Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com.
Michael Hughes 00:07
Hi everybody and welcome to The Art of aging, which is part of the abundant aging podcast series for I’m Ruth Frost Parker Center and United Church Homes. On this show we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage, and inspire anyone anywhere to age with abundance. Our guest today is Sarah Thomas and Sarah, if she’s not one, she’s not one of the better known is certainly one of the most respected players in the VC space when it comes to age tech. Sarah serves as a global aging expert, advising startups, large corporations and investors with over 20 years dedicated to transforming the aging experience. She is CEO of the multinational staff hosting company, Ms. Tao, and see all the consulting firm delight by design, creating age inclusive products, brands, spaces and experiences that delight the consumer at every age, she has served as Executive in Residence at aging 2.0 and currently serves as Principal Fellow, and the Nexus or insights firm for aging and transformation, and mentor to the TechStars longevity accelerator. And what a great program that is a co-founder of H tech news and sits as a venture partner to both H tech capital and third ventures. And last but not least, she is a trained occupational therapist and certainly has given us some important perspective on the role of functional functional limitation. And it’s associated with wellness. So welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Thomas 01:37
Thanks for having me, Mike.
Michael Hughes 01:40
Sarah, I want to start with a question that we ask a lot of people on this podcast, you could be doing a lot with your talents and put that into a lot of areas. Why are you so passionate about the world of aging, and each tech,
Sarah Thomas 01:53
I’ve really always been committed to older adults. Oh, I mean, my best friend when I was nine years old, was 87. And I wanted to spend more time with him. And then anyone who was probably age appropriate, but he was just, you know, an awesome guy with great wisdom and great history and a Holocaust survivor and the first season ticket holder of that Celtics in Boston with the Parquet floor. I mean, why would you not want to spend time with people who are much more interesting than your peer group. But I think my affinity towards older adults has just always been there and then committed to also improving their lives. And then I realized that our perception of aging is just biased and kind of looking at the global aging perspective, and how we can make a change in how we view our own aging process. And as an occupational therapist, I am always just committed to changing how we view our own perception of our aging experience, as well as how we create systems and products and processes and solutions around us. Often with the use of technology to prove how we age, and how our communities age. So I’ve been committed to the age tech sector for over 20 years, and certainly to the aging experience for longer than that. But it’s just my life’s passion, I wouldn’t even call it work. It’s just a life purpose. And so I think just finding all of the roles that I can make the greatest impact around aging, and the use of technology to improve our aging experiences, it’s pretty much why I’m staying in this industry forever. Yeah, and
Michael Hughes 03:35
it’s interesting, you know, you wear a lot of different hats. And I think that there’s a lot of I mean, just starting from the foundational experience when you were young. And then just, you know, it is I mean, did occupational therapy really kind of open your eyes to is that a framework for how you look at the world of age tech? Or is it broader than that? Have you kind of learned a broader sense of the world? Or what’s your elements that you bring into that work?
Sarah Thomas 03:57
Well, I would say that my background is an occupational therapist, if you think of what an OT foundation really is, it’s a professional Problem Solver that looks at everything from the psychosocial perspective, the cognitive, the mental health and well being the frames of reference that people live in. So we’ve been talking about SDOH and, and all of the impact of environment and roles on people, you know, for the entirety of our industry. And whether we’re helping someone physically recover to a role that they want to achieve, or whether it’s looking at something you know, from a cognitive or a social perspective, it positions me and my lens really well and really from a personal problem solver to a professional Problem Solver very quickly. The OT lens for me, is always with me with all of the roles and the hats that I wear because I want to meet someone where they’re at, help them to find their intrinsic motivation and their goals. and help them to achieve their goals in some way that’s either, you know, to a point of recovery where they can consider themselves successful in this goal attainment, or it’s compensatory strategies or adapting the task or adapting the environment. And if you think of that lens, I can do the same for products with product development and UI and UX and understanding that universal design and the human centered design around the product development, which I do within my consulting, where I bring that into a company and you analyze where startups at and you say, Okay, where do you want to go? You know, what’s your exit strategy? How are we funding you? How are we getting you where you want to go, and setting those goals is really something that I, you know, learned, yes, through occupational therapy, but extends greater into systems change, and looking at the global ecosystem development. And all of that is also through the lens of that professional problem solver and helping people to obtain their goals. So I keep that with me, wherever I, wherever I am.
