About Are you OK today
- Founders: Han and Matthijs van Doorn
- Founded in: 2020
- Employees: 1
- Money raised: Financing from own funds.
- Ultimate goal: To enable seniors to regain a sense of safety in their own homes.
Every year, thousands of new entrepreneurs over the age of sixty register with the Chambers of Commerce across Europe. Innovation Origins spoke to some of these grey innovative starters and asked them about their motives. We portray them this week in a special senior edition of the Start-up of the Day series.
You are never too old to be an entrepreneur. Han van Doorn (84) from the Dutch town of Uithoorn has developed an app that alerts a family member or friend of someone should something happen to them in their home. “Areyouoktoday, as the app is called, has changed my life. I feel safe in my own home again. And I have a purpose in my life again as well. We are going to launch the app onthe market early next year.”
Hoe heeft die app je leven veranderd? How has this app changed your life?
“I have a sense of purpose in my life again. Everyone needs that. But if you retire at some point and all kinds of social contacts fall away, then you might ask yourself: ‘What are you getting out of bed for?’ Of course, it’s nice to enjoy your leisure time, to travel or do other fun things, that’s great. But if you really go out and do something, then that gives a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. You also get back in touch with other people. It enriches your life immensely, you stay active, it increases the quality of life and you belong to society again.”
What kind of work did you do before?
“I worked at IBM for 31 years. As a young boy, I was already very entrepreneurial. I earned my pocket money by trading stamps. And I loved experimenting with technology. We went on a field trip to IBM when I was a school. That opened my eyes. From that moment on, I wanted to work at an international company and I wanted to experiment. If I can find a job, I thought, where I get paid to experiment, then I’ve got it made. So, I had a fantastic life at IBM’s development lab in Uithoorn (NH).
We made sophisticated machines in the field of artificial intelligence and self-learning systems. Both in terms of software and hardware. For example, we built a system for the banking industry whereby a machine could read giro pages filled in by hand. This previously required an office with a thousand women typing in the data and another thousand women to check the data.”
How did you come up with the idea for Areyouoktoday?
“The new company was born out of necessity. I was a caregiver for five years for my wife, who suffered from dementia. Those were extremely difficult years. This is why I came up with the idea that informal caregivers should be supported with the help of technology. Another reason was my own problem. If you want to develop a solution for your own problem, then that’s the best reason to develop a new product. Otherwise you end up with a solution to a problem that nobody has.
My problem was: ‘What happens if I fall down the stairs? How long will it take before someone finds me?’ My son Matthijs calls me regularly to see how I’m doing. But then again, not every day. That’s how we came up with the idea of a warning app. If the stoplight is green, then all is well, if it’s red, then there’s a problem. But like so many old men, I didn’t want cameras in the house or things like that hanging around my neck or wrist. No sensors, not a thing. But I do want to keep my privacy for 100 %. That’s how we came up with this system. We tested it for three months in about 100 different locations. And it works perfectly.”
How does the app work?
“The app keeps track of my electricity usage. We all have appliances in the house that we turn on and off throughout the day. That eventually creates a certain kind of rhythm. If that rhythm is broken, then apparently something is wrong. But again, my privacy is sacred to me. So if the app notices that something is not right, I will be the first to be called. Only if I fail to respond, will someone else be alerted then.”
Are there any advantages to starting a business specifically as a senior?
“There are definitely a lot of advantages to starting a business later on in life. According to all sorts of statistics, businesses started by people who are older have a greater chance of success. I think that’s because as an entrepreneur, you’re addressing a problem that you are very familiar with. And you’ve gained a lot of experience by this stage. At IBM, of course, I stumbled into a lot of traps. That doesn’t happen to me anymore. My age in combination with my innovative project is, of course, a unique selling point.“
Was securing funding a problem?
“For me, funding was not a problem. I did it from my own resources. I have a good pension from IBM as well as my state pension. I don’t have to turn to a bank. That’s often another advantage of starting a business later in life. I also don’t have to get paid for my work. I did try to get a grant for this project. The problem is that it isn’t a matter of formal care, but informal care. If you want to do a project in formal care, the question immediately arises whether it has been scientifically proven to work; whether it has been validated.”
What challenges have you faced?
“The road to a workable app was one with many up and downs. That stands to reason. But there were no specific problems because of my age. Just the specific problems that every start-up has when developing a new product.
The hardest part was teaching the system when there was activity in the house and when there was not. Take one of those small extra heaters as an example. When it’s in use, it goes on and off all the time. Nothing wrong, the system thinks at first. Even if I’m at the bottom of the stairs. Then it has to look at other activities as well, so that eventually the app comes to the conclusion that something is definitely going on. A lot of time and effort has gone into that. That process of learning those patterns takes about a month now for the system.”
Do you have any tips for startups?
“Well, the tip I have is this: When you retire you can go and play bingo or travel. That’s a lot of fun. But if you actually go out and do something, that’s a lot more satisfying. If you are busy with your brain and remain physically active, then your quality of life is higher and you have more fun in your life. You have a purpose in your life again.”