Tyler Suiters:

Hey, everybody. I'm Tyler Suiters other with the Consumer Technology Association. We are the owners and the producers of CES, the most influential tech event in the world. And we are getting you CES Ready. The new all-digital show is January 11th through the 14th 2021. And we are re-imagining CES. Yes. We're supporting what makes CES so unique, but we're also enabling you to connect with new global audiences. At CES 2021, you will hear from the world's leading tech innovators all from the comfort and the safety of your own office or your home. Exhibitors can launch the latest products. You can connect with global brands, the hottest startups and one another. It's where the tech sector comes together.

Tyler Suiters:

And this all-digital event will be more personalized and experiential event. You'll find engaging content, captivating imagery, dynamic presentations, but this new experience will give you a front row seat as well. You'll discover and see the latest tech from key categories. And if you know CES, you know them well by now. Vehicle technology, 5G, AI, smart cities, resilience, digital health, drones and of course, a focus on startups. And that is also a priority for an organization whose name you know well, but you may not know the entire breadth of their scope. That is AARP. This is a group that is a catalyst for innovation working with startups of all sizes to launch ideas and get products to the next level.

Tyler Suiters:

Specifically, we're talking to the lead for AARP's Innovation Labs. Now fast company named AARP's Innovation Labs one of 2020's best workplaces for innovators. So whether you are involved in a startup, thinking about a startup or even looking to work with startups, this is a great place to stay on. Today, a conversation with the senior vice president of AARP's Innovation Labs on this edition of CES Tech Talk. Andy Miller is the senior vice president of AARP Innovation Labs and a repeat guest here on CES Tech Talk. And Andy, good to have you back with us, thank you.

Andy Miller:

No, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Tyler Suiters:

Let's begin at the beginning. AARP is something we all know with varying degrees of familiarity, I imagine. Why the focus on innovation? Why the focus on startups? Why is such a distinct turn toward technology?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. AARP is really all about empowering people to choose how they live as they age. And we know we can do that in a multitude of ways internally, but we also understand we have to be out trying to help shape and influence innovations that are happening all around us. And we know startups as one of the most prolific innovation channels that exist today. They go fast. They can think of things and operate next to you, things that large companies just can't do. So we're always looking for disruptive startups that are frankly aligned with our social mission and building things that we know are going to create material societal impact for our audience. And we think CES is just one of the best places we can go to not only find startups, but also showcase the startups that we're already working with.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. I think we'd agree with you wholeheartedly on that point. It's interesting that you at AARP, Andy, break it down into three particular areas that you all are focused on, product development, startup engagement, design thinking. And I'll let you run through each of those, but those are the three areas that if I'm in the startup space, if I'm an entrepreneur looking at various stages of my company's development, all three of those have gotten me pretty excited.

Andy Miller:

Yeah. It's really interesting and we continue to evolve every year it seems like as we look at what we've done in prior years and sort of best practice and how we can improve, eating our own dog food if you will, using design thinking to try and increase or better the relationship we have with startups and then what we can offer them. But as I think about each one of the areas, design thinking is really interesting. This is basically like an internal consultancy. If you know the firm IDEO, it's really similar to that, where we're using human-centered design techniques to help startups. And one of the things that we know about startups is founders can come from many different backgrounds. So a lot of them may be engineers and they're really good at the tech, they may not be so good at talking to customers. Human-centered design can help fill that void.

Andy Miller:

Similarly, you may have folks that come from the business side that are really going after a need but they don't know how to build the tech. And so we leverage human-centered design to bring the consumer whomever that is into the center of everything we do. And startups usually don't have the resources to go out and hire a firm like IDEO to help them do these things. So we think it's really important to be able to bring the consumer to the center and help the startup really understand whether it's the user experience, how to position and market to them or whatever it may be. Design thinking can actually really bring that to light and help the startups focus on the things that they may not be great at. So that's the design thinking piece.

Tyler Suiters:

Okay. So shifting into, again, startup mode and I'm looking for a partner, for accelerants, for something, for my new found company to grow, what are the parameters that you're working under with AARP and the innovation labs? What does it take to get your attention?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. So we really focus on two primary categories, health and wealth, we call them. And underneath health, it's around healthcare and it's around caregiving. Underneath wealth, it's around really financial resiliency, so things like work and jobs, savings and planning. Even we're now looking at housing as a component and we call these our social impact areas. So these are really what we're trying to focus our efforts. And AARP, we'll spend a lot of time and energy on policy and research and advocacy in these areas, but AARP Innovation Labs, we're really focused on trying to find those disruptive startups that are playing in those spaces and then helping them accelerate again, through things like design thinking.

