Jimmy Hanekom’s Journey to Create Livewell Retirement Home

Posted on May 2nd, 2014
Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurship Start

Meet the man who built the world's best retirement home


Loved ones diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s deserve to live a happy life of dignity. This is what entrepreneur Jimmy Hanekom believed when he set out to build a luxury retirement home for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients called Livewell.

“Our dream to set the new benchmark in care for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia was born out of a deep sense of responsibility to the people who, in raising us, gave their greatest commitment,” Hanekom says.

The start of an entrepreneurial journey

Livewell, based in Somerset, Cape Town, opened its doors in 2011, however, the journey was not without the usual hard work and setbacks that come with starting a business. In 2013 it was named the best retirement home in the world at the International Property Awards held in London.

The rooms at Livewell (pictured above) are cosy, filled with personal furniture and belongings, and are all within reach of the communal areas. Companionship is considered a key aspect of nursing care. It’s the facility’s programme of community volunteers who spend regular time with the residents that sets it apart from other dementia facilities.

The concept was the first and only stand-alone dementia retirement facility in the country. The fact that it was the first of its kind was one of Hanekom’s greatest challenges in the beginning particularly when it came to finding people to believe and invest in the idea.

“It took three of the longest months of my life before the first resident signed up”

Starting an entirely new concept such as Livewell needed a particularly determined pioneer. Fortunately, Hanekom has deep entrepreneurial roots. He started his first business in Grade 8, renting portable toilets for construction sites. He sold the business when he was in Matric and went on to study further to become a chartered accountant. Thereafter Hanekom specialised in investment management but his entrepreneurial drive was still strong.

Hanekom soon fled from the investment management industry, he took a job as a project manager for a low-cost housing project. He quickly rose the ranks in the property sector, and by the time he reached 30, Hanekom was heading up the retirement-village division for an R100-million property company. However, with no prospect of share ownership in sight, he decided to step out on his own, with the pledge of angel funding from Alan Knott Craig junior, former head of iBurst and Mxit, who he knew socially.

The birth of Livewell

While researching the idea for a retirement project in Stellenbosch, Hanekom met a nursing matron at a retirement home who planted the seed of what became Livewell. The real urgent need, she told him, was a specialist facility for dementia. “General retirement projects and frail care facilities find it very difficult to deal with the condition,” Hanekom says. “Confusion, anxiety and depression are common, and communication becomes increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. Retirement facilities usually set up a separate section for the dementia sufferers, and a gate soon goes up, behind which the inmates fade away in boredom, loneliness and despair.”

The more he researched the subject, the more convinced he became that the nurse’s idea was a workable one.

In September 2011 Livewell opened its doors with no clients and 25 staff members on the payroll. “It’s like a hospital – you have to be fully operational before you operate on the first patient,” he says.

“It took three of the longest months of my life before the first resident signed up.”

But it filled up soon after that and today Livewell has a substantial waiting list, with numerous additional day-care clients who join in the social activities for the day, but sleep at home.

When an idea meets a need

That is what happens when a well-executed idea corresponds with a need in the market, but part of the success is due to Hanekom’s activist business and marketing strategy.

In setting up LivewellHanekom has had to create an organisation that is at the forefront of dementia care not only in South Africa but also in the world. Apart from its active recruitment of community volunteers, Livewell holds quarterly dementia seminars for doctors and families, it has joined forces with Alzheimer’s South Africa to lobby the medical insurance industry for proper coverage of dementia care and it is setting up a training facility for dementia carers.

This year, a second Livewell home will open up in Sandton, a third in Durban in 2016, and the group plans to develop a system of home-based services to meet a clear and growing need.