VR comes of age, as Rendever, a mixed reality startup focused on the elderly, acquires Alcove from AARP

Elderly people are not typically thought of as early adopters of cutting-edge technology, but there are startups looking to buck that trend, banking on an opportunity to provide them with them with new services like VR, to address the specific needs of elderly consumers, Today one of the bigger startups in the space, Rendever, is announcing an acquisition to expand its business. The company, which builds virtual reality experiences designed to help elderly people feel less lonely and currently has some 600,000 users, has acquired Alcove, a platform developed at AARP — the organization that both lobbies for and provides services like insurance and support to members, who are typically retirees and older people.

Rendever operates as a B2B service — it works with care homes and other organizations to create customized VR experiences that are in turn used those organizations’ elderly residents — but Alcove is more consumer-facing and is currently sold as a service to AARP’s members. It describes itself as a “family-oriented virtual reality app”. Available to use on Meta (Oculus) Quest, the app is laid out as a virtual living room where families can “meet” and look at photos, play games, watch movies or just converse together.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed but from what we understand Rendever is paying cash for Alcove, and AARP is taking equity in Rendever as part of the deal.

Rendever and AARP are not strangers. The latter is one of the startup’s investors (others include Mass Challenge and the Dorm Room Fund; it’s also had grants from the National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and they had initially co-developed Alcove together before AARP decided that it no longer wanted to invest in developing it in house.

“We at AARP are thrilled to have Rendever acquire and continue expanding the capabilities of such an impactful product as Alcove,” said Rick Robinson, VP & GM of the AgeTech Collaborative at AARP. “We know virtual, immersive experiences can demonstrate tremendously positive outcomes, especially for the socially isolated and we expect Alcove will continue helping even wider audiences under Rendever’s leadership.” The org, he said, is not pulling away from tech, but it will pursue it in collaboration with third parties more in the future.

That shift — along with this piece of M&A — both underscore part of a bigger trend that is being played out in tech. Not only has the bear market led to startups having a harder time raising money right now; but similarly organizations and reining in budgets for tech projects (if not completely killing them off) if those projects are not showing a strong return or quick path to profitability. This in turn is spurring more M&A activity as a means to giving those startups and those projects a lifeline in these leaner times.

The fact that the asset in question here is focused on elderly people is also significant. Technology is now part and parcel of how we interact with each other, something that became ever more the case in the peak of Covid-19 as people had to isolate more from each other and travel got curtailed. Although there are a lot of older consumers who resist a lot of tech — they may not have mobile phones, or can’t solve simple glitches on their computers, or they don’t use any kind of social media — that population is evolving as more digitally-savvy consumers age.

All of this will lead to a bigger market and a bigger demand for services and devices aimed at older people’s specific needs and preferences. (And this week at CES, building for that population, not just VR like this but gadgets like hearing aids, is forming a big part of what might more generally be described as “accessibility” tech but could just as accurately be seen as more sophisticated approaches for specific audiences.)

The idea that there is an untapped market of users, but those who could be a perfect audience for VR, formed part of the premise for Rendever getting started in the first place, CEO and co-founder Kyle Rand said.

“We had the idea of bringing VR into senior living communities to address social isolation,” he said of the original idea for the startup in 2016. At the time, most were skeptical, he said.

“Back then, when we told people this idea, and we provided some demos, we got laughed at. No, they said, you’re going to use this technology with this demographic [because] they must be tech averse. But what we found was that if you can make it easy to get somebody into the experience, and provide something meaningful and joyfus, the opportunities were just limitless.” He said when users come into virtual rooms for the first time, or use them to “travel” back to their childhood neighborhoods using Google Maps and Street View, people would “light up.”

Although providing ways to ease social isolation might have previously been seen as a nice-to-have, the premise took on a different urgency during Covid-19 when so many were isolated out of caution and sometimes actual public health regulations, and people started to understand just what toll isolation could have on mental health, regardless of the age. Today, the startup works with some 500 senior living communities in North America, and it has to date delivered more than 2 million VR experiences to older adults.

Rendever is largely bootstrapped — it has raised less than half a million dollars in the last eight years — but it’s now using the fact that it is profitable and growing while addressing an evolving market to go out for its Series A. we’ve delivered over 2 million experiences in VR to older adults.

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VR comes of age, as Rendever, a mixed reality startup focused on the elderly, acquires Alcove from AARP by Ingrid Lunden originally published on TechCrunch

Homage announces strategic partnership with Infocom, one of Japan’s largest healthcare IT providers

Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.

During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.

Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.

The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.

