By Lee Mannion
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Marcie Rogo didn't see herself as a matchmaker when she started a website to help lonely over-50s find companionship, after watching residents in the nursing home where she worked sit alone in their rooms with iPads.
But love, sex and romance were also important for the elderly people using her site, Stitch.
"Users kept asking me: 'Can't you just list the marital status?'" Rogo said at the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference, which brings together businesses and investors seeking to have a positive environmental or social impact.
Loneliness is a serious medical problem for many older adults; research links it to declines in physical and mental health as well as premature death.
Rogo was initially resistant as she knew dating services marketed at older people already existed. But people she spoke to told her they felt vulnerable using those sites.
"They don't like it because they get a lot of gold diggers, prostitutes, mail order brides," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the conference in San Francisco, where Stitch is also based.
"One user told me the site they were using felt like the red light district."
To safeguard against this, three-year-old Stitch asks all its members to go through a verification process to ensure they are over 50.
As with other sites, members can post photos, tag their interests and look at other people's profiles. When two people express an interest in each other, they get a message saying 'It's a stitch' and can communicate with each other.
Rogo, who is in her early 30s, says she is uncomfortable when people describe three-year-old Stitch as a dating site.
Her focus is on the number of connections made and on the number of times people get out of the house to attend group activities it offers.
Stitch signed up 5,000 members in its first year and now has 100,000 members around the world, with the biggest hubs being London, New York and Sydney.
Rogo says one reason her start up has grown so fast is because of its "hip and cool" branding, which avoids the usual associations marketers use when pitching to the elderly.
"People treat old people like they're this weird species; they're just older versions of us," she said, adding that she plans to introduce a travel service, and maybe a cruise line.
(Reporting by Lee Mannion. Editing by Katy Migiro.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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