Why Is This Youngster Important to Us?

OneRing Monitor for Parkinson's Disease PatientsHis name is Utkarsh Tandon, doesn’t sound like a Trump-friendly name, does it? Ok, setting that political aside aside, let me answer the question posed. Tandon is a high school kid in Southern California who, when a Freshman (er, that’s 9th grade, people) in 2014, developed a machine learning model for his science fair project that collected and classified data on sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. He won the fair, and, as part of his first place award, received a grant from the UCLA Brain Research Institute. A year later, the high school sophomore turned his science experiment into a marketable product. The OneRing, which successfully raised its initial funding on Kickstarter, is a wearable device that monitors Parkinson’s patients’ tremors and delivers the data as a digestible daily report to an app you accessible on the iPhone. “So what?”, you ask. “I don’t have Parkinson’s and I can hardly relate to those rude, tattooed, pierced, wired, and weird young people who think I’m either invisible or in the way?

Tandon is important to us because he represents the Millennial Generation, born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, people coming of age as we are, well, getting up there in age. They need us and we are counting on them, even if neither of us is fully willing to recognize this fact. When my husband and I go out to dinner, we kiddingly ask for the “no smoking, no children section.” But it’s really important to resist the natural  instinct to isolate ourselves in single generation silos. I propose we accept the advice Silas Howe offers on The Growing Generational Divide.

…the elderly population will more than double between now and 2050. Before then we’ll have to decide if it’s better to ignore a huge chunk of our population, or if we will embrace everything we can give to one another. (NY Times, May 8, 2015)

“Boomers are older and shrinking in size as the number of deaths exceed the number of older (Millennial) immigrants arriving in the country” (Richard Fry, Pew Research, Jan. 2015). In Fast Future, author David Burstein describes the Millennials’ approach to social change as “pragmatic idealism,” a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions. That’s the kind of “out-of-the-box” thinking that motivated Tandon to create and successfully turn One Ring into a marketable product with potential to help the approximately one million Parkinson’s Disease sufferers in the U.S. (ten million worldwide) – and possibly contribute to lowering our collective healthcare costs as a society.

The Willen children are grown and our grandchildren are not within spitting distance. We only see grey hairs at the parties we attend, the movies we prefer, and the concerts we go to. Maybe you’re in the same boat. How can we personally bridge the generational divide? Look at this list of Ways to Build Social Capital. Notice how many can help us build intergenerational trust as well as community connections, helping ourselves as we help others. One suggestion missing from this list is how Boomers can work side by side with Millennials as mentors and silent partners, encouraging entrepreneurship that results in products and economic benefits important to seniors.

A Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2015 Report: The Future of Entrepreneurship: Millennials and Boomers Chart the Course for 2020 tells us that “since millennials (in their 20s and 30s) came of age as the IT revolution flourished, they’re well positioned to turn new technologies into entrepreneurial ventures. They’re also well-educated, which equates to the creation of stronger businesses, and are on the cusp of mass entry into the peak age bracket for entrepreneurship (40-55) — in fact, they’ll be the largest cohort at those ages in American history.

But, Kauffman said, “millennials are saddled with student loan debt and were also hard hit by the recession, so many can’t afford to be entrepreneurs.” That’s where Boomers may be able to assist, follow the connection as outlined below.

Jon Nathanson (Silver is the new Gold, Slate, May, 2014) notes, “Our country’s 80 million baby boomers (approximately 42 percent of the population) hold 77 percent of all personal assets and account for half of all discretionary spending. Total disposable income for people over 50 was more than $3 trillion in 2010. Studies by Jupiter Research, Nielsen, Pew, and others show that boomers spend an average of 27 hours per week online—two hours longer than millennials.” We Boomers have money and time; we can spend it for immediate gratification or in ways that invest in the future.

“There’s gold in all that silver, and a new generation of startups is poised to mine it. They’re rethinking the tired presumption that seniors make tricky customers: that they’re harder to reach, that they’re stuck in their ways. They don’t have the exact same needs as millennials, but new technology can address those needs in new (and lucrative) ways.

If young founders are closer to young markets, then the logic should work in reverse. Older founders, employees, and advisers could bring a breath of fresh air to tech firms approaching the boomer market.

“There’s no shortage of boomers ready to get to work. Paul Irving and Anusuya Chatterjee, writing for Forbes, note that nearly half of all entrepreneurs founding new companies in 2011 were between the ages of 45 and 64 (See also the State of Entrepreneurship 2015 report released in 2015 by the Kauffman Foundation, which explains that seniors have realized “that Unretirement offers a new opportunity to start a business.” And 80 percent of boomers currently in the workforce would be willing to mentor millennials.”

Thanks to aging boomers, the U.S. will enjoy a striking resurgence in entrepreneurship, not in spite of an aging population but because of older boomers. Investing in or helping to mentor young people like Utkarsh Tandon is good for them and good for us all.

Utkarsh Tandon Talking About One Ring: Video