Older Adults as Partners in Health and Aging Innovation Communities: The ECOTECH Project

More and more, technology entrepreneurs are interested in creating products and services that will support older adults to live healthier, more independent lives. Technologies such as home monitoring and automation devices, wearable sensors, and service robots may not be designed with the older adult in mind, but they offer the potential of improving the quality of their lives. Sadly, many of these products are fundamentally ill-suited for those with reduced function and mobility, and as a result have been ignored or abandoned by those who look to benefit the most from their use.


The DRiVE project has studied innovation ecosystems, particularly those that are leaders in building communities where there’s a focus on health and age-related innovation and technology development. There’s a lot of literature on the importance of having universities, governments, and businesses collaborating to build these innovative ecosystems. What’s missing from this list? The people who will use and benefit from the innovations – older adults and their caregivers. Is it possible that excluding these key stakeholders from community-building activities, and the development process materially affects their success?

DRiVE’s ECOTECH (Engaging Older Adults in Health Technology Innovation Ecosystems) project, led by Dr. Heather McNeil, investigated this very issue. What she found is that many older adults want to be meaningfully involved in their communities, for as long as possible. As many Canadian communities aspire to be senior-friendly, and build an innovative environment where entrepreneurial business thrive, we wanted to find out what it would take to get older adults more involved in planning and building innovative communities, that were focussed on making their lives easier through novel technologies.

“I’m thinking that’s the way things should be done. All these areas should get together for the common good.”- Older adult

What happened in the ECOTECH Project

We first searched the published articles to learn what scientists had previously studied to answer the question: How can we involve older adults in communities innovating for health and aging? We discovered that this is a relatively new area- so there was lots to explore!


In the next step, we involved older adults and traditional ecosystem partners, from across Canada, in interviews to find out: how interested and ready they were to use a more inclusive model for technology development; and how older adults are currently involved. Overwhelmingly we heard people say they were very interested, and they had lots of questions about how to make it work well.

“You know the saying, “put yourself in someone’s shoes”? Well I think it would go a long way for young people and those involved in studying and making new tech for us, to get a taste of what it is like for us. For example, when I am out at a store, people think just because you have one disability you have all sorts of disabilities.”   – Older adult

In the third step of this co-creation process, participants collaborated to identify what it would take to meaningfully involve older adults in communities innovating for health and aging. The result was the ECOTECH framework- 62 priority ranked ideas grouped into 7 theme areas.

“Why don’t we get a group of us [older adults] together and ask “what could technology do to make your lives better?” Instead of just assuming what will work for us? And I don’t mean just when it’s time to test something out, it has to be before all of that!” - Older adult

So what?

The ECOTECH framework establishes capacity for meaningful engagement of older adults with other local ecosystem stakeholders for health and aging innovation. ECOTECH can be used by:

  • Organizations, agencies and community networks whose members see the potential of engaging older adults and their caregivers in technology and innovation opportunities, and want to build relationships in their local ecosystem;
  • Entrepreneurs, researchers and policy makers who wants to involve older adults and caregivers in healthy aging technology initiatives; and
  • Older adults and caregivers advocating for more meaningful roles in innovation happening in their communities.

Partnering with older adults and their caregivers in communities innovating in health and aging will not only help to address adoption issues to get technologies into the hands of those who will benefit most, but will ensure that folks can remain vibrant community members for as long as possible!

What’s Next?

The DRiVE project continues to build on our knowledge and work with communities to help them understand the critical role that people play in ecosystems focussed on health and aging innovation. This work includes working with innovation hubs looking to include older adults in their organization, and  helping regional planning groups to understand the impact of ageist practices that might exclude key voices.  To learn more about the ECOTECH project contact hmcneil@wlu.ca. Please also look out for two academic papers in review and see:

The Business of Ageing

At the start of presentations or seminars with older adults we’ll ask a couple of questions to get a sense of the audience’s interests. “How many of you own a smartphone?”

