Episode 6 – Frank Leyhausen, SENovation Award, Strengthening the Silver Economoy

Frank Leyhausen, the Managing Partner of MedCom International and Founder of the SENovation Award, talks to us about challenges and opportunities within the “Longevity Economy.” The Award honors Startups and business ideas that offer solutions for the needs of an aging society. We look at already successful candidates from the past. We also learn how to build an excellent product for senior citizens. Below you find an English summary of the German Podcast.

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Frank Leyhausen


“Successful founders talk to the seniors, not about them”


About Frank Leyhausen:

Frank Leyhausen is the director of the management consultancy MedCom International, which helps its customers to address the “third-generation” target group effectively. The Cologne native first came into contact with the senior market as a young marketeer. Ever since then, he can’t seem to shake the subject of our aging society. Thus, his decision to commit himself to this topic with MedCom was only logical.


The SENovation Award – “following the example of America’s culture of startups”

He got the idea to found the SENovation Award when he traveled to the United States, where many innovative products are being developed for the older part of the population. To see how much is possible in a country with a much younger population. The AARP there (the equivalent of the German Seniors’ League), with its approximately 36 million members, has revitalized the startup scene with numerous initiatives. Leyhausen has successfully introduced this dynamic to Germany with the SENovation Award. 20% of the population is 65 or older, making for a vast market of opportunities. The award is intended to raise awareness for the “Silver Economy” among the startup scene in the German-speaking countries.


Involving older people in developing products

Frimeso: On your homepage, you state that those startups can apply who “intentionally target older people.” When is this the case?

Leyhausen: There are traditional products for seniors, like rollators. With many products, though, it’s specifically about making an effort to comprehensively explain the product to older customers and involve older people in the product development process. If you’re developing an app, for example, it should be easy to use. Language has to be used in a way that the target audience will understand. Technical terms and slang can make older people feel excluded from the start. So it’s all about a holistic approach.


Germany still lags behind the USA

Frimeso: You say on your homepage that Germany is not a classic start-up nation compared to countries like the USA. Why is that?

Leyhausen: We don’t have the same entrepreneurial spirit yet.

Thanks to our great social security system, civil service, and a stable labor market, starting a business is primarily considered a risk. Thus, many people start their businesses while continuing to work. People prefer to stay in their well-paid jobs at first. In the US, the risk of losing your job is as high as driving your startup against the wall.


Startups as a lifestyle concept

Frimeso:  It seems to be a general trait of Germans to be afraid of failure, whereas, in America, failure is considered as part of the process.

Leyhausen: Our culture does not cope well with failure. If you fail in the US, it’s: “So, what are you going to do next?”. If you fail in Germany, others may label you a “loser.” There is an inherent fear of being socially sidelined. That is a pity because, personally, I actually learn more from my mistakes. You question mistakes. You celebrate successes.

Still, much is changing in Germany right as we speak. Many want to launch something. We are well on the way. Above all, public perception has changed. Founding a company is now “cool.” A new generation is growing up with a lifestyle concept of shaping their own everyday work life.


Focusing on your key strengths is better than poorly copying the strengths of others

Frimeso: What industry generally has the most startups today?

Leyhausen: Our strengths still lie in engineering. But we are also at the forefront within some tech sectors. We generally look to Silicon Valley too much and always want to digitize everything, even though we are far more skilled in other areas. We should focus on our own strengths. That also applies to “age tech.” Germany has the largest living laboratory in the world. We should focus on what we already have and build on it. That is better than to look to America and copy them poorly.


Target group “Silver Economy” –“ it’s not about age, it’s about the stage.”

Frimeso: How old does one have to be to belong to the target group “Silver Economy”?

Leyhausen: We’re opposed to 50+, 60+, 70+. This segmentation according to calendar age makes no sense. My actual age is of little interest to me and does not define what I need. We live and advise according to the motto: “It’s not about age, it’s about the stage.” It doesn’t matter if someone is 40 or 50. But if they become a caregiver for members of the family during that period, their life changes. Accordingly, startups should seek to define their customers according to changing needs.


