Why DC is the perfect place for an innovation contest

On this episode, we speak with Jacqueline Baker, Innovation Program Manager for AARP, to discuss how innovation is spurred in D.C., in no small part thanks to t...

Innovation is one of the most abundant buzzwords found in the entrepreneurship community, but D.C. is one region that actually lives up to the concept. To talk about how innovation is spurred in the D.C. region, we spoke with Jacqueline Baker, Innovation Program Manager for AARP. Currently, the AARP Innovation Labs team is spearheading the AARP Innovation Labs Grand Pitch Event.

ABERMAN: Let’s start with this: what is the Innovation Labs Grand Pitch Event?

BAKER: Yeah, absolutely. The Pitch Event itself is a combination of several different pitches that we’ve had across the country. We are not new to the pitch gang. We’ve been in pitch competitions for many many years in the past, but we decided this year to elevate our strategy a little bit, to go from producing just one event annually, to producing multiple events.

So, this year, we’ve actually make four competition stops across the country, and at each stop, we’ve invited two to three semi-finalists to Washington, D.C. to our grand pitch finale, which is happening on Thursday, October 25th, at Union Market. We’re expecting a dynamic event, not only of the pitchers themselves coming to pitch their business ideas to the local D.C. community, but it’s also a much bigger event that will leave people inspired and motivated to be empowered to choose how they live as they age.

ABERMAN: And I think that that really is what strikes me about AARP, and the whole intertwinement with entrepreneurship. Why do it here in D.C., of all the places where innovation occurs in the country. Why do it here?

BAKER: So, innovation occurs here in D.C., as you know, but one little gem, one little secret I’ll let your listeners in on today is that, we actually have a 10,000-square-foot innovation lab right here in the heart of Washington, D.C. It’s right across from the Capital One Arena, and it is there where we do some important startup work. We work with startups from across the world to co-create products and services on behalf of the 50-plus, and to empower this thinking of ageless design.

In addition to that, we curate and engineer our very own products and services from scratch. So, a lot people don’t know this, but we’re building products and services right there in the innovation lab. So, why do it here? It’s because our innovation lab is here. And so is our headquarters down on 6th and E Northwest.

ABERMAN: I’ve been in the space. In fact, you all are going to be hosting one of my Tandem Academy classes in November, so it is a great space. And you know, there are a number of products. Give our listeners an example of a product, like the Memory Box.

BAKER: So, we have a product called Let’s Be Well, it’s our Let’s Be Well line of boxes. And right now, there are two focuses for those boxes. One is a diabetes box that focuses on helping people to manage their care on their own terms, and there’s also a heart health box as well. And there is a suite of many other products and services that we’re developing right here, and that are in the marketplace right now.

ABERMAN: One of things that I learned recently from a presentation by Steven Fuller, a regional expert on our economy, I sat through one of his presentations recently, the percentage of over-45- or over-50-year-old people in the workforce is very high here, disproportionately high, and a lot of them are highly educated, and are starting their own businesses. There seems to be in, this region, a lot of entrepreneurship among over-fifties. Is that a national trend, and is that why AARP has gotten so involved in innovation?

BAKER: That, in addition to the fact that things are changing. The way that we engage with our members and our volunteers has changed, and the way that we want to continue to engage with our members and our volunteers has changed. So, to your point, absolutely that is one of the reasons why, but we also understand that people want to age differently. People want to age in place, in their homes. As the way that we’re developing products and services is changing, we want to be a part of that conversation, and we want to be able to inform consumers about the best way to benefit our members.

ABERMAN: So, this could play out in different ways. If I’m a startup, and I’m trying to figure out whether or not I have a product can reach people over fifty, do you partner with startups to help them test out products?

BAKER: Absolutely. So, that is one of the things that we’re doing as we’re traveling across the country, and we’re meeting with different startups. We have partnerships with a couple of accelerators: worldwide, world-class accelerators that help us to identify the best and brightest startups. Honestly, there are some startups that we see who have dynamic products and services, but they haven’t quite looked at it from a fifty-plus, or from an aging lens. And so, of course, that’s our expertise.

So, we’re able to look at it and say, you know what, that’s a great product, that’s a great service, but have you looked at it like this? Have you looked at it in a way that’s going to benefit our membership? So, absolutely, that is the lens that we put on it.

ABERMAN: And how about the local government contractor community? A number of them that work with the agencies, how are you helping them?

BAKER: So, the local government contracting community, the good thing about that is, we actually host a number of quarterly events in our Hatchery, which is the name of our innovation lab. We actually just had one called Innovation and the Future of Work. We just had it, actually, last week, and what that event focused on was getting people to think about how innovation is changing the way that we work. So, individuals like the government contracting community, individuals like people in architecture, people in transportation, had the opportunity to come into the Hatchery, to learn about how innovation is impacting their work. So, in the future, I’ll make sure that you know your audience gets an invitation to those events.

ABERMAN: You heard it here first: free invitations, another value add from What’s Working in Washington. Jacqueline, while I was researching your background for the segment, I was struck that you’re also a thought leader on issues such as etiquette as it relates to leadership. Is this about good managers, or is this something else?

BAKER: Oh, this is something else. Good manners, that’s that’s table stakes, right? It should be table stakes, that we’re expected to have good manners, but you know, the world of leadership and etiquette is something that is prevalent regardless. It crosses different spans. It doesn’t matter if you’re in athletics, it doesn’t matter if you’re in innovation, if you’re in the startup community. But there’s an opportunity to impact people with sound and foundational leadership and etiquette principles, even in the startup world. So, I’ve been able to take that skill set and apply it not only to a lot of the youth that I teach, but also in our growing innovation and startup community as well.

ABERMAN: I often think that entrepreneurship is about empathy. Is etiquette a way to demonstrate that you’re actually seeing clearly the person you’re across from?

BAKER: It should be a way. Empathy is an interesting thing, especially nowadays. I must tell on you to your listeners, Jonathan was picking on me today about my devices. I carry around two cell phones, right? I’m not shy about that. But. I do know how important it is, when we’re having a face-to-face conversation, to ensure that those phones get a backseat, and that we actually connect face-to-face, and I’m empathetic about your feelings, and you giving some of your time to me.

ABERMAN: And I absolutely appreciate you coming in, Jacqueline, and talking with me; and because etiquette is so important, I’m going to thank you for coming on. That was Jacqueline Baker, she is with the AARP Innovation Labs. Check out the Hatchery, and thanks for joining us.

BAKER: Thank you.

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