Mobile Wireless Telephony: International Price Comparisons and Canada’s Price Difference Relative to Foreign Jurisdictions                 Source: CRTC (2016)

Mobile Wireless Telephony: International Price Comparisons and Canada’s Price Difference Relative to Foreign Jurisdictions                Source: CRTC (2016)

It depends on the audience, but generally the majority will raise their hands – it’s certainly never less than 50%. A growing number of older adults living at home own smartphones or connected devices.  According to StatsCan over 94% of Canadians own a connected device, including 69% of 55-64 year olds. That number drops to 18% for those over 75 years old.

The majority (59%) of Canadian’s believe that having technology makes living easier – including 55% of 65-74 year olds, however this drops precipitously to just 36% for those over 75. This group perceived that they were least likely to benefit from technology.

There numbers reveal a few lessons for those of us focussed on improving the lives of older adults, and working to help them live more independently, longer. We are betting the house that technology is the solution to improving the lives of older adults, and that it’s also one solution to reigning in the escalating cost of healthcare. Before this Utopian view can become a reality a number of issues need to be addressed.

First, the “older adults” we researchers and marketers refer to are not an homogenous group. The context of people’s lives (where and how they live), their individual abilities and the technology itself create classic sub-groups of consumers or segments with common interests and needs. The boomer bulge is entering retirement and they are living longer. They’re also on average, more financially well off than previous generations, and used to influencing markets.  Either directly, or indirectly, this group will pay for novel medical AND consumer health technologies. Understanding WHO these older adults are will be critical for health systems and enterprises hoping to encourage the adoption of technologies designed to improve the health of populations and decrease the costs to care for them. 


Second, our work with older adults and their perspectives on intelligent assistive technologies suggests that developers and researchers are focussed on developing “cool tools” whereas older adults are pragmatic about what technologies they should be using. As one participant in a recent study told us: “Why would you have [the technology] otherwise? It's there to help you, and if it's not helping you, it's no good”. They adopt reliable technology that they entrust to make their lives easier. Period.

Third, most intelligent assistive devices require connectivity, many require wireless connectivity. Canadians pay amongst the highest telecom rates in the world. There has to be a compelling value proposition for older adults on fixed incomes to pay for monthly data plans. Our study participants with smartphones but no data plan call them “dumb phones”, and tell us there’s no reason for them to be connected outside their homes. This presents a significant barrier to companies developing and marketing assistive devices that will not be paid for by Medicare.

The DRiVE team is working to develop a better understanding of how older adults perceive innovative technologies, and how regions can include older adults to help researchers, industry, government and other organizations build systems, cities and processes that are relevant and age-friendly. We’re happy to chat with anyone interested in collaborating with our team or who would like to find out more about how we can help

Hey Healthcare!! #TimesUp Diversity Will DRiVE Innovative Solutions to Big Health and Aging Challenges


Did you know that only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a female founder or CEO! Or that women make up only 13% of tech executive personnel, and the majority (53%) have no women at all! With International Women’s Day approaching this week, the DRiVE team is proud to share the work we are doing to support women and innovation!

Our team has explored many different factors that support the development of Regional Health Innovation Ecosystems (RHIEs), where the focus is on novel and innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the health sector, particularly those related to our aging population. We know that people are central to RHIEs. That includes scientists and graduate students, knowledge workers, health professionals, entrepreneurs, and even engaged and knowledgeable volunteers, patients and their families. Our work has shown that the people and their networks  play a central part in the success of that system. Diversity is a key driver of innovation and a diverse and inclusive workforce attracts the best and brightest talent. The absence of women in key disciplines such as engineering and computing science, and then their knock-on absence in critical industry and entrepreneurial activities has negative consequences on the economic vitality of Canada.


This matters!! It particularly matters in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) industries where despite decades of affirmative action and programs to attract women into some disciplines and academic programs, the numbers of women remains frustratingly low.

Yet we shouldn’t be surprised. Our policies and support for young women who want to raise a family while pursuing their professional dreams remain stubbornly inadequate. Researchers from the DRiVE team have interviewed experts from health innovation ecosystems around the world who talk about how resilient women handily advancing through postdoctoral work, only to find the challenges as a junior faculty completely at odds with starting a family. Or women entrepreneurs who generate innovative ideas, pull together a talented team and pitch for angel funding, yet who fail to attract VC funding because they don’t fit the normal profile.


