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Indiana may play role in developing Gofur device

by on December 22, 2013 2:00 AM

A Harvard University-based startup company’s wristwatch-like device, that developers say will make senior citizens’ lives less complicated and help them stay independent longer, may be supported by workers in Indiana. And Indiana-area residents may be the test market for the new product.

Gofur Digital is developing the device which, according to the company, will help seniors organize and handle daily tasks through an easy-to-use concierge service accessible over the wrist unit.

Users will choose from a suite of services and receive reminders through the device about when to take medications, upcoming doctors’ appointments and more. In addition, the wearer’s family and caregivers will be able to monitor the senior’s daily activities by checking on the wearer through an intuitive mobile application.

Tommy Stitt, Gofur Digital’s chief technology officer, said the name for the company evolved from the term for a person who gets sent out to run errands for others. The name implies a friendly helper, Stitt said. The watch-like device being developed will likely be called a Gofur, too, he said.

According to Stitt, the majority of seniors don’t spend much time on the Internet, and when they do, it’s for specific purposes like emailing friends or relatives.

“They’re not aware of a lot of the Web-based services that are out there that can help them simplify their daily lives,” for example, grocery delivery services, he said. “If they don’t know they exist or if they’re difficult to use, they’re not going to take advantage of those things.”

Stitt wants to provide a seamless end-to-end user experience for Gofur’s clients.

He said the Gofur smart watch is an independent wearable technology and has a cellphone antenna embedded in it. Other smart watches have to be tethered by blue tooth to a smart phone. The Gofur will not, he said.

Clients will be able to press the concierge button on the watch and speak to one of Gofur’s personal assistants who can guide them through whatever they need to do that day or whatever service they need to set up. Besides arranging for grocery deliveries and monitoring medication schedules, the Gofur will help seniors with other routine, but time-consuming chores. Those might include arranging transportation, snow removal, home cleaning and handyman assistance.

Stitt, 43, said the potential market for the Gofur device is 90 million people in the U.S., and it represents a $1.3 billion revenue opportunity by 2020.

Stitt earned a degree in English literature and attended law school before returning to his real interest — computer science.

“I always fell back on computers and programming. That’s my first passion,” he said.

He was in Indiana working on a mobile website development project for an Indiana business when he became aware of the many organizations and services for seniors in the Indiana area. He was introduced to leaders of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, the Indiana County Small Business Incubator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce.

“It just snowballed from there,” he said.

Stitt showed Indiana-area business leaders his pitch deck (a summary of product development plans shared with potential investors) for the Gofur watch and the response was “overwhelmingly good,” he said.

Part of the manufacturing process may land in Pittsburgh, where available injection molding machines are an inexpensive way for companies like Gofur Digital to do rapid prototyping and get products into the hands of customers right away for testing, he said.

“Initially, I think what we’re going to try to do is … provide it at least for the people of Indiana County for free,” perhaps to about 4,000 people, Stitt said.

He expects Gofur’s local office to be located in the Indiana County Small Business Incubator and for his company to benefit from the business mentorship assistance available there. Gofur’s call center may also be operated from the incubator.

“The personal assistants are going to be able to speak directly with clients. And they know the area, the lay of the land, a lot better there,” he said.

At the incubator, five to 10 people may be needed for the call center, along with four or five back-end programmers and an administrative person.

“Clearly this is an ambitious project, but I think it’s one that’s needed,” said Dr. Robert Boldin, incubator director and a professor of finance and legal studies at IUP. In addition to providing low-cost office and manufacturing space, the incubator and IUP’s Management Services Group will be well-suited to assist Gofur Digital, especially with expertise in programming and software development, he said.

If the devices are sold, Stitt expects them to be under $200, along with a “nominal” monthly fee. The company’s revenue model, he said, is built around the affiliate marketing aspect of the watch: Gofur will get a commission (possibly 5 percent to 7 percent) on every dollar generated by the businesses Gofur is referring. In other words, Gofur will try to generate its money from the service providers.

“That helps it become affordable for the user,” Stitt said. “A lot of these people are on a fixed income. Purchasing a $200 device and then having a big monthly subscription — that model just doesn’t work.”

Stitt plans to return to Indiana in January to get an Indiana office open and to start recruiting Indiana businesses for local partnerships and to find programmers who may be IUP grad and undergrad students.“I think the cornerstone of this whole project, what’s going to really make this thing work, is partnerships with local businesses and our connection with the university,” Stitt said.

The companion application that goes with the watch is crucial, Stitt added. It allows the senior to authorize whoever he or she wants — a relative, caretaker or physician, for example — to get notifications that the user took his or her medications or had groceries delivered or whatever tasks needed to be performed.

“This is great for children, for loved ones, for people who are living out of town, to be able to check up on them,” Stitt said. He believes those caretakers, initially, will be Gofur’s main customers rather than the seniors themselves.

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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