Centrica Innovations: a year of Active Ageing

By Amer Sheikh
Startup Manager, Centrica Innovations

This time last year, Centrica Innovations embarked on a new journey and ran its first innovation programme: the Centrica Active Ageing Challenge. The goal was to find start-ups with ideas and technologies to help meet the needs of an ageing society. In the past year, we’ve found ways to do just that. 

The idea for the challenge emerged when we started researching technology use among the ageing population. We found that many over 60s are aware of smart technology, think it can improve their lives, but feel they’re being overlooked by manufacturers of these products.

To counteract this, we invited start-ups from around the world to pitch for a share of our £100k prize pot to help fund businesses and smart technologies designed to empower the elderly. Centrica Innovations received 125 applications from more than 20 countries. It was great to see that our mission is shared by so many people all over the world. 

The next step of our challenge was a pitch day in London. We narrowed down the applications to the best 10 start-ups and heard them pitch their innovations to a crowd of industry experts, thought leaders and our judging panel. The panel was made up of Centrica judges, as well as representatives from Bupa Customer Lab and Aviva Ventures. 

The judging panel chose three teams to win a share of the £100k pot: 

MINUT, Sweden-based creators of a complete home alarm in a single device, took away £50,000

EchoCare, a company founded in Israel, was awarded £25,000 to help develop its non-wearable, self-learning personal emergency response system

American start-up, Pillo Health, an intelligent care assistant for the home, received a £25,000 prize.

Our relationship with these companies didn’t end after the pitch day. We’ve been keeping in touch with our winners to support their progress, and have taken the relationship one step further with EchoCare. Centrica Innovations invested $300k this month to help the start-up further develop its emergency response system, ECHO (elderly care home observer).

Falls are a major concern and a common cause of injury amongst the over 60s, a demographic which is expected to double by 2050. In both the UK and the USA, around 1 in 3 adults over 60 living at home will have at least one fall a year and about half of this group will have multiple falls. Not only are falls a major cause of physical injuries, they can also trigger the start of an individual’s decline, often resulting in increased care requirements or periods of time in a nursing home. Injuries from falls are also linked to loss of physical function, confidence and independence. 

The detection systems on the market today are limited in functionality and aren’t always wanted by our loved ones.  A pendant only works while it’s worn, and camera-based solutions feel invasive. So we knew EchoCare was something to investigate further. Its passive, non-invasive radar based technology can see through walls to detect falls, emergencies and health deterioration. This means it works silently in the background and can alert loved ones and carers when it detects a fall or a potential emergency. 

The investment will help EchoCare further develop its hardware. Commercial trials will be getting underway early next year and we’re really looking forward to seeing this company grow and provide peace of mind to people living alone. 

MINUT has also been busy, scoping a new, larger trial with families caring for elderly relatives. The company is also building on its existing capability and adding another layer to its device to enhance its reactive home security offering.

Working with these companies is just the start of our commitment to supporting an ageing population of over 60s which, according to the UN, has doubled since 1980 and is resulting in a variety of social and economic challenges. One such challenge is the growing role of individuals taking on caring responsibilities for their loved ones – an area that we’re proud to be supporting through our new partnership with Carers UK, which aims to improve the lives of the 6.5 million carers in the UK.

There are no easy answers but we believe that smart technology has a key role to play to support independent living, health and wellbeing in the home and alleviate the caring pressures often put on work and family life. More to come on that in 2019!