Building Innovation Communities #1 | Mission Matters More than Money
10 lessons learnt from a decade of building Aging2.0 as a global innovation community
Aging2.0 is a network whose time has come. While a decade ago ageing innovation was a niche topic, today’s it’s now one of the defining trends impacting society. It potentially exacerbates others including the climate crisis, growing inequality and institutional malaise. The WHO has announced this to be the ‘decade of healthy aging’ (which ironically started with the largest dip in life expectancy since WW2). How we handle the challenges of an ageing society matters.
Unfortunately, we’re not handling it very well. Aging2.0 was formed to address part of that problem - the blindspot faced by the tech community about this issue; it’s focused on the intersection of technology and ageing societies, using innovation to improve the lives of older people. Over a decade we created 100+ volunteer-run city Chapters, grew the network to 30,000+ innovators around the world, hosted 1000+ pitch events, ran a flagship global conference of nearly 1000 people, created the world’s first ‘agetech’ accelerator with investments in 30 startups, and more.
My founding story was getting to know a wealthy family impacted by dementia, and them not having any products or services to make that terrible journey any easier. The Silicon Valleys of the world back in 2011 weren’t interested in such things, though now things are changing, with new investors, accelerators, startups and even unicorns making their presence felt.
The sale of Aging2.0 to LHCC was announced last September, but the deal has only just been finalised. As such I thought it would be useful to put down some lessons learned from a decade building a global community. The theme of this newsletter is about connecting communities and economies, and in many ways the last 10 years has been a continual question to bridge the gap between the two. This will be an occasional series in the coming weeks - so subscribe to stay in the loop.
Lesson 1: Mission Matters More Than Money
A community can be addictive. Constant validation by a group of like-minded people that you’re changing the world for the better is a form of echo chamber. Especially when other people are willing to devote their time, expertise and passion to joining you on the journey.
I was staggered that so many people would volunteer to work so much - for free. The absolute heroes were the Ambassadors - volunteers who built and led local ecosystems in their towns and cities, over 130 in all. A couple of times we put out in the newsletter a request to have mentors or ‘super connectors’ and we got over 150 submissions from people around the world, indicating they wanted to join up and support the cause. People were offering to work 20-30 hours a week in unpaid roles.
Coordination bottlenecks. The problem we faced was not one of capital, but one of the managing decentralised human talent and also in insights - knowing what were the right levers they should be working on to have maximum impact on the topics they were passionate to support.
The scaling problem we faced was not one of capital, but one of the managing decentralised human talent
So funding was not the problem directly, but a lack of funding combined with the lack of a scalable infrastructure to channel the energy and enthusiasm of a disparate, global community meant we weren’t able to take full advantage of the incredible resources we had on offer.
Grand Challenges - missions as catalysers. When we introduced the Grand Challenges in 2017 it lit a fire under people because they could then congregate around certain cross cutting missions, and could use these as signposts to navigate the community and their role in it. The day we released the Grand Challenges report we had over 40 corporate enquiries for membership - testimony to the power of structured narrative and well-put together content (well I thought it was) to catalyse and convene a community.
We just scratched the surface on what we could do with missions, and I’m continuing that work outside Aging2.0 with The Collective, which gathers organisations together to work collaboratively on addressing challenges facing society. Will be sure to address the role of missions - and moonshots - in more detail in future posts, and would also appreciate hearing what questions you are wrestling with about creating and living your mission.
This is the first in a 10-part series. Subscribe to be sure to get the latest entries as they post. Paid subscribers may receive a puppy.