This month’s Health Care Trailblazer, Dr. Katy Fike, is an influential leader and part of the co-founding team for Aging2.0. Aging2.0 is a global organization on a mission to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world. Aging2.0 connects, educates and supports innovators through regular events, the CoverAGE newsletter and the GENerator founders program. I was fortunate enough to track her down for a phone interview for our OpenPlacement Health Care Trailblazer feature interview. Dr. Fike’s journey from systems engineering student to being a co-founder of Aging2.0 is an inspirational story for many different health care professionals and especially those involved with senior care and the aging space.
Tell us a little bit about your background. I see you have a PhD in Gerontology as well as a background on Wall Street working for Lehman Brothers. Tell us how you got to where you are today? Were there any obstacles and/or challenges you have faced to get where you wanted to be?
After graduating with a degree in Systems Engineering from University of Virginia, I moved to New York to work for Lehman Brothers. As an investment banker, the strict hierarchy, narrowly defined roles and lack of control over my schedule were certainly frustrating aspects of the job. The experience helped me realize how much I need and enjoy collaboration, creativity and autonomy. After experiencing the events of September 11th from my office in the World Financial Center, I knew I needed and wanted to do work I was truly passionate about. After lots of research and soul searching, I switched gears in 2004 and went back to school to earn my Ph.D. in gerontology from the University of Southern California.
It feels like I should say I was overwhelmed and fearful of the leap from being an Investment Banker to a Gerontologist. But honestly, by the time I decided to leave my job, I knew it was the right direction. I had a passion to learn about older adults and felt that I had a unique skill set that I could bring to the field.
I think there is a common misconception that once you have found your passion in life, it is all smooth sailing after that. I have definitely had my share of uncertainty and struggles along the way as I have ventured into this nascent space at the intersection of aging, business and technology. It some ways, it’s almost harder once you’ve found your passion because you care so much and see so much potential in what you’re doing. In the end, it’s very rewarding and I’m exciting to be working to help redefine the future of aging.
Why did you create Aging2.0? What is the vision and mission of Aging2.0?
Aging2.0 is a global organization on a mission to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world. It helps connect, educate and support innovators through regular events, the CoverAGE newsletter and the GENerator founders program. Aging2.0 has hosted 30 events in 10 cities across three countries, cultivating a robust ecosystem of innovators including entrepreneurs, technologists, designers, investors, long-term care providers and seniors themselves since early 2012.
On November 21, 2013 you announced the GENerator founders program. What is your goal and mission with the program?
GENerator was created to help the top founders in aging and to overcome the challenges and barriers in our space (access to customers / insights, ageless design/marketing, distribution and funding). These unique barriers hinder the development and distribution of new innovations for later life. Older adults, caregivers and long-term care providers are demanding better products and services, yet there is a gap between the entrepreneurial community and the market. The GENerator fills this gap and helps entrepreneurs get the mentorship, access and resources they need to be successful.
There are so many accelerator/incubator programs out there today (YCombinator, 500Startups, Rock Health among many others). Why do you believe there has never been one dedicated to seniors and the aging population?
We designed the GENerator based on conversations we have had with hundreds of startups, investors, long-term care providers and seniors themselves over the past 18 months. While there are many accelerator programs out there today, none of them are focused on addressing the unique needs and barriers in the 50+ space. We see the GENerator as complementary to many of the existing programs and, in fact, many of the companies we work with are alumni of other programs (such as OpenPlacement who graduated from the Rock Health program).
What do you see as the biggest challenges today for the senior population?
Noted geriatrician Bill Thomas MD described the three plagues of elderhood being loneliness, helplessness, boredom – which I believe does a nice job of summarizing the biggest challenges that seniors face today. In order to overcome these challenges we need products and services that help seniors be more connected, more empowered and have a sense of purpose. Connecting and empowering older adults is critical for the health and sustainability of our families, our communities and our healthcare system. Companies like OpenPlacement fill that gap by providing tools to increase transparency during care transitions and help consumers connect with the best, most appropriate service providers.
When it comes to care coordination for seniors – what do you see as the major hurdles and challenges for the aging population?
I see transparency and accesses are the major hurdles. Seniors need the right tools and right information at the right time to help them live the life they want to live and make the best decisions possible for their health and well-being. Care coordination challenges are often exacerbated for older adults who may have multiple chronic conditions, multiple doctors and long distance family members. Technology is increasingly playing a critical role in connecting patients, their families and care providers and keeping everyone on the same page. This is particularly important during care transitions.
Who do you view as some current leaders and innovators in the senior care / aging space that you look-up to? Why?
- Kari Olson and Davis Park from the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing are true trailblazers and thought leaders. Front Porch runs a number of senior communities and care centers in California. Kari and Davis are on the front lines, piloting new technology solutions and giving entrepreneurs the valuable feedback they need in order to build informed products and services that increase wellbeing in later life. These opportunities also give Front Porch residents and clients the opportunity to get involved in the product development cycle and help shape the way products are developed for this market. It’s a win-win.
- Our GENerator founders are leading the way and positioning themselves as leaders in innovation and aging. I’m proud of the work they are doing to improve the lives of older adults and redefine the aging experience.
Finally, what do you love most about what you do?
I love combining my passion and expertise in gerontology with my love of innovation, technology and business. Our mission is to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world. Bridging that gap between older adults and entrepreneurs is an important part of doing so. I love meeting passionate entrepreneurs and love working with older adults – so Aging2.0 provides the perfect vehicle for doing both. In 2014, we are going to be rolling out Aging2.0 chapters around the world. It’s exciting to see the community grow and to see more sharp people focused on changing aging.
We want to thank Katy for giving us her time for this interview. There is no doubt that she is paving a much brighter path and future for our aging population and we salute her for her hard work, dedication and passion for what she does!
Do you know a Health Care Trailblazer? We are constantly on the lookout for those who are making big waves and especially in the aging space. Nominations and suggestions for future leaders to interview can be submitted to us via Twitter @OpenPlacement. See all those we have interviewed in the past here.