“Successful founders talk to the seniors, not about them”

Frimeso: Many founders are younger than their target group. How do these young people manage to empathize with older customers.

Leyhausen: We have a very simple slogan: ‘Talk to the seniors, don’t talk about them.’ Many products are developed with the best interests and best intentions. However, older people should be involved in the development process early on as sparring partners, monitoring bodies, or even innovators. Only those who talk to seniors can be empathetic towards them. Founders ask our seniors far too little.

The challenge of the digital divide – humility and empathy are required in product development

Frimeso: Are older consumers ready for digital innovations? Does the digital divide play a role for innovative start-ups? Is the older part of the population embracing digital innovations?


Leyhausen: There is a digital divide. According to the digital index for Germany there are still almost 12 million people in Germany who are not digital at all. I

Additionally, 40 % percent of the population are digitally sidelined as “minimal onliners”. Digital startups face the challenge of also appealing to this part of the population. The willingness to download an app is relatively low. Therefore, these people need to be instructed, either in person or by employing other means like YouTube videos.

Businesses in Germany generally struggle with tackling the digital divide. Many older people have taken the arduous route of setting up a personal account on the app store. But when they then get an unsolicited update where all of a sudden, the button is right and no longer left, green and no longer red, it frustrates them. These people have always used the remote control and now have to deal with a volatile interface. In the USA, it’s been made possible to call an Uber using your telephone since there wasn’t enough demand from older people for their services on their app. Car manufacturers here should humbly note that the average age of car buyers is 52.


Two of the winners so far: Pflegix, the platform for caregivers, and Rufus, the phone filter

Frimeso: Can you highlight one or two of your winners?

Leyhausen: In 2018, the platform Pflegix won our award. Their concept was compelling. Pflegix connects freelancing caregivers and families looking for caregivers. Today, they are part of a group that acts internationally.

Last year, Rufus – Der Telefonfilter won, a young startup that deals with the topic of phone scams. Every year, millions of euros are made by criminals who pretend to be grandchildren or impersonate police officers on the phone. With the Telefonfilter, the startup has developed a box that is installed between the port and the phone. Unknown or blocked numbers are filtered out as desired. For unknown numbers, however, there is also the option that callers first have to identify themselves or agree to calls being recorded. Rufus collaborated with the police, universities, and Caritas during development and conducted a field test with 100 households. Over 99% percent of them used the box. The company also made sure to use means of control that users already knew, like controlling it using the phone. There’s no app or interface. It’s a simple product that conveys a quality of life and security to people—a genuine product for seniors.

Frimeso: Are there other notable examples of participants who didn’t win but stayed on your mind for other reasons?

Leyhausen: A 66-year-old engineer used a 3D printer to make a plastic disc with an eyelet for his 90-year-old mother to clamp between the ceiling magnet and the smoke detector. His mother could then simply pull down the smoke detector with a broom in the event of a false alarm without having to climb onto a chair.

One submission was about a platform that provides pet chickens for hire. Those chickens are used in therapy for dementia patients as pet animals. Some providers transport the chickens for hire to care facilities. This platform would then allow owners to market their chickens.


Key aspects of the SENovation Award:


Participation of requirements:
Two types of company are awarded:

  • Young startups, (maximum three years old)
  • Pre-founders who haven’t founded yet but can present a compelling concept

The product has to be relevant for older people and be able to be established on the market.


Application deadline: June 30th.
Final: September 22nd.
Application via the SENovation Awards website

€5.000 per winner and intensive coaching for the companies
All participants benefit from the enormous exposure through participation
Members of the jury are the managing director of the German Seniors League and the CEO of the Signal Iduna Group, as well as a diverse  group of experts from a wide variety of disciplines. The pitches also take place in front of selected members of the silver economy.


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