-friendly interface helping seniors stay connected.

“In minutes,” the company said, “even those who consider themselves technology shy can join family and friends on easy Family Facebook, view Picasa and Flickr albums, make Skype video calls, send video emails and text messages, as well as browse popular
Web sites, all through one simple application.”

Richard Springer, a veteran India-West staff reporter, wrote this article as part of a Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Journalism Fellowship, a collaboration of New America Media and Mary Furlong & Associates.

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