Technology with attitude

BrainTech 2015 Day 2: From opportunity to startup

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Following the first day (read my roundup here) that showed the endless possibilities in neurotechnology, Day 2 of BrainTech 2015 was more a combination of startups, opportunities, BrainTech industry, BCI devices, gaming, dementia and ALS. Very interesting day!

Braingels and Brainnovations

The day started strong with Miri Polacheck, the executive director of Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), announcing two new programs: Braingels and Brainnovations.

Braingels (Brain Angels) is a network of angel investors with interest in early stage investment in braintech startup and Brainnonvations (Brain Innovations) is a four months educational program with lectures, workshops and mentoring giving access to the high quality IBT’s international network of senior industry executives and investors.

To continue in the same spirit, a brilliant panel entitled “BrainLaunch! Starting & Incubating Neurotech Companies” explained that despite the fact that we have more and more incubators in braintech, funding is still hard because it’s a new field with high risk, long term and costly.

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Later on we had other related panels like “Collaborations in the BrainTech Industry” and “Where We’re Heading: Future Directions for the BrainTech Industry”, explaining the need for academia and business to work more together.

“We need to change the mentality and realize that there is more than the IP. Most of the times, the real value comes from the joint collaboration (IP). There is much more to be gained by collaborating.” said one of the speakers. “There are a lot of opportunities in technology required to create drugs. Whether it’s imaging or making sure the drug is working properly or to verify where the drug gets delivered, etc.”, said another speaker to answer a question about drugs versus technology.

Promising startups

We also saw some exciting startups like Myndlift making a neurofeedback game for ADHD, currently working with the Muse sensing headband. Lifegraph silently tracking your phone and extracting changes in behavior, offering new innovative insights for psychiatrists. Brainster working on neuromarketing by combining the EEG signals from the Emotiv Epoc with eye-tracking.

Myndlift is a good example of the inspiration I talked about in my Day 1 article. Aziz Kaddan attended the BrainTech 2013 and got inspired by all the opportunities and the timing for BrainTech. He is now CEO of a promising startup in Tel Aviv.

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We also saw from the startup panel, that most of them launch with no prior extensive studies about their product. They all have it in the pipeline, but considering the resources it requires, the strategy is to bootstrap with a MVP (minimum viable product) to ensure the next step. This strategy lowers the barrier to entry and allows for quicker execution and iteration.

When Aziz Kaddan (CEO of Myndlift) was asked on stage how he plans on competing against other similar companies with funding reaching up to $10M, clearly referring to Atentiv, the young CEO confidently replied that what matters most in this field right now is execution, not only money. With emerging technology we shifted from top-down innovation where businesses and MBAs would drive innovation with money to a bottom-up innovation paradigm. We shall see more and more tech startup getting traction on a very low budget where execution is everything, in order to attract money. BrainTech is no exception.

BCI is a business and a fast growing one

My favorite panel was the “Brain Computer Interfaces for the Masses” with Ariel Garten, CEO of InteraXon (Muse), Conor Russomanno, CEO of OpenBCI, Stephen Dunne, Director Neuroscience Research at NeuroElectrics and Hamutal Meridor, founder of Brainihack. They all discussed about their company and product and then engaged in a discussion about the future of brain-computer interfaces and their marketing.

Let’s be honest here, BCI is a business and a fast growing one. Any company is happy to have articles written about them, especially when these articles go viral on social media. What better title than “Mind-Controlled Robot” to have tons of share and retweet? I’m glad to see though, that the whole panel shared the same vision about going easy with the catchy expressions like “Mind-Controlled”, “Telepathy” and all the buzz words we hear in the field of BCI.

The time allowed for the discussion was a little too short and the panel ended just as it started to flow and to look like a real conversation with honest thoughts rather than only answering Hamutal’s questions. Luckily I had 2 more days with them during the Brainihack hackathon that followed the conference!

BrainTech 2015 panel

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We had a good reminder of why we are all gathering in Tel Aviv, Israel, when Shay Rishoni, CEO of Prize4Life, suffering from ALS came on stage and addressed the audience with an eye-tracking device that translates his eye movements into a computerized voice.

“Hi, my name is Shay Rishoni, I’m the CEO of Prize4life.”, said the voice.

The stage was set, he had the full attention of every single person in the room. I still can re-feel that very emotional moment when we all stood up to applaud the courage and determination of Shay Rishoni coming on stage to remind us how important it is to find new ways of communication for disable people.IMG_0552

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What a closing we had, by Adam Gazzaley and his amazing Neuroscape Lab. He showed how gaming combined with EEG and other biosensors can provide a powerful tool for educational & medical purposes. He presented his paper that made the front page of Nature Sept. 2013 available here.

The most important point of Gazzaley’s talk, in my opinion, was when he said: “It’s hard to work with IP [combining academia and businesses], I know, I deal with it regularly, but if we don’t do it and facilitate it, we’ll miss many good opportunities.”

Because it kind of rounded up the whole day about the need for academia and industry to work closer together and try new ways to ease the IP headache in order to commercialize the knowledge of academia to solve real problems and help real patients with a win-win-win situation (academia-business-people).

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Watch his cool animation from Neuroscape Lab:

Conclusion

BrainTech 2015 was a very inspiring conference showing that ‘brain delegations’ from around the world want to collaborate and undertake the challenge of understanding “the last frontier”, the human brain. Israel also proved that they understand that overnight success takes year of preparation and perfection. This is why we could see young students and young soldiers present at the conference among the world leading researchers, decision makers and investors. I think that it is fair to say that everyone agreed that “we’re not there yet” with Brain Technology, but that it is worth trying “to get there”, wherever that is.

The technology is good enough at this point in history to believe that we have a shot at understanding the brain if we all work together (academia-industry / countries / disciplines / etc.) The future of BrainTech is promising and exciting.

“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we wouldn’t” – Lyall Watson.

 More photos from Day 2 of BrainTech 2015