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5 Astonishing Lessons from the First-Ever NIC Hack-a-Thon

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By Steve Moran

At the 2019 Spring NIC conference in San Diego, they tried a new thing that I was fortunate enough to take part in -- a 90-minute Hack-a-Thon. As you may know, hack-a-thons are something that comes out of the technology world. In the world of NIC, it looked like this . . .

There were three teams -- which were each tasked with coming up with a new/innovative senior living concept that would appeal to Boomers. These ideas were then presented to a panel of three Boomer judges: me and two others from San Diego, who had no connection to senior living. 

The three teams were led by Lynne Katzman, CEO of Juniper Communities; Sean Kelly, CEO of Kendal; and Kurt Reed, Principal with RSF Partners, a private equity firm out of Dallas. Each had a team of two other industry folks, Including Rachel Smith, Hsuan-Yao Huang, Gracyn Robinson, Mike Mattingly, Ashley Wilkens, and Astrid Kramarz.

The Hack-a-Thon was conceived and moderated by Robert Kramer and Jacquelyn Kung, a routine contributor to Senior Housing Forum.

3 Senior Living Ideas

The three senior living ideas presented were as follows:

  1. Kurt’s team came up with an ultra-high-end CCRC on Roosevelt Island, New York, that would be targeted to well-healed Cornell graduates, though not restricted to only those grads.

  1. Lynne’s team conceived a modern, active, independent living community bundled with retail, allowing residents to access services from the retail businesses rather than from the community itself. Their concept also included a network of communities around the globe that would allow residents to be global nomads.

  1. Sean’s concept was a Zen meditation CCRC in the wine country of northern California that they are actually developing.

The judges were asked to score the three projects on a 30-point system: 10 points for its appeal to Boomers, 10 points for how easy they would be for an operator to manage, and 10 points for the likelihood of financial success.

It was a great experiment that included lots of audience participation. It was a great learning experience and was great fun.

5 Lessons Learned

Here are the crazy lessons learned:

  1. As I talked to the non-industry judges, one of them said and the other concurred, that they had no idea that there even was a whole industry sector that was creating amazing communities for seniors. This means we still have a long way to go in telling our story. This is a fantastic opportunity.

  1. We need more opportunities to really think about what the future of senior living might look like, could look like.

  1. When the votes were in each of the three judges picked a different operating model. Suggesting that we need to spend time thinking about how we might try to create communities that appeal to different segments.

  1. The ultra high-end project in New York was the least popular when the audience voted. While there is no doubt that a portion of the population will find the 5-star style of senior living appealing, it seems likely that much of what we are building will be too formal and too upscale for most Boomers.

  1. We have this sense that people have a kind of negative view or impression of senior living. While the sample size of two non-industry judges is not very representative, I found it refreshing to see them react in such a positive fashion to what was presented. There what no so sense that, "well I guess I would move in if I had to," but rather much more of a “that would be a really cool way to live out my last chapters."

    This leads me to wonder if our own negative perceptions are cascading over the general population and actually polluting their thinking.

I am already looking forward to the next Hack-a-thon.

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