Andy Miller:

We're making investments in these startups now. We're working on building out an ecosystem to give them more opportunities, to find commercial opportunities to pilot or clinical trial opportunities. And so those are really the areas we're focused on and we need startups that are earlier stage. We're not looking for a Series B kind of company that's been around a while. They have significant revenues. They've raised tons of money. Our sweet spot is really seed or Series A funded companies that have a product. They don't have product market fit. They may not understand the messaging and positioning, they're still working on that. And that's where we can really provide a lot of assistance and help them grow their business.

Tyler Suiters:

How do you find them? This is one great way to get the word out. To talk to a dedicated and large tech centric audience. But how do you make those connections? Obviously, CES is another way, but what's the most effective way where you're getting to the audience that you really want to reach to have an impact?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. We have two primary paths that we take to find startups. The first is, we work with accelerator programs. In particular, we work with MassChallenge in their health tech and their FinTech programs. And obviously that makes sense if we're focused on health tech and FinTech. And we will launch challenges once a year through MassChallenge. We just finished up picking our companies for the 2021 cohort. We're going to be working with 10 startups through the MassChallenge program. We work with another accelerator called Upward Labs. It's a little bit different program. They're really focused on more of the FinTech areas, a little bit of health tech, but they're out of Hartford, Connecticut, and they're focused on pilots and getting commercial pilots and transactions. So that's the first way we find startups.

Andy Miller:

The second way, and maybe the better way quite frankly, because the accelerator programs tend to be cyclical. So there's one cohort a year kind of thing. So you have to get in the hopper in August to make the cohort in January. That's how we meet a company in January. Well, they don't want to wait a whole nother year to work with us. So one of the things we do is we launch pitch events all over the country. In fact, it will be the third year in a row that we partner the CTA Foundation and host a pitch event. I don't believe we're doing it [inaudible 00:09:00] as we're doing it, I think a week or two after, but that's the first one that we do every year.

Andy Miller:

Last year, we did it with CTA Foundation and Procter & Gamble in a three-way sort of challenge if you will. The pitch events let us actually have unique theme challenges where we can go out, and we do it all over the country at least in a normal year. We travel all over the country looking for different startups. Obviously, 2020 was a little bit different going into 2021, we'll still be in a virtual capacity here. But that's the way we can, at any given time, we do eight of them a year. So there's always a pitch event probably a month or two away from us meeting a startup.

Andy Miller:

And those pitch events, you don't have to win, and everyone gets worried about that. Like, what if I don't win the pitch event, can I still work with AARP? The answer is absolutely. You just have to make it to a pitch event. If you make it to present, then you're eligible for someone on the AARP Innovation Labs team to make a decision to work with you. So those are the two primary paths. So far they've been extremely lucrative. We've had great success in both the accelerator channels, as well as the pitch events.

Tyler Suiters:

So, as you said, "in a normal year" so throw that out the window, looking at 2020 and what we've all been through, Andy, and going back to your key areas of health, wealth and self. Certainly, health is the most obvious component that's been affected in the year of the pandemic, but wealth and self are there too. What's the year been like for you? How have you adapted? How are you evolving to face this challenge and frankly, the challenges that still lie ahead for us?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. So 2020, interestingly enough, what we've seen for not only AARP Innovation Labs but a number of startups, we've seen people step up and we've seen them actually thrive in this year of chaos. The idea of startups being able to get the support they needed throughout the year and I think about it in the sense of, when everyone was nervous what was going to happen and companies were not investing and companies were running the other way trying to hold out to see what's going to happen, we were jumping in. We were writing checks. We were creating opportunities for the startups. And we saw a lot of our startups pivot, if you will, and not necessarily full blown we're no longer in this business, and I'll give you a quick example.

Andy Miller:

A company called Tembo Health, which is a tele-health company specifically targeting rural assisted living facilities. This really rings true, right? So when the pandemic hit and a minute that assisted living had a case, it got locked down. All of the residents' loved ones couldn't go see them. So you couldn't go see mom or dad or grandpa or grandma anymore. And you had really no idea what was happening in the facility. Tembo Health had a lifeline into the facility because they were doing tele-health sessions with the residents. So they quickly realized that there was excess capacity in their platform. And they approached us and said, we have the systems set up and, I know, it was 20 or so assisted living facilities that we think we can repurpose so that people could actually talk to their loved ones through our tele-health.

Andy Miller:

And it has nothing to do with tele-health, it was just, we want to connect. It was more about social isolation. And so we quickly were able to work with Tembo Health to figure out a solution where within these 20 facilities, all of a sudden we could facilitate a FaceTime like session with people that didn't necessarily have FaceTime compatible devices. And they could go talk to their mom, their dad or their loved one. So we really looked at the pandemic and said, okay, well, how can we spring into action as AARP Innovation Labs? How can we create more opportunity for our startups in [albeit 00:13:06]? Really focusing on those issues that we knew people, not that we didn't care about them or didn't focus on them. Because social isolation, for example, has always been a big problem, but it just became accelerated in a way that no one had anticipated.