The DRiVE is part of an international partnership of women working together on a project called, REGiNE” (an international research consortium looking at how regional ecosystems are impacting women’s participation in innovation and entrepreneurship). This project follows on the heels of last year’s successful WEiRED (Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development) workshop that brought together international researchers, government and industry representatives, start-up founders, and students to discuss new areas of research that will advance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation.

REGiNE is particularly interested in starting conversations about innovation and entrepreneurship in “feminized” sectors such as healthcare, where the number of women in the workforce is high and yet their participation in tech entrepreneurship is low.

International Women’s Day is all about celebrating gender parity – about celebrating what we’ve achieved. But there is much work remaining. The DRiVE team salutes those women (and men) who have championed the cause for workforces that better represent our Canadian reality and that we know will propel Canada to the front of the global innovation stage in the future.  


SAM3 INNOVATION HUB: Bringing Critical Age-Related Research to the Ottawa Ecosystem

The Sensors and Analytics for Monitoring Memory and Mobility hub (SAM3) Agewell National Innovation Hub in Ottawa, a joint initiative between AGE-WELL, Carleton University and Bruyere Research Institute, focuses on creating sensor based smart technologies that monitor older adults’ health and well-being where they live. As people age, mobility and memory may be affected, and in more severe cases, may result in  individuals  needing assistance to live in their home, or with more severe impairment, to live in institutional care where they may experience reduced  independence and quality of life. The higher costs to provide institutional care, and the development of intelligent assistive technologies that improve quality of life and possibly reduce the cost of care are being tested at SAM3.

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup speaking at the Bruyere Research Institute

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup speaking at the Bruyere Research Institute

The (SAM3) Innovation Hub is currently located at the  at the Bruyere Research Institute, and brings researchers, healthcare providers, industry stakeholders and older adults together to collaboratively conceive and develop age-related technologies. Research will be conducted onsite at Bruyere and in the new Carleton Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments building. Teams will investigate issues such as  cognitive impairment, screening for balance or strength, and decreasing the risk of falls. Projects that are already underway include investigating pressure-sensitive mats that fit under a mattress with a system to alert seniors about vital signs, activity and mobility. Research is also being done on home sensor systems that provide support to carers as well as monitor cognitive abilities, sleep quality and the ability to use everyday objects. Data can be instantly analyzed to detect and report problems before they become serious. The SAM3 research teams focuses on investigating the use of technology that can lower caregiver burden.

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup, co-PI of the DRiVE project, Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, and interim CEO and Chief Scientific Officer at Bruyère Research Institute is one of the three founding members of the SAM3  Innovation Hub. Dr. Sveistrup is excited that the SAM3 “represents real opportunities for Canadian companies with sensor products that can be incorporated into sophisticated and complex systems to support quality of life.” She adds: “We are delighted to be working with diverse stakeholders in this initiative. Helping older people in the community live better and maintain their dignity is a priority for Bruyère.

The SAM3 Innovation Hub is starting up in one of the more mature innovation ecosystems in Canada. The 2017 Global Startup Ecosystem Report highlighted Ottawa’s active culture of entrepreneurship particularly in the software sector. Specialized accelerator programs like LSpark, the activities of Invest Ottawa- a non-profit, focused on supporting economic growth and job creation in the region and now anchoring the newest city hub at Bayview Yards, the proximity to the federal government and many industry and non-profit head offices- makes Ottawa a truly unique ecosystem. The presence of international embassies and foreign delegations, as well as two highly regarded universities, means that Ottawa startups’ Foreign Customer rate, at 41%, is markedly higher than the global average of 23%.    

