BLOCK71 Singapore Entrepreneurs Feature — Alo

In this week’s Entrepreneurs Feature, we speak to Amit, one of the co-founders of Alo, virtual reality start-up promoting senior well-being. The start-up was one of the winners of Modern Aging Singapore, a business accelerator programme designed by ACCESS Health International and NUS Enterprise to fuel the growth of new businesses catering to the specific challenges and opportunities in the elder market. Amit is a graduate of Southwestern University, Texas, and a UNWOMEN HeForShe Everyday Hero 2017 nominee. His audience engagement pursuits also include filmmaking. His films have featured on CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, NPR and other international media.

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1. What is Alo and how did the idea behind it come about?

Alo is a virtual reality content platform designed to enhance senior well-being. Using the rich, immersive power of VR, we give seniors access to experiences that may no longer be available to them. So they can still enjoy the thrill of seeing new places, or of attending arts performances, for example. The benefits of such engagement are numerous, from raising spirits and alleviating social isolation to possibly slowing down cognitive impairment even.

Image credit: Alo

As for how the idea came about, I’d say we were lucky to know whom we wanted to serve before we figured out the how. My co-founder, Luan, is also co-producer on the films I’ve made. We were at a coffeeshop one day, discussing possible ideas for our next film, when we were approached by an elderly gentleman. Guess what he wanted? Just to talk to us because he hadn’t spoken to anyone for 2 days!

In an instant, we knew we wanted to do something to alleviate social isolation among seniors. The rest of the pieces fell into place quickly thereafter. We researched solutions in line with our skills set. We chose VR because it’s still storytelling and content production, but with the potential for deeper engagement with audiences.

2. Describe your typical day.

Not in terms of “typical day”. It’s mostly all meetings now, trying to firm up partnerships with senior care organisations and content producers. Somewhere in there are sessions with the tech team to discuss improvements to the Alo platform. And I try to get in an hour each day with my co-founder to discuss industry trends and developments. VR is still a nascent industry. New possibilities become available almost every week, so we have to keep track.

3. How did Alo build its customer base?

That’s one of the best things we got out of the MA accelerator. We were forced to meet potential customers and demo our prototype to them. We learned to listen to their needs and to refine our product accordingly, and to firm up our relationships with them. We’re gearing to launch our platform soon, but it’s safe to say our early customers will be the ones we met during our accelerator run.

4. Where do you see Alo in 5 years?

We’re aiming to be the go-to platform for seniors who want to be engaged, feel connected to the community, or simply entertained.

5. What are some of the greatest challenges in the course of your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from them?

You have to love what you do or you’ll never get through the lean, trying times. And boy, there will be many such times. Also, you got to trust your instincts. For example, I got a lot of flack for naming my last film “Menstrual Man”. Even critics who were championing the film approached me personally and asked me to change the title. They felt it would turn audiences off and harm the film’s success. My co-producer and I stuck to our guns. Well, the film was an audience favourite at leading fests. It became an international news story. And the protagonist is now known the world over as Menstrual Man.

6. What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Well there’s always a risk to running your own business. You have to cope with the sense of little or no security, at least at first. And that’s always scary. But the flip side to the uncertainty is that there’s no telling how big the upside might be. I find that motivating, a reminder that if we work hard and smart, anything is possible.

7. What line of work do you think you would be in if you weren’t an entrepreneur?

I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’ve been doing this for so long, I can’t imagine being happier on any journey other than the one I’m on.

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Alo was one of the winning teams of the Modern Aging business accelerator in 2017. (Photo credit: Modern Aging Singapore)

8. What are the benefits of being part of Modern Aging Accelerator Programme?

It forces you to rethink and refine your business assumptions. Also, as I mentioned, to reach out and get feedback from potential customers before committing to any major development. That’s useful for any entrepreneur, but doubly so for us. A big part of filmmaking is taking a risk on what you think the customer will like. Works for creative pursuits, but not so much in business. The accelerator helped to remind us of that.

Are you an entrepreneur working on a cool product and looking for more than just a co-working space ? Do apply for a hotdesk here and become part of the exciting community that we offer at BLOCK71 Singapore.

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NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.

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