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How Rachel Slattery is shaping the future of ageing and tech

Rachel Slattery is a serial entrepreneur and a pioneer in the Australian tech and innovation ecosystem. She is the founder of Slatterys, a communications and event company that organises Tech23 and AgileAus, two of the most influential showcase and conference events in the country. She is also the director of Silver Futures, a new initiative that aims to reframe the conversation about ageing and longevity, and explore the role of technology and innovation in improving the wellness of older people.

From ugly tech to deep tech

Rachel Slattery has always been fascinated by technology, especially the kind that is not glamorous or flashy, but has the potential to transform the world. She calls it “ugly tech”, but it is also known as “deep tech” – science-based ventures that tackle complex problems in fields such as biotechnology, quantum computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more.

She started her career in the dotcom era, working at the “pretty” end of the tech sector, but soon realised that there was a gap in the market for supporting and promoting the “ugly” end. That’s why she launched Tech23 in 2009, a showcase event that connects deep tech startups with investors, mentors, customers, and peers. Tech23 was ahead of its time, as the term “deep tech” was not widely used back then.

“I kept being drawn to ugly tech. And it was just like a beacon. All of these people that were doing really amazing things that could change the world,” she said in an interview with InnovationAus. “And yet they didn’t have the time or perhaps didn’t have the skill to communicate what they were doing. So that’s where my passion for the deep tech arena came from, just realising just how much it could transform how we live and work and play.”

How Rachel Slattery is shaping the future of ageing and tech

From agile to age-tech

Another passion of Rachel Slattery is agile – a set of principles and practices that enable organisations to deliver value faster and better. She founded AgileAus in 2009, a conference that brings together agile practitioners and enthusiasts from different industries and backgrounds. AgileAus was also ahead of its time, as agile was not widely adopted or understood in Australia at that time.

“I think agile is a mindset. It’s about being open to change, being open to learning, being open to feedback, being open to collaboration,” she said. “It’s about being customer-centric, being user-centric, being human-centric.”

Rachel Slattery believes that agile can also be applied to ageing – an area that she became interested in after returning to university and studying gerontology – the study of ageing and older people. She realised that ageing is not only a biological process, but also a social and cultural one, influenced by factors such as globalisation, urbanisation, migration, gender norms, and technology.

She also realised that there was a lack of innovation and attention in the ageing sector, especially in Australia, where one in four people will be over 65 by 2050. That’s why she launched Silver Futures in 2021, a project that aims to create a community of age-tech or longevity-tech entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, policymakers, and older people themselves.

Silver Futures is not only about developing new products or services for older people, but also about changing the narrative and perception of ageing in society. It is about celebrating the diversity, potential, and contribution of older people, rather than seeing them as a burden or a problem.

“It’s about reframing ageing as an opportunity rather than a challenge,” she said. “It’s about recognising that older people are not a homogeneous group, they have different needs, preferences, aspirations, and abilities. It’s about empowering older people to have more choice and control over their lives.”

From Tech23 to Silver23

One of the initiatives of Silver Futures is Silver23 – a showcase event that will feature 23 age-tech or longevity-tech startups from Australia and around the world. Silver23 will be held on March 23rd 2023 (hence the name), as part of the Global Festival of Ageing – a week-long celebration of ageing across different cities and venues.

Silver23 will follow the format of Tech23 – each startup will have five minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of experts and an audience of potential partners and customers. The event will also include keynote speakers, panel discussions, networking sessions, and awards.

Rachel Slattery hopes that Silver23 will be a catalyst for more innovation and collaboration in the ageing sector. She also hopes that it will inspire more people to join the age-tech or longevity-tech movement.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to create solutions that can improve the quality of life of older people,” she said. “But it’s not only about creating solutions for older people, it’s also about creating solutions with older people. It’s about co-designing with them, involving them in the process, listening to their voices.”

She added: “I think age-tech or longevity-tech is not a niche sector, it’s a mainstream sector. It’s relevant to everyone, because we’re all ageing, and we all have older people in our lives. It’s not only about the future, it’s about the present.”

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