Alumna and partner of investment platform shares transformative experience at USC Leonard Davis

Katy Fike MSG ’06, PhD ’09

Partner, Generator Ventures

Portrait of alumna Katy Fike
Photo by Aaron Wojack

The tragedy on September 11, 2001, changed the direction of Katy Fike’s life. At the time, she was an investment banking analyst at the World Financial Center in New York City, often pulling all-nighters at the office. The experience made her question everything. “After that morning, I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I wanted to do work that made a difference,” she recalls. “All the projects I’d been doing suddenly didn’t matter.”

Fike has always had a strong affinity for seniors, but she hadn’t thought about working with them professionally until her mother sent her the book Learning From Hannah: Lessons for a Life Worth Living, by William H. Thomas. The author’s thoughts about an ideal elderhood helped Fike connect the dots. “I was kind of blown away,” she says. “I still have that copy of the book, and I think I underlined 95 percent of it.”

Overwhelmed by the belief that seniors deserved better, Fike began volunteering at Meals on Wheels and assisted living centers. Once she found the topic of gerontology, Fike couldn’t get enough.

She says her time at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology was transformative: “It just opened my eyes, page after page, class after class. I felt there was so much I wanted to know, so I decided to stay for the PhD.”

After graduation, Fike co-founded a start-up that was focused on health assessment. What she quickly learned was how challenging it can be to raise capital and get new companies off the ground. It would inform her future endeavors. She then joined a consulting firm in Atlanta that dealt with companies such as General Mills, Colgate and Pall Mall. “Through the course of that work, I was struck [that] for every project we’d work on, the demographic target was 18-49,” she says. “People over 50 brush their teeth, grocery shop, and wash dishes probably more than 18-year-olds.”

So when Fike and her husband moved to San Francisco, she started her own consulting firm, Innovate 50, to facilitate the burgeoning ecosystem of innovators and start-ups. Around that time, she met Stephen Johnston, with whom she would co-found Aging 2.0, a network that strives to accelerate innovation to address the biggest challenges and opportunities in aging. The company has hosted 600 events around the world and has 83 volunteer-run chapters globally.

In 2014, Fike and Johnston started Generator Ventures, an investment platform focused exclusively on the intersection of aging, senior care and technology. One of the companies it’s investing in is Active Protection, which produces the Tango Belt: “It’s a belt with a bunch of sensors and cold gas airbags,” Fike explains. “It can detect if someone is going to have a hip-injuring fall and inflates these airbags to protect the hip, and [it] decreases the effect of a fall by more than 90 percent.”

Another is Third Eye Health, a mobile platform that provides telemedicine so seniors can receive medical consults from their home. “We look at ways we can take what have traditionally been very low-tech, high-touch businesses and shift them to more high-tech and high-touch,” Fike says. “We want to help people get the care and resources they need in as low-cost a way as possible [and] in the setting they want.”

This story was originally published in a USC Leonard Davis School article titled “Alumni at Work.”