Michael Hughes 06:06
Yeah, and I want to really unpack, you know, the venture capital part of your, your work, you know, as we continue, but it just strikes me that, you know, with all the talk that’s going on around holistic models of care, you know, patient centered care, incentivized managed care models, where you have goals and all that. It’s almost like, you know, this has been lying in plain sight, you know, for a long time. And finally, it’s not like it wasn’t valuable before, but everyone’s sort of putting their hands on their heads and saying, Oh, my goodness, this is where a lot of value can lie, right?
Sarah Thomas 06:38
Absolutely. Yeah. I think we’ve been, I mean, we’ve known it, but it’s, you’ve got to change it at an individual level, and the mindset shift needs to happen. But then we also need to invest resources and time into the product change, the solutions change, and really impact the outcomes through systems change.
Michael Hughes 07:00
So let’s just get into the I mean, I know that you’re very popular with the H decK community, because you know, you are tied to funding with your role as a venture capitalist. But I think it’s for our listeners, I think they would appreciate just just an understanding of what stages of investment look like, because, you know, I admire entrepreneurs, I’ve never had the courage to kind of launch something myself. But we hear all these things about pre seed rounds, Angel, all the rest of it, is there a kind of a little bit of a primer that you can give us on those stages? And really just how VCs generally work?
Sarah Thomas 07:38
Sure, so kind of people ask all the time, you know, they have this great idea, but how do they bring it to a product? And from that product? How do they make sure the market needs it and wants it? And there’s a market for it? And then how do you expand into that growth phase? And then what’s your exit strategy? Are you really running a small business? Or are you looking at taking on additional capital to grow either nationally or internationally, or have an exit and be acquired by another organization that could maybe fold in your own startup and the mission that you initially started with? Could we consolidate some of these solutions? So there’s a more comprehensive solution? Or then of course, there’s the IPO? And are you actually looking for an exit to go public, and there’s this path, and you might not know initially, when you’re starting with the idea, or of the product or service, but you should have a roadmap for how are you going to get to where you want to go, and it’s fine to not have a startup that’s venture backed you you can, you know, just continue to grow at the pace of your revenue and, and that may not be the path. But if you are going to go the VC route, you know, you and I have spoken at length about this, Mike, in order to be venture bankable, you really need to look at those phases and where you fit in. So if you’re looking at seed stage, it’s really the initial phase, you know, you might be taking friends and family round or friends from, you know, you’re bootstrapping it with your own finances, or you’re asking friends or family or angel investors to come in on this idea of yours. So you can develop it, you might do some market research, you might do some product development, but it’s a really early stage. In see seed stage also has often precede an angel where you’re just seeking funding this either micro venture or, you know, angel investors just to start to build out that product, build a team around and who are your founders, maybe prove the market actually needs it, get that first test of the market demand before you go into a series a so when you start to look at that series, a stage the startup really has to prove out that business model already before your venture bankable at that phase and then they’re going to get additional funding, often millions of dollars at that point, to really help the company grow and expand into the market and meet those markets. means you’ve already proven out, then you’ll get to the next kind of juncture Are you going to take on a series B? Now this at this point is often, you know, really increasing your market share, you’ve been growing tremendously, but you want consider maybe international expansion, or increase your market size or additional verticals is, is it next phase, but Series C and beyond these rounds can be much larger, you’re looking at venture capital or private equity firms, or even hedge funds at that point when you’re starting to look at that much, much larger scale, and you’re on a path for either rapid growth or IPO. And so most of the companies that we’re working with at this phase are usually in that seed stage to Series A. at third Accenture’s, we look mostly at seed stage, we take early bets, we love founders, whoever passion project that they’re working on, but are committed to bringing something powerful and inspiring to the market. And we look across the continuum of aging and H tech, which we could get into as well, because everyone’s a little interested in what that definition is, I think. And then at h tech capital, we’re raising a significant fund. So that we can make about coming on the Series A, and that’s going to be we’re shooting for a $250 million fund there. So it’s going to be a little bit later. But it’s lovely to look at the full continuum of these startups from idea and inception to, to exit. And so we stay really close to the full ecosystem, so that we can compare where the team is, where the product is, and where the market needs are.
Michael Hughes 11:42
And I love the fact that you may even have the chance to bridge one from the other as you find someone for a very early stage, and then migrate them and graduate them into another VC that may be prepared to take them a little bit further with their growth. You know, and I think that, you know, I think it’s just it, everyone is so mission oriented, and estate. So in this area, everyone’s got so much good feeling. And importantly, you know, you’re the business model for venture capital, as you are in return for this investment, you’re taking equity in these companies. So I think that for aspiring entrepreneurs out there, you know, for especially at the early stage, the choice of who you work with, really doesn’t just come down to money, right? It did, right? What are the things that VCs do to support emerging organizations?
