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How to start a social business for the elderly

SINGAPORE — As the silver community grows in Singapore, it has become increasingly challenging to address the needs and concerns of this group. The good news is that over the last few years there have been more innovative businesses catering to elderly. But starting a social business for such a niche and fairly-new market requires specific know-how and comes with its own challenges. Here, NUS Enterprise provides tips on where to begin:

How to start a social business for the elderly

The pioneer generation deserves to be singled out for special attention, having fought the ‘wars’ for the peace and prosperity we enjoy today. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — As the silver community grows in Singapore, it has become increasingly challenging to address the needs and concerns of this group. The good news is that over the last few years there have been more innovative businesses catering to elderly. But starting a social business for such a niche and fairly-new market requires specific know-how and comes with its own challenges. Here, NUS Enterprise provides tips on where to begin:

Can a social enterprise thrive in this industry? What kinds of businesses can I start for the elderly?

Yes. This is a very lucrative business opportunity for those with an entrepreneurial drive and the will to make a positive social impact. In simple words, a social enterprise can be defined as a sustainable and scalable business that addresses a social problem.

Unlike charities that only seek to create social change, social enterprises are also innovative and market-oriented. While most existing organisations in this space are charities and non-government organisations such as community centres and old-age homes, it is important to recognise the silver community as a growing market. Social enterprises play a big role in value creation through innovation and mutually-beneficial exchanges unlike charities that only redistribute income.

There are many reasons as to why this new market is becoming more and more attractive for social entrepreneurs. First, Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, with close to 11 per cent of the population comprising people aged 65 and above. The consumer base comprising the elderly is on the rise, and is, therefore, an attractive market to tap into.

Second, increase in the standards of living has made this segment of the population very affluent, with a high disposable income. Better and more affordable healthcare means that the elderly today are healthier, more active and, therefore, have higher demands. Finally, lack of emotional and familial support is one of the biggest gaps that still has not been actively addressed.

Some types of businesses that can be started are fitness- and health-related businesses, personal shopping, handyman and errands services and employment agencies to re-integrate this community into the workforce.

In Singapore alone, the number of social enterprises catering to this community has increased in the last decade. Organisations such as ProAge and Silver Spring are some of the key players that are attempting to break the pattern with innovation.

Sorgen is another Singapore-based social enterprise that “focuses on creating assertive innovations for the betterment of the lives of the elderly”. It aims to enhance elderly mobility and has developed a walking-frame series that requires no lifting and even has a responsive auto-brake system.

How do I reach out to the silver community? Will they be convinced of my product or service?

While there is a fast-growing market comprising the elderly, reaching out to seniors is not an easy feat. However, like any other business it is important to really understand the needs of target customers to maximise both revenue and impact.

First, it is essential to identify the real needs of the community. The only way to do this would be to immerse yourself into the community. Volunteering at a community centre or spending time with senior family members are some ways to do this.

Second, instead of viewing all the seniors as one group, consider income, age, gender and marital status before creating or marketing your product or service. You should only reach out to those who are most likely to invest in your idea. Not all seniors have the same problems and it is important to take into account other factors that shape preferences and lifestyles.

Finally, there should be great emphasis placed on the usefulness and safety of the product. The elderly do not care about the flashiness and tend to be more impressed with products or services that are proven to work.

Furthermore, what is worse than no solution is having the wrong solution. Seniors do not want products that are associated with being “old”, and instead require services and products that can help them be happier and healthier and more active.

Building a social business is hard. How do I get started?

Once you have identified the need of the target market and built a product or service, the biggest challenge is the availability of funding for such projects. One great way to get started would be to participate in the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia (http://socialventurechallenge.asia/), an Asia-wide social venture competition that is accepting ideas until the end of January.

The programme also runs frequent ideation and validation workshops and, therefore, is suitable for individuals with the will to create change but no concrete idea. Furthermore, such platforms not only allow aspiring entrepreneurs to kick-start their businesses by providing capital but also give access to a large number of mentors from their networks.

Some other ways to apply for seed funding is through organisations like the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and the National Youth Council. In recent years, many organisations like these have started encouraging social enterprises that target the silver community in Singapore.

This article is contributed by NUS Enterprise.

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