The pressing issues associated with an aging population, and the presence of world-class healthcare institutions in the Ottawa region, has focused many local researchers on developing technologies that improve the processes, efficiency and quality of care in the health system. Ottawa has been known as one of the emerging, albeit smaller, biotech clusters in Canada (Gertler & Vinodrai, 2009) and has also developed some expertise in non-therapeutics, including medical and assistive technologies. This is important for SAM3 - the presence of anchor companies and a vibrant cluster of researchers, and suppliers and local demand for products are crucial indicators of an ecosystem that will be sustained over time. Furthermore, with a focus on physical technologies, the presence of accessible community fabrication facilities, patient investment capital, and access to successful entrepreneurs and mentors: SAM3 is well positioned achieve its goals.

More and more, innovators and builders globally are recognizing the potential from developing medical and consumer products for older populations. Innovation hubs around the world and across Canada are increasingly conducting research in and developing assistive AI devices that help older adults live more independent lives.

The Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, situated in Toronto is a hub that develops innovations to help seniors safely settle into the home of their choice, while maintaining cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. It focuses on brain health and solutions in the clinical setting. Overseas, Israel’s first Innovation Lab launched in Beersheva is helping to reduce everyday challenges experienced by older adults, by taking a 360 degree view of the issues. They’re not just looking at hardware; social projects are also being explored where teenagers are connected with older adults to address loneliness and depression.  There is also a model home that fully simulates senior citizen’s living environment and aids in developing prototypes that can be implemented around the home to aid in better quality of life.

Clearly, Around the world, and in Canada, there is increasing interest in helping older citizens to live more independently. However, innovations do not occur in any systematic way without the resources, mentoring and infrastructure associated with a health regional ecosystem. The SAM3 innovation hub will inject innovation capacity in the Ottawa ecosystem over the long term, and will help drive interest in, and development and testing of, novel age-related technologies

"It's challenging out there": Gender, Innovation, and Ecosystems

Things got WEiRED on June 15th and 16th. At the invitation of the WEiRED (Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development) research group, over 50 women representing an international consortium of researchers, government and industry representatives, start-up founders, and students met at Communitech to share the latest research on and discussion new areas of research that will advance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. The research was supported by a SSHRC Connections grant entitled “From Exception to Rule: Advancing the Role of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Regional Innovation Ecosystems”, as well as Wilfrid Laurier, AGE-WELL, the Lazaridis School, and Communitech.

The goal of the project was to understand how women entrepreneurs impact and are impacted by regional innovation ecosystems.

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Day one started with an inspiring welcome by the incoming president and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy. The morning theme “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: An international perspective” included international researchers to set the tone and spur discussion for a lively group activity (pictured below).

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Building on the morning’s learnings, the afternoon theme, “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: A regional perspective” highlighted the importance of ecosystems for collaboration and growth in local clusters. Day one of the symposium ended with an opportunity for an exercise that allowed the group to come to consensus on which issues were most important.

After lively discussions over dinner with new friends, day two opened with an address from Catherine Fife, Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. The theme for Day 2, “Women and Entrepreneurship from a sectoral perspective: health and agetech” generated some fervent discussion. Most participants were in agreement around the need for innovation in the health and aging sectors. They hear from experts in aging, practitioners running women’s entrepreneurship programs in incubators, and professional schools that encourage women and workers in gendered professions such as nursing.

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

The organizing team is working on next steps, including future collaborations on grants and partnerships. DRiVE is grateful for all the support from partners as well as the student volunteers who worked to pull this amazing event together.


Check out #weiredproject #weired2017 #kwinnovation on Twitter for participants’ perspectives throughout the symposium.



And now for something really WEiRED!

Gender equality has been an issue for western governments as far back as the 70’s (despite laudable activism prior to that in many regions). Now, if it was as simple as passing a bill, you’d expect to see trampled barriers across the traditionally gendered disciplines and professions.

But we don’t. Statistics Canada’s 2011 report “Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university” points out that the majority of university graduates are women. Yet despite years of acknowledging the wasted opportunity that this inequality represents, amongst graduates 25-34 only 23% of students graduating from engineering are women, and 30% from math and computer science. So what, you say? Women are rocking it in the arts and social sciences. Here’s the rub. The median wages of engineering and computer science graduates exceed those of others. Catalyst reports that women in these fields are more likely than their male colleagues to leave the industry within a year if they do get the job. And this gender gap follows women right to the top - in 2013 Credit Suisse reported that 41% of technology companies had NO women directors.

