Personalised trips down memory lane boost a mix of physical, cognitive and social activity.
AgeTech covers a broad spectrum of applications for many areas of society, and caregiving is one area where technology companies are finding a profitable foothold. In our interview with Dr Lorraine Morley of Allia last month, she identified the care home market as being ripe with opportunities for AgeTech companies, stating “Care homes want products that improve efficiencies, reduce costs and free up staff for one-to-one care.”
One company that has grabbed that opportunity with both hands (or feet, perhaps) is Memoride, a Belgian start-up that has developed a unique approach to helping elderly people stay active while in care. The company combines traditional exercise bike with software and video technology that presents users with a customised experience – following cycle routes familiar to them from childhood, for example.
We spoke to Memoride’s CEO Roel Smolders to find out more.
Longevity.Technology: How did Memoride get started?
Roel Smolders: My brother Jan is the manager of a nursing home in Mol, Belgium. In his nursing home, he has a physiotherapy room where the residents come to do their daily or weekly physical activity exercises. He noticed that residents were often just looking at the wall when they were peddling on a training bike for 10-15 minutes. As that’s a very boring experience, Jan decided to try and develop a more fun and motivating application.
The first idea he had was to use existing video software, but he soon found out that these routes were always the same and got boring after a while and, when asked, all residents wanted to go back to the familiar streets of their lives because that is where their memories and stories are based.
Based on this feedback, Jan and I got together with two computer scientists from the University of Leuven and started playing around with Google Street View and exploring the free navigation it offers through the world. We developed a pilot project that won a couple of innovation awards and received coverage on Belgian national television. All of a sudden, other nursing homes started to contact us to ask whether they could buy our system. So what started off as a hobby project turned into a commercial product more or less by accident.
Longevity.Technology: How did you develop the product?
Roel Smolders: When we started developing Memoride, we didn’t start from a cool technical idea, but from a real and observed need in a nursing home. This not only shaped Memoride from the very beginning, but also allowed us to immediately test every detail of the product – a truly user centred design process.
We needed Memoride to be as intuitive and non-stigmatising as possible, and our main focus was on offering a fully personalised and unique user experience for each individual that wants to go on a ride down memory lane. They decide for themselves where they want to start, where they want to go, and how to get there.
One very interesting observation that we made very early in the development procedure was that, although Memoride was developed to add a bit more fun and motivation to physical activity, users spontaneously started sharing stories when they were using Memoride. So the reminiscence and social interactions were as important as the physical activity – if not more so. We continued to work on that observation, and have tried to develop Memoride so that it integrates a mix of physical, cognitive and social activity.
Because we use Google Street View images, our software is cloud-based and our hardware is very flexible and can be purchased anywhere in the world (a tablet, tablet holder, screen mirroring device and motion sensor is all you need). This makes Memoride a hyper-scalable product.
Longevity.Technology: Where does the business stand today and where do you go from here?
Roel Smolders: Currently, Memoride is being used by over 120 nursing homes, hospitals, daycare and community centres in 11 different countries. While our home country Belgium still has the highest number of users, we are also building a strong presence in Sweden and the UK. Our growth plans focus a lot on internationalisation and finding both customers and business partners that want to become resellers or distributors.
Longevity.Technology: What are the main business challenges you face?
Roel Smolders: In every country, the way elderly care (and care in general) is funded, is different. That means that for us, as a Belgian company, it is always a challenge to first understand the needs and expectations of a market before we can start marketing and sales. This always take time and resources and is without any doubt the biggest business challenge we face today.
“We are not currently looking to raise more funding, but certainly would be very interested to talk to potentially interested parties … I would prefer to find a corporate investor who does not only bring money to the table, but also has experience around global expansion …”
Longevity.Technology: What is your funding situation?
Roel Smolders: In early 2019 we finished a seed round, which was led by business angels and some private investors. We are not currently looking to raise more funding, but certainly would be very interested to talk to potentially interested parties. Personally, I would prefer to find a corporate investor who does not only bring money to the table, but also has experience around global expansion and potentially even a distributor network.
Longevity.Technology: If you had the power to change one thing about the world to help improve global Longevity, what would it be?
Roel Smolders: I would like to keep more people more active more often. It’s a line I borrowed from UKactive, but it is certainly a big challenge. There is too little knowledge about the positive effects of physical activity at all stages of life and on your physical, mental and cognitive wellbeing. I believe that with Memoride we can contribute to providing meaningful activities for people that cannot simply step out the door for a walk, a run or a bike ride.
Our Meet the Start-up articles profile emerging companies in the Longevity sector, with a focus on their funding plans, commercialisation strategies, partnerships and routes-to-market. If you know of a startup that we should be talking to, let us know!