Improving later life through research-led product and service design


We hear from Dr Rachel Carey, Zinc’s Chief Scientist, about the opportunities Zinc has opened up for entrepreneurial researchers and “venture scientists” to bring their talent to the challenges and opportunities presented to improve the quality of later life.

Read a summary of the session below, and scroll down to watch the recording.

Zinc exists to build and scale a brand-new way to solve the world’s most important societal problems.  It sets out empower talented and motivated people to redirect their careers and have a large-scale social impact as entrepreneurs, researchers and intrapreneurs.

It focuses on specific ‘missions’, which, it believes, unite, mobilise and organise the best talent, knowledge and capital that are needed to break through at scale. Within each of its missions, it runs Venture Builder and Academy programmes that help individuals to have impact.  One of the missions is Improving the Quality of Later Life.

As part of its own plans to “do more for its mission”, DMT has ring-fenced some of its endowment to invest in impact-led organisations and made its first such investment in Zinc’s second venture capital fund in spring 2022.

We hear here from Dr Rachel Carey, Zinc’s Chief Scientist about the opportunities Zinc has opened up for entrepreneurial researchers and “venture scientists” to bring their talent to the challenges and opportunities presented to improve the quality of later life.

Bringing researchers and start-ups together to make fit-for-purpose products for older people

The average life expectancy in the UK is rising making it more important than ever to ensure people maintain a good quality of life in their later years. Despite older people representing a growing market there is a remarkable lack of well-designed products for them and their changing needs in later life. With their needs not being met, many older people can experience a lower quality of life which is simply not acceptable. Alongside her team at Zinc, Dr Rachel Carey has established two programmes that support start-ups and entrepreneurial academics to create new, scalable and impactful innovations that improve the quality of later life. Through these programmes, Dr Carey and her team are beginning to see the impact of putting older people at the heart of developing new products.


“Together, we explore problems older people face and develop new products or services that can help.” Dr Rachel Carey, Chief Scientist, Zinc

Introducing the Venture Builder and Healthy Ageing Catalyst Award programmes

Our Venture Builder programme brought together cohorts of people from different sectors, such as business, academia, policy, charities, and creative industries, who were united by the same mission of adding five quality years to later life. Together, we explored problems older people face and developed new products or services that can help.

To kick off the programme, we carried out initial research and consultations to identify where things could be made better for older people. Health was highlighted as the main neglected area, including oral care, foot health, incontinence, arthritis, staying hydrated, and visual and hearing impairment. The cohort then took a problem-led approach to identify what’s driving these issues. We wanted to make sure any solutions designed would tackle the root cause of the problem rather than act as a sticking plaster on top of a much larger, more complex issue.

We also run the Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each round of the awards supports academic teams to translate their research into scalable products or services that support healthy ageing.

Developing potentially life-changing innovations for older people

“Both our programmes have been hugely successful in helping the development of new products and services” Dr Rachel Carey

Both our programmes have been hugely successful in helping the development of new products and services, so we wanted to share what we’re learning. The Dunhill Medical Trust helped us pull together a report which summarises our key findings and shares our successes. For example, after taking part in the Venture Builder programme, the company Tonus are now developing a robotics technology to mime human muscle which can be embedded into clothes to reduce the strain on joints. They hope this will help people stay active for longer. And Eyecatcher, who engaged in our Catalyst Awards, are now developing a portable device to allow people to monitor their glaucoma at home.

We saw a real need to create user-centred, data-driven stories that were aspirational while also portraying people’s problems accurately. Our programmes highlighted that it is critical to change the narrative around ageing by using the right language and using positive outreach, engagement and marketing strategies. It also became apparent how important it is to recognise the diverse range of needs, problems and opportunities and avoid generalisation or stereotypes in order to develop the best solutions.

Looking forward, we’ll continue to facilitate the translation of advanced research into new and innovative products for older people. Creating multidisciplinary environments is the best way to make the most of both start-up and academic worlds. There is a huge opportunity to better grow and connect the science base within companies or businesses and Zinc will continue to do this to support our mission to greatly improve the quality of later life.


Watch the recording

If you cannot see the embedded video below, then you can watch the recording on YouTube at this link.

Meet the speakers

Dr Rachel Carey

Rachel is a behavioural scientist with a background in health psychology. Following completion of her PhD at NUI Galway, Rachel took up a post at University College London, where she worked on the Theories and Techniques of Behaviour Change Project. In 2016, she joined Bupa’s UK clinical team as Senior Behaviour Change Research Advisor, where she led a collaborative programme of work with UCL.

Over the last five years, as Zinc's Chief Scientist, Rachel has built a growing, interdisciplinary R&D team who work with startup founders and academics to create new, scalable innovations to tackle important societal challenges. Improving the quality of later life is one of Zinc’s four mission areas, and Rachel is passionate about supporting later life ventures that are applying and advancing science and creating opportunities for scientists.

In 2020, Rachel was awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, supporting her work to scale-up Zinc’s R&D activities. The ambition with this work is to create a connected R&D system for the social and behavioural sciences, mobilising talent and knowledge across sectors to accelerate impact on important problems. Rachel also has an honorary role at UCL, is an Associate of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, and a Sciana Health Leaders Network Fellow.

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