Student Startup Helps Older Adults to Connect

  • Date: 10/16/2023

When Marie Brodsky ’24’s grandfather moved from his longtime home in Houston to live with her family in Rockville, Md., in early 2021, the University of Maryland math major saw firsthand the isolation and loneliness many older adults face.

Because of a stroke decades earlier, he was physically limited, and he struggled to learn English after immigrating to the U.S. in the 1990s. Now, living in a new city, he suffered an increased sense of social isolation from peers, as well as little knowledge of recreational opportunities or the local transportation system, leading to a withdrawal from the outside world.

Brodsky and her childhood friend, Sonia Warrior, then a student at Virginia Tech, created a pitch for the Smart City Challenge—a three-week contest to find solutions to challenges in transportation, health care, housing and other municipal concerns. They initially suggested creating spaces in the city where seniors could connect with each other, and the city of Fairfax, Va., offered the team $9,000 to research and compile resources for the project. That morphed into a beta version of WISE Cities (Where Innovation Supports Everyone), a student-developed web platform that aims to combat social isolation among older adults.

Most recently, the team was accepted into the Terp Startup Fellows program from the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, an opportunity that includes up to $20,000 in seed funding, an office space and mentorship. The WISE Cities team finished the first version of its website in early September and following testing, plans to launch it for Fairfax residents this month.

No longer focused on creating new physical spaces for seniors to gather, WISE Cities connects people with existing opportunities: transportation options and information about places to go, groups to join or support services to access.

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