A hackathon of gerontechnology, combined with smart ageing, brought together young people from different cities in the Greater Bay Area to develop and go forward with practical and marketable innovations that focus on empowering elderly persons and caregivers to improve their quality of life.
Living long may no longer mean living healthily, let alone contentedly. With lowering fertility, Hong Kong records a fast-growing ageing population. Statistics estimated that the population aged 65 and over in Hong Kong will nearly double from 18 percent to 32 percent, or 2.5 million in 2038. Of the current 1.3 million elderly population, a lion’s share of 900,000 contracted chronic disease; 130,000 were diagnosed with dementia and 450,000 were living on their own. Ageing, coupled with the trend of ageing in place, looks set to drive surging demands for home-based care support solutions, the smarter the better.
86 Teams Pitch Ideas to Compete for 5 Prizes
Humansa, a healthcare and wellness service provider, and Eureka Nova, a support platform for start-ups, two niche subsidiaries of New World Development, co-hosted a gerontechnology hackathon H2 Innovation Challenge with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Entrepreneurship Center last month. The organisers aimed to get new ideas of smart homecare solutions for the elderly and their caregivers off the ground by calling on university students to better understand and address the elderly’s needs, whilst fostering collaboration between corporates and young social entrepreneurs on the application of gerontechnology in promoting smart ageing.
The challenge attracted 86 student teams from the Greater Bay Area including Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau. The organisers conducted two briefing sessions in March to provide students with a better understanding of the ageing market, the related business lines of New World Development and how to turn their innovation into a home run. The teams’ proposed solutions were an appraised mix of an elderly-centric design and technological applications such as mobile app, robotics and/or medical management systems aiming to make lives better for the elderly as well as their caregivers. Ten teams were shortlisted as finalists in the hackathon and each was assigned two mentors who provided constructive feedback and guidance on the design and feasibility of proposed solutions.
On 7 May 2020, the finalist teams presented to a panel of judges online. Judges assessed and scored according to a palette of criteria, from idea delivery, task achievement, business value, level of innovation, practicability, presentation format and style, user experience design, creativeness to business idea.
Ultimately, Lo Yui’s team from Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School stood out with the idea of “SafeHeart Toothbrush” (a telemedicine solution for health data measurement), scooping up both the Championship and the Most Creative Award.
To Lo Yui, an engineering student from the winning team, brushing teeth means more than just a chore. It means checking out on our seniors: “Hey, are you doing fine today?” Lo’s team designed a smart device called “SafeHeart Toothbrush” which assesses the brusher’s stress level and heart rates. The toothbrush measures telehealth data by collecting and analysing saliva. The winner is now shooting for chronic disease assessment as a next step.
His ensemble Hu, Sou and Chen discussed how the team managed to transform a pain point into a need: the team conceived the idea by integrating sanity routine with health measurement, realising that elderly may not find mobile apps user-friendly after all. The team is now ready to kick off the idea with Humansa.
Lo said he found his mentors’ advice most valuable: That balancing between market needs and investors’ craving for benefits to the elderly and the society at large was pivotal in product development.
Another participant, Leung Chun Hin, the first runner-up team leader of “Evergreen”, said the greatest takeaway from the Challenge and the mentorship was the learning in product development from both engineering and user’s perspectives. Leung’s team developed a fall prevention and dementia care solution that gives real-time notification to caregivers in case of elderly’s falling or leaving the safety zone.
Driving Winners’ Projects to Turn Pain Points into Selling Points
Yenson She, Head of Business Innovation at Humansa of New World Group, considered the overall performance of the entrants impressive. She believed a thorough understanding of the target groups’ pain points was much more important than the technology itself and the creativity in solutions.
“Pain points like functional and memory decline, reduced mobility and self-care capability, solitude and sense of helplessness may lead some elders to consider ageing as a curse rather than a blessing,” He said. “At the same time, caregivers may suffer from different levels of physical and mental stress due to their multiple roles in looking after the elderly for long hours while being committed to their own work and family life, not to mention that their stress level may be aggravated by the lack of medical knowledge and/or any financial burden.” A good solution is meant to endow the elderly with more autonomy, to stay connected with their loved ones, while freeing caregivers up with more efficient and effective caring solutions, She said.
Humansa is looking to answer the call for elderly-centric solutions by providing home care management service, specialised medical care in addition to wellness and rehabilitation services.
Ben Wong, Assistant General Manager, Eureka Nova of New World Group, said Humansa is a niche player as it leverages on new technologies to enhance service efficiency and quality by bringing innovators together for the aged community.
In recognition of the merit of the cross-sector and cross-regional joint collaboration between HKUST and New World, Donny Siu, Head of HKUST Entrepreneurship Center, said the Challenge not only helped drive the development of technology-based innovations with high applicability, but also unlocked students’ creativity, entrepreneurship spirit and capability in research and development. As one of the world-leading universities, the HKUST will continue to nurture innovators into global leaders while facilitating them to join hands with all sectors to design and implement innovative, technology-based start-up projects that can respond to the needs of both local and global communities.
H2 Innovation Challenge website: