By Sarah McKinney Gibson
Ellison, 10, and her family moved to Singapore five years ago from Abu Dhabi and, before that, Salt Lake City, Utah. “My great-grandpa is 94 and lives in America,” she says, “and I don’t get to talk to him very much.”
Holly, her 11-year-old friend who arrived in Singapore by way of Boston, gets it. She misses her family, too.
Both girls are “Techsperts” at their school and big technology enthusiasts. So when the opportunity to enter the Young Technopreneur Challenge arose last year, the two put their heads together and began brainstorming solutions.
“We started thinking about how to help grandparents more easily connect with grandchildren that don’t live nearby,” Ellison explains, “and the idea sort of grew from there.”
Their app, Generation Connection, aims to bridge the gap between all older adults and youth, not just relatives. Users will select interest areas and available times, then the app will create intergenerational matches and schedules video chats. It will be simple to use and have parental controls to ensure it’s safe for kids.
Ellison’s great-grandpa is excited about the idea and — along with 84 percent of the nearly 200 older adults the girls interviewed — says he’s willing to learn how to use a new technology to connect with young people in this way.
Last year, as fourth graders, the girls won an award for the most creative use of technology. This year, they entered Generation Connection into another competition, the Young Founders Summit. Out of more than 100 applicants, they’re now semifinalists in the Founders Bootcamp, a high school accelerator program.
They’ve written a business plan, created a video explainer, done extensive market research, developed a wireframe for the app, and grown a small team. While doing their research, the girls discovered Encore.org’s Gen2Gen campaign. “We loved everything we saw from the videos to the projects being done, and the girls and I now watch everything happening with Gen2Gen through Facebook,” says Ellison’s mom, Heather.
They’re currently on the hook to find at least 100 people age 50+ who are willing to provide feedback and testimonials about the idea, and sign up to test the app once the first version has been developed. (You can help!)
If all goes well, they’ll travel to Los Angeles in April to compete in the finals. And if they’re winners, they’ll spend two months this summer in a bootcamp getting their business off the ground. Ellison and Holly would both love to win the competition, but their primary motivation skews more altruistic.
“Some senior citizens don’t have a lot of happy moments when they go into their elderly life,” says Holly. “This is a way to get them to be happier, and I like making people happier.”
“And a lot of kids aren’t very confident talking to older people, because they don’t feel like they know what to talk about, so this could help with that,” adds Ellison. “And some kids have parents that work a lot, so other older adults could help them with homework or just talk with them and tell stories. Older people have a lot of knowledge, and we like the idea of more kids getting to learn from them.”
Learn more and support the founders of Generation Connection here.