This story first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Kian Saneii has worked in the technology sector for almost 30 years, so he looks at the world through a techie’s lens. When he began helping his parents take care of his elderly grandparents, he was shocked to find that the digital world had barely made a foothold in elder care.
“I had that personal experience, and when I began looking into things, there was not a brand out there associated with taking care of grandma and grandpa,” he says. “I wondered why it is that 30 years into the digital revolution, the only brand for the elderly is still ‘I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.’”
At the same time, he acknowledges, technology and the elderly don’t always mix well. Teaching older people to use smartphones, tablets or computers can be challenging. But Saneii had an epiphany. He realized that most older people are adept at the use of one major form of technology: television. So in 2009 he began work on a TV-based platform that combines elements of digital communication into a system that can be controlled by a single remote.
The result is Independa. The software-based solution allows caregivers and family members to use a web portal or mobile app to video chat, send Facebook messages and photos, set up appointments and medication reminders and play games with their older loved ones. It can also interface with blood-pressure monitoring devices, scales and glucometers, and can serve as a door sensor and emergency-alert system. On the other end, the elderly users are able to access all content without logins, passwords or the internet; they receive messages and alerts directly through their TVs, using a simplified remote.
The idea was enough to earn Saneii $11 million in VC funding and the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show’s “Tech for a Better World” award. But the biggest coup for his 18-person company, which is based in San Diego, is the strategic relationship he developed with LG, the world’s largest TV manufacturer.
While Saneii was developing his system, LG was working on a similar project. The two joined forces. Now LG is manufacturing TVs with Independa’s elder-care software system (called Angela) pre-installed, as well as a set-top box that can turn any television with an HDMI port into an Independa machine. LG TVs in use at hospitals and senior-living facilities also support the software package.
“It’s such a slam dunk,” Saneii says. “Those places have to have a TV in each room anyway. So this reduces staff inefficiencies. They can check in with patients remotely, and they can even have loved ones check in on them.”
So while Independa can help with medical issues, its primary function, Saneii says, is dealing with one of the biggest problems seniors face—social isolation. Loneliness, especially when children or other family members live far away, can worsen or lead to many health problems, including depression. Engaging with loved ones regularly through video chats, messages or photos can bring relief.
“We have a broken healthcare system based on an episodic model of fixing things,” Saneii says. “For the elderly, the goal is to prevent the next stage of care as long as possible, and dealing with isolation can help with that.”
While the LG partnership has given Independa a global reach, Saneii says the company is interested in integrating with other devices, as well, including the Apple watch and consumer fitness devices. “The beauty of what we have is that the market keeps getting faster, better and cheaper,” he says. “Our goal is to always be innovating and simplifying our services.”
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