In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”

Carewell raises $5M for a vetted marketplace aimed at family caregivers

Caregivers, both paid and unpaid, have been in the spotlight this year as one of the key categories of front-line workers helping cope with the coronavirus pandemic. On one hand, they have been in great need, especially as the infection seemed to hit hardest with the elderly people and infirm people who they help. On the other, they have been regularly found to be overlooked when it comes to having adequate personal protection (such as masks) and other resources to cope with their work.

There are signs, though, that thinking about and catering to caregivers are both changing for the better. Today, Carewell, which provides a marketplace for caregivers to purchase vetted supplies at competitive prices, is announcing a seed round of funding from a key list of investors and is embarks on its earliest stage of growth.

The startup has picked up just over $5 million from e.ventures — the VC that originally started out as BV Ventures, the strategic VC arm of publishing giant Bertelsmann — along with NextView Ventures; and Primetime Partners, the firm co-founded by VC legend Alan Patricof (who founded the predecessor to Apax and then founded Greycroft) and Abby Levy. Others in the round included Chewy.com’s former VP of growth marketing, Jason Klinghoffer, and Dia&Co founders, Nadia Boujarwah and Lydia Gilbert.

Primetime itself is an interesting firm: it was founded by the pair specifically to find and invest in startups building services to address the needs of older people, which, like caregivers, are another very overlooked group when it comes to a lot of new services.

Carewell is based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, itself notable at a time when so many are moving out of bigger tech hubs amid all of the other shifts we’ve gone through in the pandemic. It was co-founded by Bianca Padilla and Jonathan Magolnick, who say they launched the company after Padilla found herself in the role of informal family caregiver.

Informal caregivers is a group separate from those who are professional caregivers, with one of the key differentiators being that the former are unpaid. It’s estimated that there are some 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., working out to some 20% of the population, with numbers on the rise, but as Padilla found out, even with these big numbers, there were precious few resources available to her to figure out best practices; and as an individual (not a nursing home, not a hospital, not an agency) there weren’t really places she could go online to buy supplies that she could trust to be good brands and good value.

And that’s how, in 2015, Carewell was born.

The company looks to be more than just a marketplace (which might be one reason why e.ventures and Levy of Primetime, both with roots in publishing, were interested).

In addition to selling hygiene, home and personal care, meal and other products, it also provides a series of guides intended to give information and advice to informal caregivers. They include subjects like getting around Medicare, dealing with mealtimes if someone has dementia, profiles of caregivers in the wider community, exercise ideas and more.

“Now, more than ever, family members are challenged with providing in-home care for their chronically ill, disabled, or aging loved ones,” said Padilla, who is Carewell’s CEO, in a statement. “Our mission is to improve the lives of these selfless individuals and help them provide better care. We are more than an e-commerce company. We are here to support, educate, and advocate for the long-overlooked caregiving community.”

The company does not disclose much on its metrics so far, except to note that it’s had a predictable boost in business since the arrival of the pandemic. That makes sense: many worked to get their family members out of care homes if they could to avoid catching the virus at a time when the infection seemed to be ravaging those facilities. And in general movement became much more restricted, so people were stepping up to help older and infirm family members more than before.

Carewell said that as a result, its revenues doubled in the first month of the pandemic, and since February 2020, some 40,000 people have purchased products on the site.

Although some of that might be circumstances-based, the bigger trends in healthcare and aging seem to point to more, not less, caregivers needing advice and supplies, and so that points to an interesting business opportunity for startups like this one.

“Five years ago, Bianca and Jonathan saw a need in the market, and that need is even more prominent today,” said David Beisel, a partner at NextView Ventures. “As the home care industry undergoes a rapid transformation and the number of unpaid family caregivers continues to climb, Carewell’s supplies, services, and support are of critical importance–and we see a tremendous opportunity for growth.” Beisel is becoming a board observer with this round.

“Carewell is poised to become a national brand and top-level leader in the home care market,” said Mathias Schilling, co-founder and managing partner of e.ventures. “Through an empathetic approach and authentic customer engagement, they’ve formed a strong community and laid a solid foundation built on trust. We’re thrilled to support the Carewell team in expanding their impact and improving the everyday lives of an even greater number of caregivers.” Schilling is joining the board.

The pandemic has wreaked a lot of economic and social havoc around the world, but one small silver lining has been that it’s given space and time for people to rethink how to rebuild things in a better way. Funding and seeing the growth of e-commerce sites that address groups of people who have not been considered all that valuable in the past — in this case the elderly and their unpaid caregivers — is one positive development in that regard.