The Challenge Of Mindblock In Eldercare Space

Many startups are today leveraging tech to offer eldercare in different categories such as job opportunities, healthcare services, emotional guidance, e-commerce, food delivery, house help and other services

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Startups in the eldercare space are slowly but surely getting a push from customers, investors and government bodies. For instance, in June 2021, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment launched an initiative called, SAGE (Seniorcare Aging Growth Engine) to support products and services by eldercare startups. Post pandemic, these startups have gained a further foothold as children living abroad, in particular, were left with no choice but to opt for these services to ensure their parents are safe and healthy.

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These agetech startups have also been grabbing investors' attention lately as VCs today are more aware of the changing demographics and the need for tech-based services, particularly in healthcare. For instance, Portea Medical, which is one of the prominent startups in the space, that offers home healthcare raised INR 48 crore in Series A funding from venture capital firms, Accel Partners and Ventureast in November last year. Other players in the space include Getsetup, Alserv, Khyal, Goodhands Seniorcare, TriBeCa Care, Seniority & Evergreen Club, among others.

Till now only dominated by real estate players offering residences with amenities for senior citizens, the space is now seeing many startups leveraging tech to offer eldercare in different categories such as economic or job opportunities, community service, healthcare services at home, telemedicine, emotional guidance, e-commerce, food delivery, nutritional assistance, digital literacy, insurance, home cleaning among others.

The White Space

India has about 138 million elderly population (60+ years), constituting 71 million women and 67 million men, according to a report of the Technical Group on Population Projections for India and States, 2011–2036. Thus, startups in the space believe that it is a massively underserved market. "The global population is aging fast and faster each year. India's population 50+ population is expected to double by 2050 when nearly one-third of its total population would fall in this age group, according to a US census. Yet many businesses globally ignore this huge consumer market. The misconception of older adults is global, and many companies don't pay attention to their needs because their voices are not heard in social spaces," said Deval Delivala, co-founder & SVP, GetSetUp, a startup that offers learners a safe and inclusive platform to learn about subjects in a timely manner, from their peers. It claims that it supports over four million users globally with an 800 per cent YoY growth in users from 2020.

There is also a massive gap in this industry for services delivery. "Eldercare was synonymous to retirement communities. Although all services are available for elders, there is no dedicated platform for services delivery, coordination and feedback to enhance the experience. It was up to the elders to do it by themselves, or for their family to coordinate for services. And the open market was a place for unequal prices for gullible customers when in time of need. Alserv intends to put a structure to quality of services, equality in prices and enhance the quality of services delivery with a call centre and mobile app and ensure feedback is taken regularly and worked upon," said Jagadish Ramamoorthy, co-founder and director, Alserv.

Further, senior economy is pegged at $17 trillion globally, and the global age tech market is a $2 trillion market and that is why investors globally have started looking at this space actively. "According to a report released by CII, the medical and lifestyle market for the economically independent senior urban population in India stands at about INR 43,000 crores. Senior citizens today want to invest effort and money in maintaining a healthy lifestyle for themselves, pursuing their hobbies and even socializing with their peers. They have more disposable income now and experience the "Empty Nest Syndrome', thereby adding to their independence and willingness to spend on themselves," said Tapan Mishra, founder, Seniority & Evergreen Club.

The Hurdles In Scaling Up

Although eldercare startups have purpose-driven business models, multiple challenges are hampering the growth for these startups. The biggest challenge is changing mindset. "One of the biggest challenges faced in elderly care is the societal mindset which looks down upon families if their bedridden family members are attended by outsiders instead of relatives. Thus, the care becomes not only a cost for the concerned family but also a bigger challenge. This is because the family members are usually not professionally trained in taking care of the patient and they have other things to take care of," Vaibhav Tewari, co-founder and COO, Portea Medical was quoted as saying.

The concept of services is new and awareness building is also challenge for certain segments or categories within eldercare. "People know of only retirement communities as a solution for eldercare and services delivery at home is new. When people start experiencing services at home with consistent quality assurance, scaling this concept would be faster," said Ramamoorthy.

Mishra agrees. "The degree of awareness, or sometimes the lack of it, when it comes to a category like senior care is a major challenge we faced in the initial days of our launch. On one hand we have real estate developers building senior-friendly homes and on the other hand, we have medical and wellness services for them. But there were no players who addressed the lifestyle product needs for them," he said.

Further, these startup founders feel that while the government and social organizations are studying, analyzing, and finding healthcare solutions for the aged in India, not much is being done for the emotional and lifestyle needs of our senior citizens. "While silver line could be gauged from 2022 budget where the FM spoke around mental health initiatives, the Indian government should also soon take cognizance of the challenges of the older generation just like countries Japan, Australia and UK," said Mishra.

Another challenge is gaining trust among this target audience. "They are very careful in trusting the service provider and in the initial days, it has taken us a lot of time to gain their trust," he added.

While many of these startups have turned challenges into opportunities by leveraging first-mover advantage within different categories in the space, better awareness and a mindset change among the masses will determine their unit economics.