Andy Miller:

So we really tried to help all of our startups figure that out. And then AARP Innovation Labs also sprung into action. And we said, okay, well, how can we create a bigger opportunity to provide assistance to all these people that we know are struggling and that need help. And we actually built something in a five day window called AARP Community Connections, and it's aarpcommunityconnections.org. And it turns out we built the largest aggregator of mutual aid sites in the country. And a mutual aid site for those that don't know, it's simply a local informal organization created in the community by the community for the community, if you will.

Andy Miller:

So someone gets diagnosed with COVID, they need someone to walk their dog. Someone is quarantined and they need their medication from CVS, someone else that can go pick it up, would go pick it up. So it's, those that can provide assistance stepping up to help those in need. And we then tacked on to that, called a marketplace, where it was an opportunity for us to not only take the startup we were working with that had solutions for COVID, but we opened it up and we said, okay, any startup out there that's doing something interesting to help in this time, we'll promote you.

Andy Miller:

We had a whole resources tab. So we were trying to create a marketplace for anyone that needs to find help, assistance, tools, resources that were being provided by startups to gain access through our site. So interestingly enough while 2020 is a horrific year, we were able to really step up in the AARP Innovation Labs and the startup portfolio. We're able to bring some tools to bear, to really help people in need.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. I love the pictures you're painting there, Andy, with the connectivity that tech enables, especially during this pandemic. Whether it's seeing the people you love who are in an assisted living home where you can't physically reach them. Or that community connectivity like you said, walking the dog or grabbing a prescription, it's a great example of what technology is able to do in such a time of challenge. In more traditional times when we all used to be at the same place at work at the same time, anyway we'll get back there, I love the idea and what you all put together with the Hatchery. Cool name, capital H for Hatchery. But the innovation lab that you have right at HQ in Washington, DC, how is that evolving? What's the latest there and the next step for the Hatchery?

Andy Miller:

So unfortunately, the Hatchery has been empty for the most part.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. Yeah. I would think so.

Andy Miller:

And we're super excited to get back to work here and be able to sort of all get back to what we all know to be that beehive mentality that you find in these labs and in these coworking kind of spaces. Our goal really is focusing right now on continuing to make sure we're providing the right tools to our startups and the channels which they need them. So the virtual channels, we've been testing every possible platform you can imagine this year with the expectation that we're going to continue for some time into 21 having to operate in this capacity. And that holds true for our pitch events too. We didn't want to stop. We still want to do eight of them this year. And so really the focus has been less on the physical space.

Andy Miller:

However, one of the things we are working on and we will announce formally in first quarter here is building out a collaborative ecosystem. And this ecosystem is going to bring together large organizations, non-profits, for-profits folks that are looking to work with startups. And they may already be trying to work with startups. They may or may not have an innovation function. And they may or may not know how to find source and find and vet these startups. So what we're doing is trying to create an environment where they can all step into it and AARP would be the one that would sort of convene, if you will. We've become really good at working with startups, sourcing them, vetting them, helping them become what we call enterprise ready.

Andy Miller:

Because what we see a lot of times is the startup doesn't know how to work with the big company. And the big company doesn't know how to work with the startup. And so we're trying to create an environment where we're able to help both sides understand the other, and actually act as a convener, which is one of the things we do so well at AARP. And so we do anticipate the physical space, the Hatchery coming back into play at some point in 2021, probably through this collaborative ecosystem where we'll have partners that, every month, will do some sort of demo day, if you will. Of the portfolio companies that want to look for different opportunities for clinical trials or for commercial pilots.

Andy Miller:

Quite frankly, I think once we're all said and done, people are going to be clamoring to go back to physical spaces and to have these social opportunities that are not just boxes on a screen. And so I can't wait for that. In fact I often use my virtual background now, whether it's Zoom or Teams of different pictures of the Hatchery just to try and brighten people's day when they watch this. Because it's a really nice space and it exudes that energy that you get from startup plan. So looking forward to 2021, making it back, I'm not sure when that will be, but in the meantime, how do we create the virtual Hatchery if you will?

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's an optimistic outlook on what's ahead, Andy. But most immediately let's talk about CES 2021 on the topic of things that are a bit different. And to your point, yeah. We really miss that face to face meeting, that serendipity. And at CES the five sense experience when you're walking the halls and engaging with exhibitors and seeing these products in place. What is your approach to the all-digital CES 2021 and how that's come about from some of your first engagements with CES back in 2019?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. It's interesting as we were going through 2020, and hopefully most of your listeners know, CES is an annual planning cycle for most companies that are exhibiting at least if you're exhibiting at any scale. So when we finished CES 2020, we were immediately kicking into, okay, what's next year look like? And so we were really amped to me. From 2019, we had a 400 square foot little booth or a house we had built. To last year, we had a 3000 square foot booth. We had a stage in our booth. We had, I don't know, 10 or 12 startups in our booth and had over 20 activations on our stage. And it was wildly successful at least from our standards or expectations. And so we were really excited for this year to continue to build on that physical presence.