Sarah Thomas 12:31
Yeah, so a big part is understanding who you’re taking money from, you should like your venture partners and your capital providers, as much as they have faith in you. You have to have faith that they’re in this for the right reasons that if they’re going to take a board seat, that you want to be hearing their direction, that you the management style, and the leadership style jives with yours, because you will be partners as you’re bringing this company to market. One thing also is if you’re looking at a firm, you know, I’m a venture partner for a reason I bring over 20 years of age Tech experience. And I can open doors and I can help to support from any advisory capacity. So look to see also, are you working with firms that bring people on that have the subject matter expertise that have the strategic alignment with what you actually need, that have a history in this market? If you just need money, and you don’t need the support or the strategic value, then, of course, there’s other vehicles. But you know, did they only come from maybe health tech or FinTech or they only coming from the financial side of things, and not necessarily a strategic partner that can open doors, or truly understand navigating a very complex market, which can be the age tech space, especially if you’re looking at senior living or senior care, or even beyond that, if you’re going to take a direct to consumer approach with a mature consumer. Do they have experience with that? So you want to interview them as much as they’re interviewing you?
Michael Hughes 14:05
Right, right. Right. And I think on your side, I mean, you know, I would guess that in the course of a month, you have at least one company coming to you and saying, Hey, sir, I’ve got a great idea. I love I love for you to invest in me, right?
Sarah Thomas 14:18
We’ve been talking for 14 minutes, and I guarantee you within the 14 minutes I have a new one, not in a month 15 about every hour there was a new one.
Michael Hughes 14:28
Let’s talk about it from you and your personal perspective. You know, what makes a project investable to you or rather, you know, if somebody sends you something, there might be some deal breakers right from the start. So if somebody is pitching you, what do you like to see? And what kind of raises an exclamation point for you or not in a good way?
Sarah Thomas 14:50
Sure. Well, a couple of things. One, you know, we’re I in particular myself, I want to make a global impact on the AR Aging experience and how we all not only perceive but experience aging. So the impact has to be there. For me, it also has to have a passionate founder who is motivated not just do not lead by telling me that over 10,000 people turn 65 Every day, because you haven’t done your research to know my background to know I know those numbers, you know, and the impact of those numbers. But it also means to me that you not only didn’t do research on who we are and who I am and what we invest in, but you also are so motivated by the numbers that you are maybe not driven enough by the passion of impact. And I want to make an impact with anything that we’re investing in. So me personally, it has to be a strong founder, that’s passionate about making a change in the world around aging, the product has to be, you know, strong as well. And certainly that the market has to need it not just something that is coming out of a tech founder that sees a widget and sees how this widget could be applied to a new vertical, that doesn’t interest me seeing a major market need seeing a major human impact story and then finding and building and creating solutions that can fill that gap. That’s never what I’m looking for. So good team solid founder, good product market fit and do your research on who you’re meeting with also do research on the market and the competitors, I almost will always throw the decK away immediately and not take the call if it says there are zero competitors, because I don’t think you’ve done your research. If you think there’s nothing else that they’re there that compares to what you do. It might be different, you might have a differentiator, you might have the next unicorn and I can get behind that trust me we do we want to, however, understanding what has come before and what has failed and how you’re going to do something different or what exists and where the gap is still shows that there’s something in the market that needs improvement, and you should be the one to do that. But if you tell me there’s nothing, I don’t think you’ve done your research or know the space enough. It doesn’t impress me to lead with that. So I would say that it’s probably my personal non-starter.
Michael Hughes 17:21
Well, that’s important to me. And just to unpack that a little bit, what goes through my mind is, first of all, you know, the concept of passion. Because, you know, we can all see the age wave, you know, or the age opportunity, we all see this pig in the Python with the baby boomers, we all see this greater longevity. And so it’s one of those rare spaces that in general, you kind of think that in the future, people are going to need more of this type of stuff than that type of stuff, right? So just leading with that alone is not going to get you you want somebody that’s in it for a sustainable, I guess passion means sustainability to you, right? Through good times.
