Startups focusing on aging have a home in new Kendall Square incubator

Agency, a new co-working space in Kendall Square is designed for innovators and entrepreneurs working on projects and products for aging populations and their families and care partners. Agency was launched in November, with a $100,000 seed grant from the Baker administration, which is trying to position Massachusetts as a hub for innovation in the longevity space.

By Robert Weisman | Mar 4, 2019 | This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe

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Startups focusing on aging have a home in new Kendall Square incubator

CAMBRIDGE — Business incubators tend to be buzzing hives of young disrupters. But a new co-working space for startups in Kendall Square is aiming for a different vibe.

Agency, ramping up in a hip new Cambridge Innovation Center building at 245 Main St., styles itself as a “global longevity collective.” It’s designed as a gathering place for aging innovators. And it’s drawing an intergenerational mix of entrepreneurs — with a generous sprinkle of gray hair — working on projects to make aging less disruptive, and more fulfilling, for older folks.

“We want to accelerate the velocity of progress in this field,” said Agency’s cofounder and launch director, Danielle Duplin. “The aim is to commercialize some incredible products and services that help the world’s aging populations and their families and care partners.”

As better medicines, diets, and fitness regimens extend life spans, populations are growing older in most developed countries. Older people in the United States alone represent an $8 trillion market, according to Joe Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT Age Lab. But the market demand isn’t only for consumer goods: It’s for help with the myriad health, housing, transportation, and lifestyle challenges that accompany the graying of the planet.

Agency CIC

JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF
Agency was launched in November, with a $100,000 seed grant from the Baker administration.

“Everyone knows we have to start thinking seriously about these issues,” said Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is hosting the new collective.

While startups are still being recruited, nine are already working out of its second-floor space. They’re developing products ranging from sensor-equipped braces called “exoskeletons” for people with injuries or neurological conditions to smart watches that detect falls and prompt seniors to take their meds at designated times.

“My mom was always forgetting her medications, and I was always calling her in India to remind her,” said Jayanthi Narasimhan, chief executive of WatchRX, which is working on a smart watch for seniors. “They won’t have to do any setup — just charge it and wear it.”

Kay Corry Aubrey, 64, moved her design research firm, Usability Resources, from Bedford to be part of Agency. The company helps its clients design and test products, such as consumer robots, that are easy to use and age-friendly. “I just thought it would be cool to be here,” she said. “There’s a groundswell of innovation in the age space in the Boston area, and I wanted to be part of it.”

“Everyone knows we have to start thinking seriously about these issues,” said Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is hosting the new collective.

While startups are still being recruited, nine are already working out of its second-floor space. They’re developing products ranging from sensor-equipped braces called “exoskeletons” for people with injuries or neurological conditions to smart watches that detect falls and prompt seniors to take their meds at designated times.

“My mom was always forgetting her medications, and I was always calling her in India to remind her,” said Jayanthi Narasimhan, chief executive of WatchRX, which is working on a smart watch for seniors. “They won’t have to do any setup — just charge it and wear it.”

Kay Corry Aubrey, 64, moved her design research firm, Usability Resources, from Bedford to be part of Agency. The company helps its clients design and test products, such as consumer robots, that are easy to use and age-friendly. “I just thought it would be cool to be here,” she said. “There’s a groundswell of innovation in the age space in the Boston area, and I wanted to be part of it.”

At the honeycomb-style working space here, complete with conference room and well-stocked snack bar, a sense of community is forming among those who have taken up residence.

One resident entrepreneur, Mary Cronin, is completing her last semester teaching at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management while transitioning to a new career. Cronin recently cofounded 4Q Catalyst, a startup dedicated to encouraging and publishing over-60 writers like herself. It also offers a software platform that helps people interview their aging parents or grandparents to create family memoirs through “conversational writing.”

Agency CIC

JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF
Cofounder Danielle D. Duplin (left) of Agency, an incubator in Kendall Square, met with entrepreneur Mary Cronin.

Recently, chatting over coffee with another Agency entrepreneur, 31-year-old Codi Gharagouzloo — who somewhat sheepishly admitted to being the youngest here — Cronin learned her startup is eligible to apply for a National Institutes of Health grant for “social engagement” companies. At another coffee, with Agency launch director Duplin, they discussed starting a Founders Over 55 group for Agency member companies and others this spring.

Agency CIC

JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF
Codi Gharagouzloo, an entrepreneur/scientist who invented a medical imaging technology that can more easily detect Alzheimer’s disease, uses Agency’s shared space in Cambridge.

Cronin, who has written 11 business books, hopes she’ll get the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs, many of whom are working on health or science enterprises. “It’s about being there to give feedback informally or listen to a pitch,” she said.

Gharagouzloo, the chief executive of Imaginostics, is a scientist who invented a medical imaging technology that can more easily detect Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. His company is trying to commercialize the technology, potentially in partnership with a biopharma company. Gharagouzloo said he looks forward to collaborating at Agency with other scientific entrepreneurs but also with aging innovators in other fields.

“Everyone comes with their unique experience,” he said. “They’re rounding up the companies, and it will be really exciting to see how the space develops.”


Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.

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