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Originally published November 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 26, 2007 at 7:51 AM

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Brier Dudley

Startups hoping to reach maturity

A year ago, I couldn't turn around at startup events without bumping into someone launching a social-networking business. They knew it was...

Seattle Times staff columnist

A year ago, I couldn't turn around at startup events without bumping into someone launching a social-networking business.

They knew it was the next big thing and a great opportunity to connect with a young demographic sought by advertisers. Now it seems the market is maturing. Literally.

As in, everywhere I go lately, I meet someone starting a company targeting the older population.

This isn't about more gadgets for grandma and grandpa.

The new thing is services, online and off, aimed at people entering the senior phase of life and seeking help, advice and tools to navigate the transition.

These entrepreneurs see opportunity to reduce friction and complexity in this market, just as others have done with online travel and retail, using tools and processes honed by tech companies.

One is Benevia, a Seattle company providing services and referrals to "older adults and their families."

The company is aiming to be the top destination for information and services when older adults need to move into a retirement home or change their living situation.

Benevia provides free consulting and planning services by phone. Callers work with a coordinator who develops a plan, estimates costs and makes arrangements with movers, cleaners, trash haulers, document shredders and other service providers.

The company makes money through commissions and fees for hands-on relocation services it provides in Seattle, where it charges an average of $2,000 to $3,000 to help people sort, pack and unpack at their new home.

Paul Goldberg, co-owner of the Pure Audio recording studio in Seattle, came up with the concept four years ago after finding a dearth of services to help a grandparent through the process.

Benevia's chief executive is Michael Nemirow, a startup veteran and childhood friend of Goldberg's from Mercer Island who had experienced the same thing with his grandparents.

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"One thing about our business that's interesting is, I've almost never met someone who hasn't worked through these problems in their family, either through their grandparents, seeing their parents face this struggle, or they themselves are going through it — it's such a growing and ever-present need," Nemirow said.

Nemirow previously co-founded Fox Marketing Group, a call-center service with clients such as AT&T Wireless, and earlier worked at Mercata.com.

Another co-founder, Eric Rovner, marketing vice president, came from the retirement-living industry, most recently Era Living Communities in Seattle.

Consulting, referrals

At the start of 2007, they turned the company's focus from providing hands-on relocation services to families in the Seattle area to developing a consulting and referral platform that can be expanded to other markets.

Benevia plans to continue with services here, but in other markets it will provide only the coordination and referral services. It plans to draw clients via the Web, phone and referrals from a network of partner companies, such as retirement-community operators.

The company is also hoping to work with employers adding elder-care services to the list of benefits they offer.

Benevia executives cite MetLife research, which found the elder-care challenges of employees are costing businesses $34 billion a year.

"Elder care is quickly becoming a rival to the child-care impact on the work force — those days you have to take off to get mom to the doctor or coordinate a move, the whole litany of things that come with that responsibility as an adult child," Rovner said. "It doesn't matter if you're the receptionist or the CEO, you're faced with exactly the same set of challenges."

Carol Murphy, a retired teacher who moved a few weeks ago from the house her late husband built in Blaine to a retirement home on Mercer Island, was referred to Benevia by the home.

Murphy said even people with extended families may need professional help relocating "because everyone has to work."

I met Nemirow at a WSA meeting two weeks ago.

The week before, at an entrepreneur workshop, I met Ilene Little, a former transcriptionist and patient advocate in Bonney Lake. She's starting Traveling4Health, a social network to help people research and share information about medical care and retirement options overseas.

Little's initial idea was to help anyone learn about finding care when traveling abroad, but it's now focused mostly on an older audience.

Baby-boomer market

"I think that's where it's going to end up — the market is going to basically be baby boomers," she said.

For seniors hoping to stay put, Intel's Seattle research lab is developing technologies to improve their long-term-care options.

Last month it began testing a system that uses activity sensors to help families and care providers keep track of older adults remotely. It reports on how frequently they are doing things such as walking, eating and taking medicines.

Intel is doing the research with Veterans Affairs, University of Washington and the state Aging and Disabilities Services Administration. They're trying it out in 20 Seattle-area homes.

Parks Associates, a Dallas-based technology-research firm, estimates the "digital home-health market" will expand 36 percent a year on average in the U.S. and reach $2.1 billion in 2010, "driven, in part, by the rapid expansion of wellness-monitoring programs and online patient-physician messaging services."

Who knows whether I'll choose to outsource my relocation to a retirement home, take a chance on a retirement hut in Tahiti or let my kids track my shuffling back and forth to the fridge. But it's good to know there will be more options.

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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