Sarah Thomas 18:02
And impact, not just financial gain. So if they’re coming from a different sector, and they think, Oh, I see the dollar signs, when I see how many people turn 65, hey, you need a financial, you need a revenue generating business model, we’re investing in returns. But I want to see that you want to make a difference in the world, and that there’s an impact that can be made with the product or service you’re bringing to market. And so the passion for me needs to come twofold. Yes, to build a strong business with financial returns, but around the impact on the human experience that you’re going to make. Yeah, yeah. And
Michael Hughes 18:39
I want to also just dive into this aspect of solo founders and founders that may come to you with a team and do you work, how important is having a team or having people ready to work with you on this project as they come to you for to pitch,
Sarah Thomas 18:55
It’s really important for me to have the team well rounded. And I am not naive to the fact that you can’t afford too many team members right away. And so at least identifying your gaps and what your target needs are four advisory board members or, you know, mentors that can come on to bring you where you need to go I had a startup come the other day that has has this great idea around using AI which we hear every second of the day and using AI for around workforce enhancement and efficiency and improvement of workforce through through charting, and I totally understand that. However, if you don’t have a single healthcare professional single clinician, somewhere, not just engineers, somewhere on the advisory board are working with you on the workflows. Then you’re building a widget that’s not sensitive to the human experience and what you’re trying to impact or who you’re trying to impact it. So It’s making sure if you don’t have if you have technical founders, but you don’t have someone used to commercialization, bringing, recognizing that need bringing someone in, if you are just passionate and you know, you’re gonna be the best CEO possible, because you’re never gonna give up, I will love that tenacity. But understanding where your shortcomings are, and building a team around you, or knowing that’s where the funding is going to be applied, so that you can build the team around you. It’s really important to know you can’t do this alone. This is a team effort all around to bring these products to market.
Michael Hughes 20:33
And you know, this something else just comes to my head right now regarding the team and this goes back to this element of human centered design that you had led off with? How often do you see that the companies that pitch you have people, if they’re if they aim to serve people with a problem or opportunity, let’s say it’s a functional limitation, or another condition that they entered better support? How often do you see that those people are on the advisory board, that those people are, are involved with the product creation? You know, because I think that’s something that’s kind of a talk, we have seen in the past that people put these things out here yet have not spent enough time falling in love with that problem. But even at the next level, bringing those people into the decision making with the company, what sort of trends are you seeing there? Is that increasing? Do you think that that co creation, or at least bringing people into the company itself?
Sarah Thomas 21:31
I think so. I hope so, you know, you can tell when a product has not at all been reviewed by someone who needs to utilize and use the product. And those they don’t succeed, as well as those who have human centered design with each stakeholder group at the table at some point in the process, whether that’s beta testing, whether that’s just feedback and user groups, whether that someone within your team at the core, who has that experience, or who has that perspective, or if you’re bringing an advisory board member that can help to bring that perspective, there has to be representation of those who you’re trying to impact from every stakeholder group. And in each tech. It’s interesting, because, you know, because we might have had a grandparent who fell, we think we know everything about falls. But do we actually have depending on who you’re selling to? Or who is the end user? Is the person who’s going to be a part of this? Maybe who could experience the phone? Do they want to wear what you are giving to them? Will they be seen with what you’re giving to them? Will they have access to the data of what comes from this solution? Who does have access to the data? Is the family caregiver involved? Is the paid caregiver involved? Or a community that maybe somebody resides involved? Where is the data flow going? And have you touched all of those points in the development and they don’t need to be hired by you on the core team. But there certainly needs to be opportunities for piloting with truly meaningful feedback. So that product can truly be applicable and sensitive to the communities that they’re serving.
Michael Hughes 23:16
Yeah, and you know, and we unpack this a little bit when we talked with Andy Miller from the ARP H decK Collaborative on an earlier podcast. But I think one of the, one of the joyous things about the H tech space is that many of the founders are compelled to, to create solutions, because they see the many problems we have with long term care in this country, because of their personal experience with themselves or a loved one. And they sort of carry that view of that experience with the loved one into the development of the solution. And that’s great, and it drives so much passion. But you know, in that case, you know, we would advise you know, you we have a Human Centered Design program at United Church homes here. And we have a customer Investigation module, and it’s titled Your cousin is not your audience. So even though you have this close personal experience with it’s just one experience, isn’t it?
Sarah Thomas 24:09
Absolutely. And it’s great. I know your program is really inspiring, and others should adopt ones like it because it’s true, we have our own perspective. But it was often too close to home. And it’s very personal. And it’s just one unique situation. You know, there, we have to look at the industry trends, look at the greater influence of those who have less access to resources and those who are going to be impacted in a different way than you experienced on your own. Maybe family or friend connection, personal story. So I do think we’re seeing more of that. Also they need access. So we really need companies like yours who do embrace, you know, entrepreneur in residence programs or startup incubation or helped feedback with support groups. We do need to provide that feedback, but they need to seek it. So that ‘s a partnership for that for sure.