Andy Miller:

But as we were thinking about this throughout the year, it became, okay, well, what happens if there isn't CES? And we thought through like, what if CES actually doesn't happen at all, what would we do? Is there an opportunity still to do something? And then if CES happens in a virtual manner, what would that look like? And so we did our best to try and think through these things. Obviously, we had to wait for CTA Foundation to come and figure out what it was going to look like. But I'm hopeful that one of the things that'll be really interesting here is because it's virtual, you don't have the same limitations you may have when you're physically at CES, where the ability to move across town, for example.

Andy Miller:

If you're at one of the venues and you got to get to another venue, and there's only so many hours in a day, there's only so many curves and trains and the ability to move around. So I'm actually excited that in the virtual capacity here, people can literally hop around. There's not like, "I got to run from the REO over to the Sam's over to the convention center, that takes time and effort. I think that it could potentially provide a lot more visibility to people where they can see more. Now you do lose the five senses sort of thing where you can't feel and touch and necessarily play with in the same way. But I actually am thinking about reach more than I am playing with some of this stuff.

Andy Miller:

And hopefully we can just whet appetites enough that people can reach out directly to the startups. I think we're going to have 10 startups there again this year where they can reach out and figure out how do they get a demo? How do they experience the tech in a way that will make sense for them. So I do think that, well, there'll be some level of confusion. We're going to an all-digital world here, we've never done this before, none of us have ever done this before. I think there'll be potentially, a much larger reach in therefore getting your solution and your message in front of that many more people, which is never a bad thing.

Tyler Suiters:

Right. Right. An insightful outlook there. I don't want to lose sight of the fact that you being based in Boston and me being based in Washington, DC, we are really going to miss sunny 70 degree days in January when you are bouncing around town.

Andy Miller:

That's for sure.

Tyler Suiters:

Being optimistic, let's look ahead then to 2022 and when we are back together in Las Vegas, does your growth continue for the innovation labs and the partnership at CES? You talked about going from 400 square feet to 3000. I don't think we expect that much growth again in 2022, but are you looking forward to and see the distinct value of being in person and having that engagement when the time is right?

Andy Miller:

I do. And actually, I tend to think people will over-correct and us included. Where it may go from having whatever plan we have for 21 to going virtual, to like, okay, we're back together. We're going to be over the top, or we're going to make sure the activation is just that much bigger and bolder. And so I think you're going to see some of that for sure, where people are again, really missing and wanting to have those experiences. So I would expect for AARP Innovation Labs, we will definitely, maybe not physical size be bigger, I would expect we'll have more startups engaged.

Andy Miller:

I mentioned we're now investing in companies, so this year alone we've made 18 investments since March. And I would expect that over the course of next year is probably 20 to 25. And once we make an investment, you're part of the family. So it's not like, just because I made an investment in 2020, you don't get to go to 2022 necessarily. So I would expect that our stable of companies will be much larger. We continue to see things, the technology advance every day. We see different tools in products that are really interesting that will just be that much further along by the time we bring them next in 2022.

Andy Miller:

So I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to it. And I think it will be an energy like you've never seen before, now, not to say CES doesn't have crazy energy always, because it does. But I do think there'll be some level of energy that will be even greater again, when we can all finally get back together. And almost like you really miss it and like, what is this energy, this vibe and the access to so many different really interesting technologies and products that are solving real problems.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. Spoken like a true CES veteran. Andy Miller is senior vice president of AARP Innovation Labs and a veteran of the CES Tech Talk podcast as well. Andy, always great to have you with us. Thanks so much and hope you and AARP's Innovation Labs have just a fantastic CES 2021.

Andy Miller:

I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Tyler Suiters:

All right. That is a wrap for this edition of CES Tech Talk. CES transcends the traditional tech industry. Companies can use CES as a platform to show how they're embracing technology and evolving their business. And CES 2021 will be a critical event for companies to launch and showcase new products and innovations. Companies can make major announcements during Media Day. Demo products via live events. Video content and digital activations. You can engage directly with your target audiences through live chat and meetings. And we want you to be CES ready. We are almost upon the big show.

Tyler Suiters:

So do yourself a favor, subscribe to the CES Tech Talk podcast so you don't miss any of our episodes. And CES 2021 is January 11th through the 14th. New announcements, updated information, all you need to know is at ces.tech. That is C-E-S.T-E-C-H. As always, nothing about this podcast would be remotely possible without the true stars of our show. Our executive producer, Jennifer Drogas. Our assistant producer, Kristen Nemeroff. And our senior studio engineer, John Lindsey. I'm Tyler Suiters, let's talk tech again soon.

 
 

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