You have to believe that those women who DO persevere would be sought after representatives of where the industry is going. Not so fast. If you relied on tech industry panels as a place where women might pop up, think again. They are predominantly…well, male. Deloitte generously refers to this and other practices as unconscious bias, others as outright sexism. Either way it’s time to act. Diverse teams perform better. Period.

On June 14th and 15th a number of DRiVE researchers and colleagues, in partnership with the Fierce Founders group at Communitech, are bringing international experts on women and entrepreneurship/innovation to Kitchener/Waterloo, along with invited stakeholders from government, research, industry, civic groups and the health and agetech sector, to discuss women innovators and entrepreneurs, and the barriers and enablers of success that they experience within their local regions. Our second day will be devoted to a deep dive into the health and agetech sector where the likelihood that our systems will survive the onslaught of a rapidly aging and ailing population without mobilizing ALL the human capital in them, is slim.

Dr. Barb Orser (Canada), author of Feminine Capital, Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs, Dr. Tatiana Manolova (US), author of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Growth of Women’s Entrepreneurship, Susan Marlow (UK), will help lead our thought process, along with members of the WEiRED research team (Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development) who are organizing the symposium, and a crowd of key stakeholders. Our goal is to build a research consortium, in partnership with other invited partners, that will help provide international evidence of programs that work and those that don’t to improve gender parity in the pipeline that produces then commercializes disruptive innovations.

For more information on this symposium please contact Dr. Josephine McMurray at jmcmurray@wlu.ca

Aging innovation in Boston: “A 1,000 piece puzzle”

There is a lot of talk about innovation in the health and aging sector. With population aging and fiscally restrained government budgets, it seems like everywhere you turn someone is talking about the importance of innovating in this area. But, which communities are actually diving in and doing the work?

Over the past year, our DRiVE has been actively seeking a range of communities at different stages in the development of their Regional Health Innovation Ecosystem (RHIE). It was a tough decision, but we selected four locations and have visited each over the past 18 months to learn from and better understand their journeys.

Our latest exploration took us to the internationally recognized and mature RHIE in Boston, MA. From April 17th to 21st 2017, two of our DRiVE researchers, Drs. Kuschel and McNeil travelled to the Boston area to explore the ecosystem and conduct key informant interviews..

As many of you reading this blog will know, Boston IS health. Everyone we spoke to described health and health care as central to the region of Boston, with one key informant sharing, “health is just what we do here”.

What may be less well known by those of you reading this, is that innovation specific to the aging process and focused on the improvement of quality of life across the life course is emerging within this RHIE in a substantial way. What we were told is that understanding Boston is like “putting together a 1, 000 piece puzzle”. Translated…this is WAAAY more complex that you think.

When trying to describe the key players in the ecosystem, and the work that is going on to connect institutions, governments, industry, non-profit groups and individuals within the RHIE, many key informants used the word “complex”.  Ironically they consider that complexity both a potential challenge, but also a key component of the success of the RHIE in aging innovation.

The challenge comes because of the sheer volume of players in the space. Imagine the work of bringing diverse players and resources to work together … one person said that brokering the relationships amongst those who need to be engaged to make the ecosystem work, can feel like “drinking from a fire hose”.

On the flipside complexity is also key to the success of the aging innovation space within the Boston RHIE. One benefit of complexity is the diversity of the innovation occurring in the ecosystem for aging. To bring this complexity alive, and to showcase some of the incredibly exciting work that’s happening in and around the Boston region, here are a few examples that really struck us as being blog-worthy!

Pulse @MassChallenge

As an engine for the innovation community in Boston, Pulse@MassChallenge bring organizations together to focus on “wicked” problems – this year it’s aging. Their program supports local start-ups in Digital Health such as Cake and CareAcademy. Check out the links – these new startups are doing important work and have young, dynamic leaders who are facing health challenges health on.