Michael Hughes 25:05
Yeah. Okay, so we are recording this in October of 2023, like a timestamp because everything lives forever on the internet, right? So thinking of where we are in October of 2023, and the age tech sector, what are you particularly fascinated by right now, when you’re looking at new solutions, and H tech, what’s really? What are you really curious about?
Sarah Thomas 25:30
So I think it’s worth first talking about H tech for a second. So for me, ah, tech is really anything that helps improve our aging experience. And that could be something that’s wellness related, and prevention related at a younger age, food as medicine, nutrition, environmental impact of the places that we live in the products that we experience, and off glasses and lighting and sleep and all of the things that are part of our overall health and wellness journey, and that impact our cellular degeneration or aging in a health span rather than just a lifespan. And so looking at that, and well, the wellness journey, and sure it could be products that fall within aging in place home modification people, keeping people in community longer it with the resources brought to them or accessible to them with a tech enabled solution, or Yes, Senior Living and senior care certainly add a whole other community opportunity and a sales channel for some of these products and services. But it’s only a piece of that continuum. And sometimes I know our audiences might think of senior living for sure and senior care. But this age tech for me really spans across this continuum of aging and products. So how are we looking at fin tech and where it crosses over into age tech? So are we prepared for adding decades longer to our lifespan, in a way that designs meaningful opportunities for purposeful engagement in society? Are we taking on lifelong learning opportunities to have a new career or a new role within the community or within other people around us, surrounding us with new opportunities for growth and development? If we do have new long term insurance products or caregiver insurance products, look at this caregiver economy, and we are all going to either care for someone or be cared for at some point in our life. And so how do we do this? And we learned a lot during the pandemic about some of the struggles and inadequacies of our system to support caregivers who have to take time off from work or leave their career or take a sabbatical to care for someone they love. And then are we supporting them with replacement pay and or new opportunities to rejoin the workforce? The staffing crisis across the care continuum, are we augmenting, we’re automating some of the workforce and processes to support that caregiver crisis? Or shortage? Are we looking at end of life planning? Are we planning appropriately for how we want or legacy planning to be there or or end of life wishes to be present and considered or legacy creation? So it’s a long continuum. And I think when people think of age tech, sometimes they have, again, back to that one cousin, or that one experience, and they think of age tech in one area. And for me, it’s across this continuum. So what excites me is elevating all of those categories. And I took, you know, a few minutes longer than most to say the word.
Michael Hughes 28:46
But I actually had a little stopwatch here, sorry. Yeah.
Sarah Thomas 28:51
We all have bet at this point, how long is it gonna be before the startup just pitches AI to us, and they often don’t even know. But you know, we’d be remiss to not talk about the absolute progression of what is available to us right now, because of this machine learning. And, you know, because of this generative, artificial intelligence that’s just growing so fast, I was with a startup today, right before and it actually now has 16,000 pages of content that is uploaded in real time and upgraded and changed in real time, within four hours in a day. We could never do that before you would update content and keep it accurate in real time, maybe quarterly, maybe annually and take a huge team to do it. And now technology can enhance that and support that there. We just have so many resources at our fingertips to finally improve the predictive nature of how we use data and information to finally have access to not just not just reactive protocols to things but actually Proactiv, using much more predictive nature because of the technology enhancements? So that’s exciting to me. How do we create better efficiencies? How do we create better outcomes, often with the integration of new technology at our fingertips?
Michael Hughes 30:16
And I think he just shared two pieces of good news with us, quite frankly. The first is that, you know, we are heading into a world where we will expect to have not only more longevity, but more years that are healthy. And when you think about having an extra 20, or 25 years of, let’s say, productive work, you know, you can productively work or productively enjoy or whatever I mean, that’s going to really kind of, you know, open up a whole new definition of what it means to age into your 70s and 80s. And I think that’s really compelling, you know, things that are not just, you know, viewing you as an inevitable, you know, there’s an inevitable, you know, to support you and inevitable moments of failure, but more about that sustainability, I find that very hopeful. And the other thing that I think this reflects back to your history with occupational therapy, where, if you’re looking at occupational therapy, you basically said, You’re a professional problem solver. And then you listed off just so many different factors that you look at that, you know, because you know, you can draw up a plan for somebody, but they have to engage, they have to be, you know, all of these different things. And so I think what OT and PTs deal with is complexity. And what I think is right now kind of good at is taking lots of different inputs and kind of organizing and trying to make sense out of them. Right?
