Promising aging product and service ideas need viable business models behind them

Posted on May 09, 2011 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Big. This is one way to describe the American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco last week. Between the number of sessions, the number of attendees, and the special programs, one could easily have gotten overwhelmed. So much opportunity to learn and so little time.

Here are some of my observations:

As a country, we are fortunate that there are so many people passionate about this topic.  (And we know it must be passion driving them because it can’t be the money!) This is good because the more brains involved, the better solutions we will have.

The challenge we have, and this was very apparent at the conference, is there are many great ideas, many similar ideas, and very limited financial resources to bring these ideas to fruition and carry them into long-term sustainability.

I didn’t observe much about developing viable and realistic business plans to understand if these products and services were marketable across an identified customer base and then financially viable.  Products and services are being developed because some type of grant (investment) was obtained – which is nice.  However, the reality is grants are typically finite and will come to an end at some point.  To remain viable, the product or service must have a plan for growth and financial means beyond the grant.

This makes me raise the importance of collaboration and financial sustainability, two concepts near and dear to The Patterson Foundation.  Having many similar ideas presents an opportunity to leverage intellectual capital and resources to bring a better product, service or process to market.  Financial sustainability means building a business model in which funding for the product or service becomes a long-term strategy.  This can include grants, but it must also include other forms of generating revenue and expense consolidation.

Fortunately, many foundations are exploring how to help nonprofits leverage and scale good ideas. For example, The Center for Technology and Aging is identifying proven technology products and services and helping to scale them to a broader client base. The Patterson Foundation looks at products, services and opportunities through 4 lenses:  communication, technology, financial thrivability and learning.

The model is definitely changing, and the good news is that everyone at the ASA conference seems to recognize this. The challenge, as in any business situation, is how these organizations and industries respond to the changes and make necessary adjustments to continue to thrive. I can see this being very challenging to those who are just trying to stay afloat.

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