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Ageing Tech Innovators Come To Newcastle Thanks To Pioneering Start-Up Programme

A host of businesses creating products and services for the UK’s ageing population have been attracted to Newcastle thanks to a nationally significant programme in the city.

Six firms have either relocated to Tyneside or are thinking about such a move having worked with The Internet of Caring Things programme – a scheme partly designed to establish the North of Tyne Combined Authority area as a world-leader in devices and services for older adults. Among them are life admin tech firm Keepl, which has moved from Sunderland; energy efficiency firm Airify, which came to Newcastle from Ireland and house moving tech provider Hazel, whose founders are considering a base in the region.

Firms have been brought to Newcastle’s Helix site where they are given access to market research tools, the expertise of Newcastle University and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA), as well contacts to help make them market-ready to tap into the growing ageing and longevity markets. Participants need to have a North of Tyne area presence to be eligible, and the city’s ageing research and data access credentials has proven to be a lure.

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Hazel co-founder Mark Whitcroft described the programme as a “game changer” for his business and said the experience had opened his eyes to the talent pool available in the region. His firm aims to simplify the decision making process for older people that want to move house, and then provides access to property and financial guidance to support a resulting move.

The firm made use of the Internet of Caring Things’ ‘Voice’ platform, which gives market research access to a panel of older people of the type that Hazel wants to target . Through surveying, interviewing and product testing with the group, Mr Whitcroft and his team have been able to hone their tech product.

He explained: “The worst thing you can do as a start-up founder is build in isolation. You need to deeply understand your customers’ needs and challenges before you even start to build products and solutions.

“As older adults are not as easy to reach when compared to building a product for younger people. The Internet of Caring Things programme and their platform Voice, gives us access to our target customers for insights and feedback, so is very useful in terms of being able to do structured market research.

“We could target people who are prospective customers of ours and really look into their needs. The grant that allowed us to do that means we had an on-ramp in launching a new business that is affordable and meant that we started at the right place.”

Based out of Helix’s The Catalyst building, the funded programme offers its participants three levels of support across categories called innovation lab, diagnostic lab and bespoke project. The first two of these levels is essentially free, while bespoke project is paid for but with 70% subsidised by the programme. With research and development tax incentives, the Internet of Caring Things team say this can end up being free.

Jennine Jonczyk, Internet of Caring Things programme manager, said: “We are delighted to play a huge part in the advancement of innovation in our region. To know that the expertise and support we offer is now attracting people to set up in Newcastle is just the icing on the cake. We have a number of businesses who have relocated to access our programme already, with more coming at the end of the month – it’s great to see.

“Innovative businesses bring more jobs and more value to our economy and closely align with our ambitions to position the North East of England as the global hub for Ageing Intelligence. We can’t wait to see more like-minded businesses moving here.”

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