IRT searches for cutting-edge business models

6 years ago
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Competitive challenge creates pathway for those who are passionate about improving the lives of older people.

Innovation is the buzzword of the aged care sector, and with the Turnbull government’s recent investment of $400,000 over two years to support Leading Age Services Australia’s innovAGEING network, innovation is increasingly becoming a government and industry priority.

But what does this really mean for aged care providers in practice?

Innovation presents both challenges and opportunities for the sector, as providers seek to navigate the changing regulatory and funding environment and aim to restructure their business models in line with reform.

In mid-2017, IRT Group started investigating its potential for innovation and business development with the launch of the IRT Innovation Challenge. The challenge aimed to find people and organisations that were passionate and invested in improving the lives of older people, and to identify both intrepreneurs and entrepreneurs the company could support in developing new aged care business models.

During the innovation challenge’s initial 12-week open phase, IRT employees and external businesses were invited to engage in innovative thinking.

There were 11 key opportunity areas identified: habitat; space and shelter; environment climate; population health; movement; dying and death; disruptive tech; service delivery; purpose, role, image and identity; lifelong learning; experiences; and economics employment.

New business ideas had to clearly identify a customer problem that was aligned with IRT’s purpose of ‘improving the lives of older people’. Ideas had to be scalable, with the potential for high impact. Teams had to prove that customers wanted the proposed solution, and had to work collaboratively towards a viable and feasible solution, with the long-term goal of building a business and minimal viable product. Pitches that met all these criteria, including satisfying a currently unmet need of older people, made it to the final stage of the challenge.

The response from the public and IRT employees was enthusiastic. IRT’s dedicated innovation challenge Facebook page was overrun with suggestions, and IRT gained more than 7,000 new innovation ecosystem members in three months. By the end of the open phase, nine business models had been identified, developed and were pitch-ready. Another rigorous pitching and selection process followed, driven by nine internal trailblazer-lead teams from within IRT, to narrow the field to four potential start-ups; three internal start-ups, and one external.

The business ideas of two of the internal IRT start-ups were selected for development in a local accelerator program ‘iAccelerate’ at the University of Wollongong. The third internal start-up continued to be developed in-house and the fourth is with a wellness start-up that IRT plans to partner with and pilot their product.

IRT registered nurse and care manager, April Creed, and aged care worker Rebecca Glover steer the IRT start-up Ex Situ. Ex Situ is a digital tool that uses existing and manual input data to assist caring for and navigating older age. The tool puts core values at the forefront. This will enable family and friends to make better decisions for the ones they love when they can no longer speak for themselves.

GPS Me—developed by IRT Academy’s Malin Shooks— supports older people to stay relevant and active in the workforce by providing career gap analysis, actionable steps for career transitions and other features.
After a final selection round in March, Ex Situ and GPS Me successfully secured IRT funding until mid-2018.

The next phase of IRT’s innovation tactic is to expand its ‘innovation ecosystem’ in collaboration with internal employees and external partners. IRT continues to engage with government, universities and industry to find solutions for customer problems.

As Australia’s population ages, the aged care landscape will continue to adapt and evolve, driven by government reform and the need to deliver competitive services in an era of choice and control. These challenges present the whole industry with an opportunity to innovate as they continue to provide high quality seniors housing and aged care services.

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