Sarah Thomas 31:39
Yeah. And so as most professions will be impacted, and some replaced, you know, I welcome the replacement of some of these complex task analysis that OTS are great acts, and putting that into chat GPT, and these other models so that they can help to distill that into something useful and usable for the consumer, for us to improve our processes to improve over time, improve our health delivery model, our models of care are models of hospitality, to elevate customer service, and just to elevate the human experience, overall technology absolutely is going to help with all facets of that.
Michael Hughes 32:22
Yeah, I don’t believe the world is going to be covered in paperclip factories in five years time, I’ve had a lot of hope around AI, that it just keeps growing and growing. So again, October of 2023, and I salute our robot masters. If you’re listening to this at some point in the future, you actually have taken over Yeah. Okay, so dangerous question here. What do you say? And this is me asking, this is not us. This is me asking. You’re getting an email, you get a pitch and it’s like, oh, my gosh, this is entirely you. I know. Oh, my God, because you’re Oh, no, I can’t see another one of these things. Oh, what do you think has been over? I know you don’t do that. What do you think has been overdone in H tech right now? If anything?
Sarah Thomas 33:09
I don’t know if anything has been overdone? Because I don’t think that we have come up with the end all be all solution for any category to cure and remove all problems, even problem areas. I will say that there are trendsetters, that set whether, you know, they set out solutions to do something, and they make us think differently about what’s possible. And so there are some front runners that are absolutely amazing, for instance, in remote patient monitoring, and then there’s 1000 other remote patient monitoring companies after there’s some front runners in digital rehabilitation or virtual telehealth. I mean, if you go to American telehealth, meet the American Telemedicine Association, you will see many of the same. What is going to differentiate the solution that you bring to market from others. Is it regional? Is it specific for a certain demographic? Is it culturally sensitive to a certain area or unserved underserved population? It doesn’t have more data or greater interoperability, does it have a more predictive nature? What is it that’s going to differentiate? that’s out there? So one thing that I would say to your question is why it’s maybe dangerous, as dangerous because I sit on a board of one of these types of companies. I have multiple that I integrate with Senior Living providers, and I recommend all of the time around falls prediction and falls prevention. But I want to give this as an example because I do also see someone who’s in a tech class or in a lab or sees a new tech that they learn about or is an end engineer. And I would say in the last three months alone, I’ve had five or six pitches of new companies wanting to come into the market for false prediction, false CAPTURE Falls Prevention. And they really just start with false identification. Someone’s on the floor, they notify you. But the problem is they’re coming from I found tech that determined that someone felt or position in space. And I want to use that tech and I want to sell you that tech in that widget driven to me, that’s I have tech and I’m gonna go find a problem area, I can apply it to it. I don’t, those pitches don’t resonate with me. I also had, you know, I led global innovation for Genesis healthcare for years publicly traded company at the time branched into China so that we were the largest post acute care provider in the world at the time with our innovation center that I designed and did a lot of pilots had a lot of pitches specifically for Genesis. And how many people 10 years ago now would come to me, don’t you care about songs? That was their pitch yelling at me saying we don’t care about the people who live with us we care for because we have so many faults, we must not care about the faults? And they’re not necessarily considered? Okay, how about all of the preventative measures we’ve already put in place? How about all of the factors, whether it’s staffing behaviors, autonomy, and allowing for independence and choice? You know, we can’t restrain people, what are we supposed to know? Do we want to buy these environments? How are we creating a better environment to allow for a safer existence? Absolutely. We care about falls. But if you’re selling me something, and I can’t act on the data that’s coming to me, You’re putting me at greater risk by having that data if I have no means to act on it. So you’re not considering the end user? Yes, you might be considering the older adult, and we should, but you’re not considering those who are receiving the alerts or the data that comes from it? And is it coming to us in a way that we can react fast enough to improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of falls? Or are you just giving us something that’s punitive and puts us at legal risk. And so some of these companies who have a widget have an idea of what tech can do, but don’t understand the problem areas. That’s where the pitch comes at me wrong. And so I say, Enough, I’ve heard enough of these companies. I’ve heard enough, but it’s the source. It’s not the solution. I absolutely think there’s a lot of room and space to grow in assaults, prediction, prevention, improvement of mobility and safety. So the category is not, we haven’t perfected it yet. haven’t eliminated it yet. So I’m all for people coming into the market. But what I am tired of is the technology leading the discussion and technology leading the solution, as opposed to the problem area, defining the market need, and then the technology coming to solve that market need. And so that’s, of course, the long version of it. But I think it’s not a category that I’m tired of seeing its approach that I’m tired of seeing.
