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Age-tech startups find their groove, take baby steps

When Ratan Tata invested an undisclosed sum in Goodfellows in August, he thrust the national spotlight on startups with a unique TAM–senior citizens.

Three months later, another billionaire, the real estate mogul Niranjan Hiranandani, also backed the senior companionship startup founded by Tata’s mentee Shantanu Naidu, a 29-year-old.

GoodFellows had generated significant interest even earlier, registering about 800 young people wanting to be caregivers or companions to the 20-odd elders who were part of its beta programme–a test phase before the official launch in September.

Retired lawyer Arthur D’Mello, who was a part of that beta programme, had been partnered with another lawyer, whom he refers to only as Gargi.

Gargi helped the still purposeful 86-year-old draft legal mails to be sent to entities across the world, contributing significantly to D’Mello feeling engaged and relevant. Gargi even helped set up an Instagram account so D’Mello’s wife could watch videos of her grandson’s band.


Niranjan Hiranandani, Shradha Sharma invest in Ratan Tata-backed Goodfellows

The Mumbai-based GoodFellows is among a small but increasingly visible group of elderly-focused startups drawing investor attention–although for relatively small sums, and smatteringly.

In January, Morgan Stanley India Infrastructure, via its North Haven India Infrastructure Partners fund, backed Chennai-headquartered Athulya Senior Care with a Rs 77-crore cheque, which the company boasted was “one of the largest fundraisings in India’s senior care service sector.”

India’s elderly population is projected to increase to 320 million by 2050 from about 138 million in 2021, per a report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

And as per the 2011 Census (the 2021 Census is delayed), almost 15 million elderly (age 60 and above) people in India lived on their own without the support of family or friends.

The estimated 138 million elderly people currently in India account for about 10% of the country’s population.

That addressable market craves myriad advanced, age-specific solutions–including senior residential communities, geriatric care, elder-friendly products, jobs for retirees, travel, and counselling and companionship services–that are largely unavailable across the country. At least not in any organised manner.

Building communities

Senior residential communities meet an essential requirement that’s cropped up largely over the last two decades. With traditional societies becoming highly displaced as the next generation of educated, middle-class families sought their fortunes in other cities or abroad, it became imperative to find safe accommodation for the elderly left behind.

Ashiana Housing, not a startup by any means, was quick to tap into this demand, establishing a template of sorts for newer companies entering the senior living space. The publicly listed New Delhi-based real estate developer currently has five senior-living projects across Bhiwadi in NCR, Lavasa in Pune, and Chennai, with pricing for independent units ranging from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 1.6 crore.

“Our focus is to create spaces where seniors can stay outdoors and engage in activities rather than being confined to four walls,” says Ankur Gupta, Joint Managing Director. “There is only a limited supply in this segment, via 55 projects by the top 12 players–60% in tier-II cities and the remaining 40% in tier-I cities.”

Prominent among the Tier-II cities for senior residential facilities are Coimbatore, Puducherry, Vadodara, Bhopal, Jaipur, Mysuru, Dehradun, Kasauli and Kanchipuram. Tier-I cities include Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune and Noida.

Athulya, too, is in the business of providing homes for senior communities, mostly on lease. It has four facilities in Chennai and one in Bengaluru. But it also offers a host of other services, including nursing and palliative care. The startup has also partnered with hospitals and labs in Chennai and Bengaluru for medical support. 

“These days, we are also approaching colleges, schools, music institutes, etc., for conducting programmes for residents staying in our facilities,” says CEO Srinivasan G.

Athulya plans to use the money from its fundraise to expand across South India over the next two years, managing at least 2,500 assisted living beds and serving more than 50,000 elderly persons, up from 400 beds and 20,000 customers now.

Loyal clientele

“The best part of the senior care market is how loyal they are–maybe one of the most loyal, making it an exciting space to solve for,” says Sanil Sachar, Founding Partner at Huddle, an accelerator and fund for early-stage ventures in India that’s backed WisdomCircle. 

“I think there’s a lot of education needed by founders and investors who have entered this space to educate others of how large a market it is and how fragmented it is,” Sachar adds. “We are seeing a pick-up of investor interest over the last year, and that is largely due to business models in this space making investors recognise the long-life time value and stickiness of this audience.”

Thankfully, catering to the senior segment isn’t entirely about building communities and ensuring care.

For SeniorWorld, which sells elder-friendly mobile phones and safety devices on Amazon and Flipkart as well as via retail stores including Chroma and Sangeetha Mobiles, a huge area of focus is travel, featuring a host of holiday packages for the elderly.

Online marketplace, apart from massage chairs and adult diapers, also sells travel accessories, home decor, gardening equipment, grooming kits, and a wide range of other lifestyle products. Delhi-NCR-based Health Care At Home Pvt. Ltd acquired from RPG Group for an undisclosed sum in November.

WisdomCircle’s area of specialisation is finding jobs for retirees. For this, the startup has partnered with about 65 organisations, including the likes of Tata Hitachi and Mahindra Group as well as non-profits Teach for India and Dhwani Foundation.

“Our current focus is India, and we intend to expand into other geographical markets later,” says Founder and CEO Neeraj Sagar. “Our platform has been live for about six months as an invite-only experience. In January, we opened it for both retired professionals and recruiters (and already have 1,000+  experienced retirees on our platform.”

The startup charges a listing fee and a service fee from organisations hiring through it. It’s free for retired professionals seeking jobs.

“What organisations need to realise is that senior professionals are more motivated by engaging and meaningful work rather than direct compensation,” says Shripati Acharya, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners, which has backed WisdomCircle.

“As the senior population grows further, deepening this pool of talent, we expect more opportunities and increasing investor interest in age-tech.”

[Disclaimer: YourStory Founder and CEO is an investor in GoodFellows. This had no bearing on the reporting.]

Edited by Feroze Jamal

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