Functional Noise Regularize Your Mind

Biosensor Startups

A month ago I wrote an article describing my original desire to research and develop biosensors. The primary goal was to find a noninvasive blood pressure sensor, and I noted I drifted away from that goal. I brainstormed about many ways to continue. Ever since writing this article I've been mostly busy talking to people who responded. Seems I sent a strong enough signal.

First of all, maybe the blood pressure problem is big enough that startups or big corporations will slowly solve it. Here's a list of blood pressure sensing wearables. That's lovely news. It's much easier to just buy a ready device then to hack something together, even if hacking is way cooler and may better suit my exact needs.

I've been particularly interested in finding local biosensor related startups. This may be for selfish reasons, other than simply achieving the stated goal. I have been really curious about startup life for years now. At work I am often the crazy one who tackles difficult uncertain projects. I like that kind of learning, exploring and hacking.

Creating or joining such a startup might be a way to combine multiple of my desires. If the big corporations fail to produce a blood pressure sensor, at least I am in a better position to continue their work. I can learn a lot of new skills. There is somekind of hacker status associated with joining a startup, which I like. If I join early and it succeeds, well... that's very nice.

There are some risks involved. I am the sole income provider for our family at the moment. That's the biggest issue to tackle. Also people proclaim to work more/harder at startups. If I count all my freetime research and blogging as work, then I also work a lot, but it is less 'committed', so may count less in professional story telling. Managers and investors seem to be suckers for such 'work long and hard' stories. My strength comes from working crazy effective while my energy is high, followed by periods where I work less to rest. I need enough slack for that.

Anyway, the most important part is to move confidently ahead despite the uncertainty. People (including myself) like confident people. So I just move on, acting like I know what I am doing. That seems to be the trick.

Local startups

Let's do some logging. Which startups have I found so far?

I started collaborating with BrainFlow founder Andrey, which I precommitted to doing. BrainFlow is not a startup, it's an open source library, but Andrey is a freelancer helping biosensor startups. BrainFlow is a library I wish I had years ago, so helping Andrey is good. I've been brainstorming with Andrey if we can build some paid services around BrainFlow, and this gave me incentive to talk to biosensor companies.

Mentech is a biosensor startup in the Eindhoven area. They are aiming for emotion detection for vulnerable humans. I know the CTO personally, so we had a chat. We explored if BrainFlow could be valuable for them, but the CEO didn't like the concept. They believe they can build their entire product and services by themselves. They did loan me a OpenBCI EEG headset to experiment with. If I want to work further with them, I would have to give up on my desire to create my own biosensor startup, since they want to own all industry relevant intellectual property.

AlphaBeats, creates a biofeedback app with music for better relaxation. They are also exploring all kinds of biosensors on the market to integrate with their solution. I first had a chat with their data scientist, which was fun. A more mature BrainFlow might be useful for them, but software startups like to build their own stuff. I was referred again to them after I accidentally spoke to their investor at Lumo Labs.

Ares Analytics, a startup from our local Eindhoven Technical University. They aim to better measure human physical performance, primarily targeting athletes. I have met the CEO before during a startup competition. I can't say too much, since they made me sign swear secrecy. But they have a lot of biosensors and data, so that'd be interesting to work with.

Less related, but I spoke to the founder SenseGlove who make VR gloves with haptic feedback. Interestingly the founder started out by playing with some biosensors like the Myo armband. He then contacted rehabilitation clinics to find better solutions for them. It's one of the options that I was advised to investigate by an ex-founder of SWORD Health. But somehow SenseGlove ended up developing VR gloves focusing on virtual training simulations, while now trying to move into the gaming world. Interesting story.

Eqipa is the startup of a colleague at ASML, Simon van Gorp. Like Ares it's focused on improving athlete performance, but not using new biosensors as far as I know, primarily using existing data in the sports clubs and applying machine learning to predict injuries ahead of time. Simon started it on the side, while continuing to work for ASML, which is a path that interests me.

I've had a short email conversation with the founder of Berkelbike, who is creating rehabilitation solutions by sensing muscles and electrically restimulating those muscles while cycling. This was yet another attempt to find an application for BrainFlow, but they clearly have a closed loop system, with no need to inject a service. I like their mission though.

Some related startups in the local region that I haven't spoken with yet, but seem really cool: GOAL3, aiming for medical technology in developing nations. Hable One, a braille keyboard for smartphones. Also found Kinetic Analysis recently, after researching sports biosensors to betterunderstand Ares Analytics and Eqipa.

Bunch of other non-local startups I connected with for my BrainFlow exploration:

  • Muse, headband for relaxation that we'd like to integrate in BrainFlow

  • Enophone, headphone with EEG sensing for focus and relaxation

  • MyoTact, control armband for amputees

  • Reboocon, leg bionics

  • Emotibit, affordable biosensor

  • Intheon, neurotechnology middleware

  • BrainAttach, EEG brainwave sensors for e-sport athletes

  • Neurosity, headbands to help you focus

  • And more, sorry if I forgot to mention you :(

NeuroTechX collects a list of the neurotech ecosystem, including hundreds of biosensor and biosignal analytics companies. You could spend ages talking to all of them.

The weirdest connection was probably Joint Artificial Intelligence Network or "JAIN". The founder/investor reached out after a LinkedIn post about my biosensor hobby project, since he wants more people working on AI solutions to dementia problems. If you are into this sort of thing, check it out, it's definitely a problem worth solving.

There are some interesting patterns I've noticed while talking to all these founders. First of all, they obviously all believe their own ideas are best, and the other startups are just lucky to have gotten this far. Secondly, most are trying to probe if I am interested in joining them, often for some kind of technical leader role. The latter aspect seems the be the primary reason they want to make time for me.

Intrapreneurs

At work I am also looking for intrapreneurs and possible co-founders. Intrapreneurs are not really rewarded, so those that exist do it for the kicks. If your internal project is successful, you get a nice compliment. If you are lucky they offer you to stay as manager of your own project. If you don't like that, then in a few months they'll have conveniently forgotten about your involvement. I wonder how to better reward intrapreneurs? The safety of your fixed salary means you never get the infinite payouts of a successful entrepreneur with a large share of stocks. What would work as better incentives? Perhaps you should gain the freedom to do as you please as a small reward? I tried to hint at this option in my previous post about developer freedom.

I'm using some of my freedom to find those intrapreneurial people. At the very least it leads to interesting discussions. At best I find an intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial co-founder. The hardest part of a startup is finding good people that complement you. Finding customers and building a product are also hard, but seem to be somewhat easier, if you have good and motivated people.

Am I moving in the right direction? I don't know, but I see the following patterns in my own actions and writing:

  • Desire for more (financial) freedom.

  • Grow skills required for starting uncertain technical projects.

  • Better thinking skills in general.

I'll curiously move on and keep reflecting on my path.