Rick Robinson is the Vice President of Startup Engagement at AARP Innovation Labs. In his role, Robinson leads two teams; one that focuses on finding and nurturing the best out of most modern startups in the age-technology space, and the other that accelerates these startups and supports them in their next stages of growth. AARP’s mission is to empower people to choose how they live as they age, and the organization is the leading interest group for persons over the age of 50. Robinson is also an occasional contributing writer to Innovation Leader.

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Rick Robinson, Vice President of Startup Engagement at AARP Innovation Labs

Robinson sat down with Innovation Leader as a part of our member spotlight series, where we profile our members and discuss their role in innovation. 

Is there a success or recent achievement you’d want to spotlight?

Something we’re working on now…it’s something we call the AgeTech Collaborative, and this will be a platform and a destination community for all the players in the blooming age tech space — that means everyone from startups to investors, and everyone in between with the intention of driving fantastic products and services for the $8 trillion economy known as the 50 plus sector…  We hope will be this destination for all the players in age tech to gain knowledge and help find their audience [and] funding — but most importantly, find better ways to serve this enormous market.

What’s your advice about making sure innovation activities get the right attention from senior leadership? Do you have advice for getting innovation projects off the ground?

Innovation doesn’t have to be novel. So in other words…if you’re in an innovation group, you seek out a new product solution or a new service, but [you’re often] thinking that it’s got to be something that’s never been articulated or never been tried…whereas I look for things that not necessarily could happen way down the road, but could intuit and will happen within the very near future. That can include iterations or improvements on existing behaviors driven by products or services. Your focus should always still be on the customer or the consumer. But the important thing is you have to trust your intuition.

What’s a book, podcast, or other resource you would recommend to peers?

I would say a podcast that I find interesting, partly because I have been acquainted with a couple of the folks on the podcast, is called the All-In Podcast. It’s for entrepreneurs, investors, product builders…

Is there someone you especially admire as a role model creator, inventor, innovator? Why?

There are two people really. Jim Riesenbach hired me at something called Digital City, which was bought a while later in the mid-90s – so very early on in the online space. And he was a manager that essentially said, “Here’s the field, go plant the crops, I don’t really care what the crops are, but make sure that they flourish.” And then Andy Miller, who I work for now. He very similarly said in a hands-off way, “Here’s kind of a broad vision…” Those good people are models for me. They provide a very kind of broad vision, and they provide the soil, and I am here to do the rest, plant the seeds and make things grow. And that kind of freedom is really important when it comes to generating innovation.