Backed by the National Institute on Aging, the a2 Pilot Awards fosters age tech entrepreneurship • TechCrunch

There are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in history, and that number is expected to rise, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). With longer lifespans come challenges like Alzheimer’s disease, which affects about one in nine Americans aged 65 or older.

The a2 Pilot Awards were created to encourage the development of technology for seniors. Funded by the NIA with $40 million over the next five years, the awards today announced the first cohort of 33 projects selected for funding. The majority use artificial intelligence or machine learning technology, and 40% are led by women.

Stephen Liu, chief executive of a2 Collective, which oversees the awards, told TechCrunch he hopes it encourages more tech entrepreneurs to enter the tech age.

“It’s a largely uncontested, growing, future-proof market that will have unprecedented opportunities driven by AI,” he said, adding, “We have two big mega-trends , AI and the demographics of aging and it is irrefutable that there is a large, growing, massive and future-proof market that they should focus on.

The a2 collective includes three artificial intelligence and technology laboratories (AITC) with which the projects will work. AITCs are housed at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Most of the 33 pilot projects focus on cognitive decline, but some also address frailty, comorbidity, delirium, palliative care, social isolation and visual impairment. They will receive a total of more than $5 million, and projects selected for funding will receive up to $200,000 in zero capital grants to cover direct costs over a one-year period.

About half of the applications for the first prizes came from private companies, while others are university research projects. Many are also collaborations between the private sector and academia. A2 Collective reached out to healthcare-focused startups, academic institutions, accelerator programs and venture capital firms to find candidates.

a2 Pilot Awards first cohort

a2 Pilot Awards first cohort

“In this particular program, we definitely have our eye on commercial use, or some sort of commercialization of the project,” Liu said. “Ideally, you want to see an impact where it’s going to be used by someone, whether it’s a clinician, an older American, a caregiver, or a nurse, over the next few years.”

Examples of selected projects include Autotune Me, which uses music to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions. Bestie Bot uses RGB-D depth cameras and thermal computer vision to perform patient monitoring and telehealth checkups. And uses conversational AI to perform health assessments and detect signs of cognitive impairment and dementia in people at home.

In addition to AITCs, a2 Collective’s partnerships also include health systems, clinicians and researchers, venture capitalists, and public health institutions that focus on age technology and patient care. the elderly.

Each AITC decides which projects are funded and also gives them access to gerontologists, geriatricians, Alzheimer’s specialists and other experts. The idea is to give each project the same kind of mentorship and guidance as pre-seed startups in accelerator programs, Liu said.

The second a2 Pilot Awards are already in the works, with the next set of finalists currently selected. They will be announced in the spring. The a2 Collective will also be accepting applications for its third competition from May 1 to July 31.

Liu told TechCrunch that he expects to see a dramatic increase in age technology.

“As the cost of computing declines and the capabilities of our AI model increase, I believe we can expect a Cambrian explosion of new technologies that will significantly help older Americans, including those with the disease. Alzheimer’s, live longer and better and maybe help our beleaguered health care system,” he said. We’re in the early innings of this one.