Kick-starting innovation with a €50,000 challenge prize

Smart ageing challenge prize


AMFinemanIt is estimated that by 2020 up to 100 billion devices will be connected to the rapidly emerging Internet of Things (IoT). And that’s just a start as more and more sensors, actuators and microcontrollers are embedded into virtually everything on the planet. At the centre of the IoT, of course, are not things at all, but us – human beings, making use of the applications and services these connections enable. And that’s big business. If we look at the IoT in simple economic terms, research by Gartner predicts that it will generate an estimated $2 trillion in global economic value by 2020.

There is little doubt, therefore, that the IoT is going to revolutionise the way we live, helping individuals, business and society as a whole, providing better services and boosting the global economy.


One area where IoT has the potential to have a greatest impact is in enhancing the lives of older people. It’s a huge area for growth with a fast-rising ageing population, which will see a third of all Europeans over 65 within 40 years of now. Not only can the IoT enable older people live the sorts of active, independent and connected lives to which we all aspire, with a growing ageing population more used to engaging with technology and with money to spend, the market potential is enormous. It is an opportunity the AAL Programme has been quick to pick up and one at the heart of its latest initiative – The IOT Smart Ageing Challenge Prize, which it recently launched with a €50,000 top prize for the best IOT innovation designed to enable older people to achieve the best possible quality of life, socially and independently.


The AAL Programme is a €700 million funding initiative focused on developing ICT solutions for active and healthy ageing. The overall objective of AAL is to enhance the quality of life of older adults while strengthening the industrial base in Europe through the use of ICT. This is the first competition of this type to be run by the programme and due to the potential size of the market and the fast pace of growth of the IoT, judges are expecting many entries. Ann-Mari Fineman of Swedish funding organisation Vinnova, is part of the AAL board of directors and one of the team responsible for launching the competition. She has little doubt that the initiative will unveil some very exciting ideas, particularly as it has been designed to be simple and easy to enter, with the idea itself being the most important part of any entry, rather than a finished product.




“Obviously we will be looking for good, working innovations that address the challenge of demographic change and the quality of life for older people,” she explains, “but by making the competition flexible and simple to enter, we want to attract entries from far and wide, with brilliant ideas as welcome as more developed prototypes. “That is one reason why AAL focused on the IoT,” continues Fineman. “As well as being a huge area of growth, it is also easy to define, which helps in a competition like this. ICT is just a little too broad, so we wanted to be specific so entrants knew exactly what we are looking for.” Of course, the AAL Programme has been funding projects for eight years now with growing success with some projects bringing their products to the market. So why not stick with this tried-and-tested approach? “We felt we needed to add more funding instruments on top of our annual call to get innovations to market,” says Fineman. “After all, we are a programme designed to work with ideas and innovations in a market-focused way, but due to the effort and time involved in putting together a consortium, writing a proposal and then carrying out three years of R&D, this can take a long time to happen. There is a perception that this is too long, so we wanted to add something fast and exciting that will attract new companies, startups, entrepreneurs and researchers and see their innovations hit the market very quickly. “There is a long tradition of funding innovation through competitions in this way and I think we will see a lot more of it.”


Despite this agile approach to getting funding in place through a prize mechanism, there are two very strict requirements entrants must follow. “Of course it is important that entrants must meet the needs of older people with their IoT innovations,” explains Fineman. “But they must also have a solid business plan in place to take it to market and must also have involved older people in the development and testing of the product or service. This element of co-creation is a key part of the AAL’s drive for market-driven innovation that will see products on the shelves rather than concepts in the labs.” After the initial closing date of May 13, 2016, 15 entrants will be selected to attend a special IOT for Smart Ageing Academy in Brussels, each receiving €500 to cover their costs. The Academy will be run by IOT and smart ageing experts as well as business mentors. The shortlisted entrants will each receive guidance on developing their idea, business modelling and establishing an effective and realistic route to market.


From that group, five finalists will be selected to attend the grand final, which is due to be staged at the annual AAL Forum event, this year being held in St Gallen, Switzerland on September 26-28. There, the final €50,000 winner will be announced at a special plenary session. The winner will also receive further business mentoring and the development of free publicity materials. “I believe there is still a substantial gap in the market for internet-based solutions designed with the older person in mind,” concludes Fineman. “The silver economy is a significant market and there is an appetite for solutions that people can buy as well as services they can adopt. “I am extremely optimistic that this competition will bring some fantastic ideas to light and I am really looking forward to seeing these as they come in and seeing the winning innovation making a big impact.”


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