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Project Get Old Winner: Using A Lifetime Of Experience To Launch A Startup

When you think of a startup founder, the first image that comes to mind may be of a millennial in a hooded sweatshirt, pulling all-nighters to write software code. 
 
But in fact, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are twice as likely as millennials to start new businesses, according to a 2015 Gallup poll1.  Increasingly forgoing retirement for a second or third act, boomer entrepreneurs are putting their resources and lifetimes of experience to work to propel business ideas to success.
 
It’s Never Too Late to Start a New Chapter
 
Take, for example, Andy Birutis, 58, who already had 30 years of experience in the consumer products industry when he teamed up with former colleagues two years ago to launch Alchemi Labs, a sun protective gear company. 
 
“We realized how much we love working together and making products, and thought ‘why don’t we do this one more time—where we can make a difference?’” said Birutis, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.   
 
In August, Birutis and the company’s first line of products, Alchemi Sun Hats, were selected as the Grand Prize Winner of Pfizer and Indiegogo’s Project Get Old. In partnership with the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, the contest showcases innovations that encourage healthy aging for the mind, body and spirit.
 
Four finalists were selected in June to be featured on the Project Get Old Indiegogo page.  Innovations included a “smart” mattress cover that tracks duration and quality of sleep and a portable standing desk. But Alchemi Sun Hats, which use high-tech materials to help safeguard people while being active outdoors, won over judges. 
 
As the winner of Project Get Old, Alchemi Labs will be awarded $50,000 and a day of mentoring with select Pfizer colleagues in New York, where company experts will provide advice on everything from social media to venture capital fundraising.
 
Understanding the need for sun-protection 
 
A world-traveler and outdoor enthusiast, Birutis is a prime customer for his own product. He begins his day each morning with a three-mile hike in sunny Arizona, where temperatures can hit 95 Fahrenheit before 8 am. “The sun really gets to you,” said Birutis. “I understand the need for protection from skin cancer and heat stroke and exhaustion. We’re more aware of it than other parts of the country..” 
 
Indeed, people who get a lot of exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds are at greater risk for skin cancer2.  As the average lifespan increases, between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have some form of skin cancer3.   Seniors have accumulated a lifetime of sun exposure, putting them at higher risk for skin cancer. In addition, as people age, their body’s ability to repair DNA damage from the sun also diminishes.  
 
But even aside from seniors, experts recommend that all people over 6 months of age use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and wear sun-protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses to block harmful UV-rays4.

 

High-tech outdoor gear
 
According to Birutis, Alchemi Sun Hats make use of radiant barrier technology, developed by NASA for the Apollo space program over 50 years ago.   Used in astronaut’s space suits and space-craft insulation, the thin and flexible aluminum material can protect from extreme temperature fluctuations by reflecting the sun’s radiation.
 
Birutis and his team adapted this technology for their hats by laminating a radiant barrier to a soft, thin polyester fabric. A nylon mesh layer, added to the top of the hat, allows the sun’s heat waves to make direct contact with the radiant barrier to maximize thermal performance while at the same time protecting the high-tech barrier from damage. Birutis claims that his hats can reflect up to 80 percent of heat waves and block 99.8 percent of the sun’s damaging UV rays, according to independent lab testing*. “We have a utility patent pending for the product’s unique layering and combination of materials,” said Birutis.
 
Starting this summer, two kinds of Alchemi Sun Hats have been available for sale on Amazon.com, and the sun hats are now shipping to other retailers. In the future, they hope to move beyond hats to other sun-protective clothing. 
 
*Pfizer has not verified the accuracy of this claim. 
 
Startup Challenges 
 
Helming a fledgling company hasn’t been without its challenges, Birutis said. He and his team have had to invest their own money to get the company running and needed to build many new partnerships for day-to-day operations. “In a startup you seem to be in a constant state of either euphoria or total panic,” said Birutis. “Things happen very quickly and oftentimes you have to tackle jobs you’ve never done before.” 
 
But by launching their company via crowdfunding (they’ve already raised more than $27,000 on Indiegogo) they’ve been able to receive early feedback from customers, family and friends. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and create things,” he said. “Now that we are creating a product that can help— there isn’t a better feeling than that.”