Interview with Karen Dolva, previous Smart Ageing Prize winner

Karen Dolva has had a unique career path. The Norwegian entrepreneur has managed to set up her own company, No Isolation, which works to reduce loneliness and social isolation by developing communication tools that help those affected.

No Isolation won The Smart Ageing Prize in 2018 with their entry, KOMP. KOMP is a one-button computer made specifically for those who have little to no experience using smartphones, computers and tablets, and primarily helps older generations interact with technology. 

We spoke to Karen, who helped design KOMP, to find out how taking part in the previous Smart Ageing Prize has helped with the development of her company.

Karen Dova

How did winning the Smart Ageing Prize affect the development of KOMP?

Winning the Smart Ageing Prize was a milestone for us. We had a good feeling that we were on to something and the user testing was proving positive, so when the AAL Programme gave us the prize, it was the external validation we really needed. I’m sure the prize made it easier for partners and stakeholders to get on- oard as well – it was proof that our idea was needed and valuable.

What is the real challenge in preventing social isolation among the elderly; in what areas does the technology need to develop going forward?

The technology we are using today is quite complex and society is increasingly depending upon it. For instance, more and more shops are opting out of allowing customers to pay with cash. Who most often pay with cash? Seniors. The same goes for digitizing post offices, banks, and even shops – all arenas where seniors used to frequent and meet others. I’m not saying advancing technology is a bad thing; however, we need to develop this technology in a way that takes everyone into account and also remember what we are removing in the process. Thinking that the generation currently relying on the analogue is “dying out” is both horrific and not true. As our population is gradually living longer, health challenges is making it increasingly difficult for the oldest to stay up to date. When your health is changing, you should be met with technology that is reliable and easy.

This year is the third edition of The Smart Ageing Prize. What would you say to other entrepreneurs to encourage them to take part?

First of all, I want to say thanks to all the entrepreneurs developing technology for seniors. Our experience so far is that this is a group most companies completely disregard, but who needs adapted technology the most. Inclusive innovation is the key to solving many problems in today’s society, and the Smart Ageing Prize is a valuable recognition and support of the work we do. I believe there is room for several niche products within the group and I hope the winner this year truly changes the day to day life of their users for the better.

This new edition seeks projects related to Senior Enterprise, to facilitate knowledge transfer between people at the age of retirement and younger generations. Do you think there is ample opportunity in this space? Is society ready for products that fulfill this need?

Yes, for sure! We have been paying close attention to initiatives like combined senior and student housing, and many of them are huge successes. Unfortunately, many of these projects are hard to scale and not financially viable. However, they have proved that the use-case is there, so the business case will be found. I also strongly believe in underlining the value of the vast amount of knowledge seniors have, a knowledge that will disappear with their generation unless we save it. As developers and user experience designers, it has been a great experience working with this group and understanding how they think.

How can our increasingly ageing society take advantage of the know-how of its older members?

As I mentioned in the previous question, I think transferring knowledge between generations is key. Over the past decade, experience has in many ways lost its street-cred. You can achieve massive success without having “earned it” through years of working hard. This has been made possible by the explosion of new technology, but the exploration and discovery phase will not last forever. Being able to leverage the experience and learn from history is the only way to make sure we are actually bringing the world forward. The world is not improved by “memes”, but the tech that brought them could and should be used to increase our quality of life. Only hard work will make that possible, and it is not going to happen overnight.

What challenges does No Isolation face in 2020?

The great thing about real challenges is not knowing about them until they pop up, which I’m sure will happen in 2020! We prepare for hard times, but work to avoid them, always trying to learn how we can be the best version of ourselves. In 2019, we realized that we were not catering to our core customer group, the public sector, in the right way and we changed our way of working to facilitate them. As we are heading into 2020, our focus will be on further increasing our scalability and I am sure the public sector can come up with a couple of challenges we have not yet faced.

AAL have now launched the third Smart Ageing Prize. This €50,000 prize is seeking solutions that support, empower and inspire older adults to engage in entrepreneurship. You can find out more on the About the Prize page. Or, if you’re ready to submit your application, you can do it on the Apply page. The deadline for entries is on 26th February at 17:00 CET.

Apply now