Can sensors help seniors hold on to independence? Lively is betting on it

Plenty of startups target younger consumers with sensor-embedded wristbands, watches and other gear that offer paths to a fitter physique, healthier habits and peak athletic performance. But San Francisco-based Lively wants to use sensors around the home to help the elderly preserve something that can often feel even more precious with age: independence.

Mobilize_badge_product-showcaseLaunched last year, the startup sells sets of sensors that can be attached to objects in a senior’s home to learn and share information about the person’s routines. Sensors attached to pill boxes could track when medication is taken or, clipped to a keychain, could indicate when the person leaves and returns home. Once it learns a person’s habits, it can send alerts to loved ones and caregivers when it senses deviations from the norm.

“This isn’t about monitoring, it’s about caring,” said co-founder and CEO Iggy Fanlo. “It’s about creating an activity-based social network and maintaining independence.” In addition to its sensors, the company offers a service called LivelyGram that sends a printed mailer of social media updates to users.


A Kickstarter campaign earlier this year failed to meet its fundraising goal (although Fanlo said the campaign’s real motivation wasn’t money but attention and marketing insights). But the startup, which will participate in the Mobilize Product Showcase at GigaOM’s upcoming Mobilize conference, has raised $7.3 million in venture funding. Earlier this month, it started selling its sensors for $149 a pop, on top of a $19.95 monthly service fee.

While innovation tends to focus on younger consumers, in the past few years, more companies and startups have turned their attention to boomer customers and the elderly. Established companies like Philips offer wearable technology that detects falls and automatically places calls for help. And startups like Healthsense and AdhereTech use sensors attached to pill bottles and other home objects to more passively monitor seniors.

But Lively, which was designed by the same firm behind the Nest Smart Thermostat, was created to be more user-friendly, affordable and easy on the eyes, Fanlo said. Unlike more senior-centric products that are “big, beige and boring,” he emphasized that Lively wants to bring an iPhone-like (s AAPL) aesthetic to home monitoring.

routine_computerscreen_WEBIn attempting to satisfy two audiences – the 50-somethings who might buy the product and the 70- and 80-somethings who might use it – Fanlo acknowledged that Lively has a tougher-than-average marketing challenge. But considering the quickly graying population (10,000 people turn 65 every day, according to the Pew Research Center) and an increasing desire among the elderly to stay away from nursing homes for as long as possible, Fanlo believes the opportunity is there for the taking.

“It’s a new category for consumers,” he said.  But “we think we can make it so easy it will be hard for people to say no.”