Developing New Brunswick’s “Silver Economy”

A new event this month is aiming to change the way people view one of New Brunswick’s biggest challenges: its aging population.

Startup Weekend New Brunswick’s upcoming event: The Silver Economy, taking place April 28 to April 30 in Moncton, aims to change the long-held narrative around dealing with the province’s aging demographic, often revolving around healthcare costs and nursing home beds. This will be Startup Weekend New Brunswick’s first ever themed event.

“We decided that for our first theme we wanted to tackle a very real issue that’s happening in the province,” says Jared Goodman, one of the event’s organizers. “So we chose the aging population but dubbed it the ‘Silver Economy,’ mostly because aging population is usually portrayed in the media along the lines as a problem that needs to be solved. Especially [considering] our partnership with FCNB, we really want it to feel more like an opportunity for business.”

Like every other startup weekend, the event will have teams develop a startup over 54 hours, ending with a pitch competition for prizes. But the focus on the companies created will be to serve the needs or solve the problems of those in 55 plus demographic.

“The Silver Economy is defined as any sector of the economy that touches the aging population, which is almost anything. A lot of people immediately peg it as healthcare. Aging population isn’t considered the old and decrepit, immobile. Everyone is a part of the aging population. It’s very broad topic,” says Goodman.

“I foresee a lot of the issues we’ll be solving as in the range of 55 to 75 [years-old]. So issues that are surrounding retirement, housing … technology enablement is probably going to be another big one as well.”

With images of young men and women in hoodies dominating many people’s ideas of startup culture, the event is also looking to encourage more people from the older generations to get involved in the New Brunswick’s startup community.

“We actually introduced a new category of tickets as well, because we do encourage older generations to participate. We understand that an older generation may not be able to commit to those 54 full hours, it is quite intense, so we have the Golden Guru option for those who are 55 plus,” says Goodman. “They can come and provide insight into the demographic for the teams, but they wouldn’t have to stay the entire weekend.”

The event will also feature special guests who will help participants get creative with the economic and innovation opportunities within the ‘Silver Economy’. Gerry Pond, co-founder of East Valley Ventures and Mariner Partners Inc., is one of them. He says the province needs to start viewing the older demographic as a market.  

“Apply the same principles that we apply to other markets. Somehow the health agenda and some of the harsh realities of the health agenda have taken over. Mainly because of politicians wanting to express their concern for rising health costs and having somebody to blame for that, and their inability to cope with the needs of that group of people,” Pond says.

“So the media has continued to talk about this on the basis of a demographic tsunami. But we’ve known for 20 years that this was going to happen and health was a big part of that. But that’s all we thought about … largely in the form of beds, or rooms as opposed to other needs they might have.”

These needs could range from adjusting everyday household tools and appliances, to completely transforming communities and infrastructure. This not only can spur economic growth but can also help alleviate the pressure on the health care system while providing an overall better quality of life for everyone.

“It’s like every other innovation. We know how to do this, but we apply it usually to markets viewed as wealthier or having better returns. I think these markets have good returns, in fact, premium returns. But you have to start working the agenda very hard on the basis of redesigning everything,” Pond says.

“Our communities are not planned for people who need a little extra help or changes in the outcomes of those particular assets.”

Pond says this innovation needs to happen in New Brunswick. His goal for this startup weekend is to help steer the conversation in a new direction.

“What I’m going to try to do is change the conversation at the public level. We have to get rid of this stupid conversation and we have to get onto the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda for both of these public and paid markets,” he says.

“It’s a new way of thinking. We’re conditioned to think of this as a health problem to be solved by the hospitalization process or the old age home process, not innovation. We’ve got to move that agenda.”