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative is an innovative approach to encouraging leadership in nurses. We were grateful to meet with program director, Rebecca Love who is spearheading the events, programs, and new educational pathways that are making innovation, entrepreneurship and business central to the training nurses receive. Programs like these will effect real change in the health and aging space by helping to unleash the creativity of thousands of nurses who are experts in working around healthcare systems designed in the 19th century.

The Village of Beacon Hill

Socially, Boston has been innovating in aging at a community level since the 1990’s with the establishment of a grass roots movement driven by older adults supporting each other to age in their communities. Some of you may be familiar with the Village to Village project (we even had a chance to speak with the original village in Beacon Hill, Boston!).

Another key piece of the Boston RHIE puzzle for aging innovation, is leadership. We saw this at multiple levels, from the city through their Age Friendly Boston Report highlighting the diversity of the older adult population, to the state which is actively providing support for issues related to aging. Right before our visit to Boston, the Governor, Charlie Baker, announced a council to support aging through policy and innovation. We were also delighted to meet, Secretary Alice Bonner of Elder Affairs whose vibrant leadership in this area was noted by many of the people we spoke to in the ecosystem.

Exploring the aging and health innovation ecosystem in Boston energized us. We are looking forward to analyzing the wealth of information we came home with and staying connected to those who are doing this important work putting the 1,000 piece puzzle together.



The Myth of Swans and Ugly Ducklings

Maeve Binchy, the noted Irish novelist with a bent for portraying women as everyday heroines not so much looking for a hero, but quite capable of living without one once said

“There are no makeovers in my books. The ugly duckling does not become a beautiful swan. She becomes a confident duck able to take charge of her own life and problems.”
Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr  edit/640x395/a/an/anatidae/anatidae_1.jpg

Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr


She might have noted the irony that SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) is the acronym used by the British Equality Challenge Unit that recognises those who are working to implement practices that advance gender equality through more balanced representation and professional advancement.

Most women working in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics) fields will tell you that the single emerging swan remains a myth. Systemic barriers to women entering and most importantly remaining in many (not all) of these fields remain deeply entrenched despite decades of acknowledgement about the issue and many, often unsuccessful, policies and programmes intended to address it. Perhaps, rather than the myth of the an ugly duckling emerging into a swan, a flock of confident ducklings is what’s required from which gaggles of ducks can emerge whose roles are normalized, and accepted. Protective policies, and regional ecosystems that provide networks and mentors, and the resources for the ducks to develop resilience and produce many swans, are what’s needed.

Here in Cambridge (UK), DRiVE was alerted to the Athena SWAN network by Dr. Michael Wakelam, the Director of the Babraham Institute. Babraham was awarded an Athena SWAN award in 2015. Dr. Wakelam recognized that there was gender parity in their programs to the postdoctoral level, but beyond that the numbers of women applying for and securing junior faculty positions was limited. The institute has committed to broad policies and practices to address this imbalance. From standardizing job applications and recruitment questions to providing cover for postdocs taking maternity leave. While policy and women-friendly cultures are important in the graduate programs, the pool of applicants is determined by the success of recruitment into undergraduate STEMM programs. In 2014, women made up only 27% and 24% of the students in engineering and math, unchanged from 2011. Their acceptance into computer science was an abysmal 16%, though admittedly this was up from the 2.9% just three years earlier.

Clearly, the pace of protective mechanisms to ensure that women in STEMM have the support of a critical mass that’s required to start producing swans, must pick up. STEMM careers are increasingly abundant. Cambridge, in an effort to mitigate any post-Brexit human resource short falls in the popular software development and business analyst positions, might look to gender equity in their STEMM programs as a solid insurance policy.

The Cambridge [Health Innovation] Phenomenon

Regional innovation ecosystems...

encompass a set of interdependent factors working together that allow innovation (and its corollary entrepreneurial activity) to occur in a sustained way in a region. These ecosystems, much the same as their ecological equivalents, follow a lifecycle model of development. This week DRiVE team members Josephine McMurray and Katherina Kuschel are in Cambridge, in the UK, gathering data in preparation for a global survey that will attempt to build a model to explain innovation ecosystem development in the health and ageing sectors. 

