From Nanodiamonds to Car Service, South Asian Businesses Find Senior Market

From Nanodiamonds to Car Service, South Asian Businesses Find Senior Market

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Photo: Ambika Bumb, PhD, founder and CEO of Bikanta, is using nanodiamonds to redefine the boundaries of early disease detection. (Amar Gupta/Siliconeer)

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--The Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit should be a huge eye-opener a South Asian entrepreneurs, too many of whom have ignored the lucrative market for aging baby boomers and their elderly parents.

The summit, held last month at Santa Clara University, featured a keynote conversation with Norman Lear, 92, creator of the TV classics, All in the Family, The Jeffersons and many others.

Lear was interviewed on stage by Alex Witt, MSNBC anchor and host of “Weekends with Alex Witt” about his new memoir, Even This I Get to Experience. He enthralled the audience with his ideas on how to successfully disrupt the status quo for social good, and how to be an innovator by never looking back but always forward.

His philosophy on how to be an innovator by never looking back but always forward should encourage those creating new South Asian business models to focus on the gold to be found in this booming “Silver Economy.”

Too Few South Asians

Some, like Ambika Bumb, PhD, founder & CEO of the Bay Area-based Bikanta Corporation, are already doing just that. And there is still room for more.

In 2014, Dr. Bumb’s team won the conference’s annual $10,000 Boomer Business Plan Competition for their development of nanodiamonds and medical imaging technology for early detection of cancer and other diseases.

However, she was one of the few South Asian participants in the conference. That was unlike The IndUS Entrepreneur (TiE) event that happened in May.

The Indian American population has matured enough that it should consider looking into the present and future Silver Economy of its own, said TiE veteran, Sanjaya Kumar, MD, co-founder and managing director of Synepta Group. He was also one of the judges for this year’s boomer business-plan competition and a speaker on the summit panel tiled, “What are Your Investing Priorities?”

According to Kumar, it is more of a “lack of awareness” issue that South Asian entrepreneurs are not flocking this ripe market.

For example, while Uber and Lyft are associated with a younger generation considered more tech-savvy and likely to use technology to access a service, how many know about a DShofer? Founded by Farhat Ali, this service is of great value for the boomer generation, especially when they need to get to themselves or an aging parent to a doctor’s appointment in a hurry.

A Unique Business Forum

The summit, co-produced by Santa Clara University (SCU) and Mary Furlong & Associates, was a power-packed offering of insights into the boomer generation’s needs and how various organizations such as AARP, Lennar Homes and startups like LivWell Health were addressing these needs. Mary Furlong, PhD, is the dean's executive professor of entrepreneurship at SCU’s Leavey School of Business and author of Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace.

The event brings together entrepreneurs, leaders in the field of aging and the venture community to create a unique forum to explore, share and design products and services that will dominate the baby boomer market in coming years. In addition, this program is designed to teach entrepreneurs how to think through a business.

This year the Boomer Business Plan Competition saw six finalist entrepreneur groups compete for the $10,000 grand prize by presenting their boomer business plans before a panel of judges comprised of leaders in the field of aging and the venture capital community.

The 2015 prize went to the health management tech company Vynca for its online platform addressing critical unmet needs in end-of-life care, helping ensure patients’ wishes are carried out.

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Photo: TV legend Norman Lear reads a chapter from his new book during a talk with MSNBC host Alex Witt. (Amar D. Gupta/Siliconeer)

Last year’s grand prize winner, Bikanta Corporation’s Ambika Bumb, also was speaker at this year’s event, and explained in an interview that she became intrigued by nanodiamonds after doing her PhD and post-doctoral work in nanomedicine.

“I had heard about nanodiamonds. We decided to dive into a project to see if we could make nanodiamonds useful for these kinds of biomedical applications,” said Bumb.

Diamond Dust to Fight Cancer

Bumb explained, “Nanodiamond really is diamond dust. It’s diamond particles that are crushed down to a hundred thousand times smaller than a single strand of hair. They have certain color centers that have been created in them, that give them the optical imaging properties that we can then use. So they’re very exquisite in their imaging capabilities.”

Unlike less precise existing agents used in microscopic imaging, she added, nanodiamonds “are not toxic, very bright. You can think of them like tiny little flashlights with infinite battery life.”

Bumb emphasized, “The whole point of this is that we are trying to use it to detect diseases earlier. Right now, about 40 percent of the population gets some form of cancer.”*

Although medical science has made strides in treating many cancers, she continued, “all those treatments will be more effective if they are diagnosed much earlier,” when cancer cells are microscopic. “That’s where we need better tools to highlight and detect them.”

Bumb also noted that nanodiamond technology can be used to target other diseases as well.
She and her team started their company only a few months before the 2014 competition. Bumb recalled, “We had put together a really strong business plan, examined the market, and really thought through how we were going to go to the market.”

Two Revenue Streams

They developed a two-revenue approach she believes probably played a role in winning the business plan competition. Their long-term target is in the clinical and patient markets, “but that is a very long process,” Bumb said.

To establish an early revenue stream, they began providing their nanodiamond technologies to academic and industry partners, who are developing different imaging tools. This financing source showed Bikanta could would toward its longer goal at reduced risk.

She also credited the company’s partnerships with the National Institutes of Health. “That’s where I helped to develop the technology, and we are still working with them on these things,” Bumb said.

Looking ahead, she said, “Right now we’re very excited about having this ready to start being used this year. It is in the research mode, but to the point where we can actually start selling it. That’s where we are just gearing up to being able to manufacture at that scale.”

Science really is not that fictional anymore and ‘old’ really is ‘gold.’ The boomer generation is a fairly underserved area as far as South Asian entrepreneurs are concerned. It may be prudent to say, you’ve already caught the young, now grasp the old and age with them.

* The American Cancer Society shows that for men, the risk of developing of dying from cancer is 43.3 percent and for women 37.8 percent. And according to the National Cancer Institute, the lifetime risk of developing some type of cancer is 39.6 percent for men and women, based on 2010-2012 data.

This article is adapted from a longer story by Amar D. Gupta in Siliconeer (“The Silicon Valley--India Connection”), where he is cofounder and editor-in-chief. He attended the event supported by a journalism fellowship from New America Media and Mary Furlong & Associates.