Michael Hughes 38:19
Yeah, and I. And that’s why, you know, you’re giving us and our listeners a lot right now. And I really appreciate it. And I think it’s definitely coming from, you know, your lived experience, but also, you know, your, you know, your passion to really make a change in this space to actually foster really effective solutions. And in that respect, I think this is the last king of your subject. I’m going to give you the standard three questions we always ask our podcast guests with, I guess, to finish off this line of questioning, are you? Do you sit around at all and say, goodness, why isn’t anybody sending me a pitch on this problem? Or that problem? Do you think there’s anything going on again, October 2023, that is undeserved, or people just may not be paying attention to us as much as they should be?
Sarah Thomas 39:08
I think we’re lacking affordability and accessibility. And so don’t necessarily have the answer to that. And we’ve had multiple, very academic and socially driven conversations around this need. But if you look, for instance, I’m a part of Nexus insights with Bob Kramer. And, you know, you look at Nick’s forgotten middle study, and you look at Nick, and no work. And the research is there to say that we’re missing the middle, you know, where we’ve mastered helping those with affluence, who can pay for products and services, but how are we going to help the average individual and household age longer in a way that we’re addressing lifespan end WellSpan or healthspan? And not just the years in their lives, how are we creating more affordable resource access to quality environments, quality food, medication management, care delivery, when they need socialization to decrease social isolation, community engagement, transportation, there’s just so much that we haven’t tackled. If we can’t afford to live in today’s current Senior Living housing, for instance, what is available to us? How do we stay home? Or how do we move to? And how do we bring resources to those people really targeting all of the areas of need for health? Well, spam?
Michael Hughes 40:40
Yeah, and that’s something that keeps me up at night to serve. So thank you very much for saying that. And, you know, again, you know, thank you for your time on the podcast today, you’ve you’ve shared so much terrific information for aspiring entrepreneurs, people that are already developing solutions, people that are looking to better understand aging, and the age aging technology space, which is so broad, and can fall into so many different areas, just on the back of the fact that there are so many of us that are just going to be older. I mean, it’s gonna it’s the first time in the country that we’re gonna have sway oh, by the way, I don’t need to tell you those statistics, because you know them already. So please don’t put those stats into a decK of you’re sending it to Sara. But again, we always ask our guests three questions, with their own experience, about their own experience in aging. And I’m wondering if you’re open, can I ask you those questions? Sure. Okay, but first of all, you can ask me that you don’t have to answer no, you can say pass. But you know, where can people find you? Where can you know, if somebody is looking to get in touch with you or to get in touch with you know, just pitch away at some of the things that you have available, whether it be your staffing company, or some of the venture firms you work with?
Sarah Thomas 41:54
Sure. So as you know, we’ve kind of talked about my continuum, it’s easy for me to know where you fit into my areas of support and influence. It’s not always easy to identify what I do. But if you think of me, really helping the age tech startup, their product development, their product, Market Fit going to market, and their fundraising strategy, also, you know, the UI and UX, and understanding their business model. So I advise age tech startups. I also help senior living providers, large corporations understand their innovation strategy around technology and the aging consumer. So that could be in senior living or senior care, but also large corporations have hired me to just understand who is that demographic that’s coming in? And who ‘s that persona, like? What technologies are helpful to bring better solutions to their customer base. And then of course, the third bucket is the funding bucket. So seed stage and also Series A, with those three buckets, I realized during the pandemic, we were really all struggling with staffing. And so one area that we did talk about today was Ms. Tau but the real mess told came from analyzing that we could look at remote talent in a different way. We were all working from home. Many people were working for him. We understand the frontline caregivers were still very necessary. But where could we help to support roles that still had high turnover still required a lot of expertise and experience and quality purse people to attract your mission in age tech or in senior living? But how can we do it in an affordable or cost effective way while maintaining that retention. And so the mess towel does that and I invested in Meson and came on as the operating partner. So kind of all of my three buckets, they all know that Mestalla is a solution that you can utilize if it’s helpful for you, basically allows you to take any position that would be remote or virtual in the US and we hire out of our office in Mexico in Guadalajara, Mexico, quite sophisticated area, it’s considered the Silicon Valley of Mexico. So we hire everything from engineers to senior living accountants, graphic designers, we have a lot of great opportunities to find great talent, have them join your team that are on your mission. Risk. They are they feel a part of your team but are supported by community that we’ve built in Mexico and we provide great benefits and really a great community to help with retention because we noticed in senior living and an age, there was just such turnover. And if you outsource, yes, you might have low cost labor, but that turnover is so great that you miss opportunities for consistency or for quality and they’re not often missionally aligned. And so in Mexico, they’re in the central time zone and they work on your team. They’re highly talented individuals and they’re they may Take your mission, vision and values. And so that’s really what we loved as a solution across those three categories. So it’s if anyone wants to find me, they can find me on LinkedIn, and also s Thomas at men’s Tao, and EZT aol.com. And if they need help in either the product development side innovation strategy or funding, I can bring in the right resource at that point.