A narrow street in Cambridge

A narrow street in Cambridge

Cambridge, situated in the eastern region of the United Kingdom in Cambridgeshire, was considered something of a rural backwater in the 50’s but grew a manufacturing base as firms left the increasingly congested London in search of a cheaper and non-unionised labour base. In 2017, it is known as one of Europe’s fasting growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. You can’t help but notice, as you drive into the city, the horizon is dotted with construction cranes. With what is reported to be some of the fastest rising real estate prices in the UK, many note high demand for residential property but also waiting lists for commercial real estate, science parks and incubators. And despite having one of the highest rates of cycling in the country, road congestion and lack of parking now slows movement around the city.  Cambridge’s success in attracting industry and driving start-ups and small business growth, is now challenging the very geography that has contributed to its success.

So other than its location, what other ‘push’ factors have driven the innovation agenda? One needn’t look far beyond the ubiquitous presence of the renowned Cambridge University which ranks in the top three universities in the world for Nobel Laureates. Established in 1208, the university has been the research engine behind what is known as the Cambridge Phenomenon that refers to the large and growing number of high technology firms that have been established in and around the town since the early 1980’s. Our data gathering is offering a rare look inside a mature innovation ecosystem that has a rich, and lengthy history of novel research and award-winning discoveries in technology, the biologic, life and health sciences.

Babraham Research Campus   

Babraham Research Campus


Our visit to the famed Babraham Institute and Research Park and meetings with both Derek Jones and Michael Wakelam reflects Cambridge University’s approach of allowing ‘100 flowers to blossom’. There the federation of colleges supports independence of thought for the faculties as well as their faculty members. A virtuous cycle of hiring the best, allowing them to succeed, then using their reputation to hire quality faculty, students and post docs, has driven the innovation agenda.

Now we turn our attention to questions such as, what spillovers from this world-class research and innovative discoveries have on the local population with respect to health and ageing? If the reason for investing millions of public and private funding into research in this region is the improvement of the health and quality of life of its residents, how is that working out? And if not yet, how long does it take for these outcomes to be achieved? We’ll keep you posted.

Health Ecosystems Research

Researching health ecosystems - how do we do it?

The DRiVE team are gathering information about global technology and innovation entities that invest in and research health and aging. This information is available to you! We have entered the entities into a database which has been uploaded on our website through Scribble Maps. On the map we have the main contact information of these organizations which include hubs, clusters, institutes, networks, ecosystems, incubators and labs. Our map is consistently updated and expanded as we continue researching and contacting new entities.

Within Canada, approximately 25 organizations were included in our research and were contacted. While innovation in health technology is a focus for many of these organizations, very few of the entities have a specific focus on developing health technology for the aging population. Currently, the areas of focus include general medical research, patient-oriented care, and general health care technology. It is interesting to note that while Canada is currently expected to have a much larger elderly population within the next two decades, there is not a large focus on technological innovation specifically directed towards this demographic.  

Different South American entities that focus on health using technology have been contacted in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay. Many of them are startup accelerators and universities that organize competitions, programs, and calls for projects that foster and support entrepreneurship in health and aging, as well as including them in their portfolio for continued investment on research on these specific fields. Moreover, some of the entities have developed research around pathologies that are associated with aging, or that target problems that generate an impact in their society.

Europe and the United States have also been extensively reviewed, with approximately 70 entities that were originally contacted for more information on their specialities in health technology. The large geography of the areas allowed for us to pinpoint specific hotspots for innovation in health and aging, such as Boston, MA and Cambridge, UK.  

So far, the data that we have collected and inputted in our database has been available on our website, and presented at a conference focused on aging innovation, where researchers in the field interacted with it. This was an excellent opportunity for us to gather their feedback on where else to look for entities and point out any institutes that we might not have come across.

We are very excited to continue our data collection and build a comprehensive map highlighting organizations who are leading the way for innovation in health and aging.

If you are from an innovation entity such as a hub or accelerator, and don’t see your site listed on our global map, please get in touch and provide us with some basic information. We would be delighted to add you to our map and to promote your site amongst our growing network.