Michael Hughes 45:24
All right, I’m going to show I’m going to see how I’m going to test your cultural competence here that is MezTal. And I would guess it’s mostly l.com. Correct? Yes. Awesome. All right, the three questions. All right. So Sarah, question number one is, when you think about how you’ve aged, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you that you really like about yourself?
Sarah Thomas 45:49
I think probably back to the first story that I told, I think that my passion is just the elders around me, the older people around me and the wisdom that I found from them, and the excitement of the complexity of their lives and their stories. I think what became enjoyable for me then became my life’s work and my mission. Just wait a minute, we have to do better, we have to do better as a society, as individuals, as caregivers, as family members. And I think the fact that I brought that passion, just from a personal perspective into a professional perspective is probably what I carry the most with me.
Michael Hughes 46:29
Well, and I think you’ve just answered question number three, which is, tell us if you’ve, if you’ve met somebody in your past that has been setting a good example for you and aging, you lead off with that example?
Sarah Thomas 46:43
And I think that’s a different answer. Well, he was, his name is Sheffy. And while he was motivating, I think it’s that everyone in my tribe as I grew older, had that example setting for me. I had multiple matriarchs in my family who taught me a lot about independence and strength and tenacity. I was blind on to his 90 years old painting and living alone. She, you know, we just taught each other how to overcome challenges and care for each other, very caring, nurturing, upbringing with a lot of elders. So yeah, just continuous mentorship along my lifespan.
Michael Hughes 47:24
And it sounds like, you know, that really underlines the spirit of abundant aging, that, you know, is so precious to United Church homes, and to so many other people. But we’re going to end with question number two, which is what has surprised you the most about you, as you’ve aged?
Sarah Thomas 47:41
What has surprised me the most? I don’t know, I think the importance of nurturing your mental health, and your spiritual health and your overall all dimensions of wellness and not just physical health as you age. And it’s not that I didn’t consider that before, but I think I’m more mindful of it. Now. I have a hectic lifestyle, I’m on the road all the time. I love what I do for my, you know, I don’t ever consider it work, but it’s a lot of hours on with my passion on at all times. And I think that nurturing and fostering connection and interpersonal, you know, intimacy and also looking at mental health and breathing and finding space and finding healthy ways to live and not just, you know, we’re human beings, right, not doers, where we need to just also embrace I think the overall embracing wellness kind of across all dimensions, I would say is probably the greatest. It’s not a surprise, but it’s something that I constantly need to remind myself of so that I don’t just continue through life doing things.
Michael Hughes 49:00
Right. And I think it’s a wonderful story, a wonderful perspective. I’m so glad that you shared it, shared it with us and our audience, what a wonderful place to end. So Sarah, thank you so much for spending this time with us. We were dead, we just thought. And we’re looking forward to seeing more and more of the things we’re gonna be doing in the future. So thank you for being a guest on the show. But most especially thanks to you, our listeners for listening to this episode of the heart of aging, which is part of the abundant aging podcast series from the Ruth Frost Parker Center for abundant agents, which is part of United Church Homes, and we want to hear from you. What solutions are you working on in the age tech space? What issues are you facing or that you’ve seen that deserve new solutions to address longevity and healthy longevity? Who’s your abundant aging hero? Tell us this and give us ideas for future episodes by visiting abundant aging podcast.com You want to find out more about the Ruth Ross Parker center you can do so by visiting unitedchurchhomes.org/parker-center. And Sarah. Once again, you’re on LinkedIn. Men’s towel.com. Am I right on that? Yep. Anything else?
Sarah Thomas 50:15
Now? That’s perfect. Thank you so much for having me and I look forward to hearing other people’s stories. I think abundant aging is a great theme for all of us to keep an eye on.
Michael Hughes 50:25
That’s terrific. Thank you all for listening. We’ll see you next time.