The market for diagnosing and preventing brain trauma in sports has seen a number of new entrants over the past 5 years, entrants with varying degree of focus on hardware, software, or both. While some early entrants seemed to have been dead on arrival (See Reebok’s venture with MC10 for example. For anyone that’s played video games, a system that broadcasts a quarterback’s green light for “all good” to a blitzing linebacker seems like something that would create incentives to hit the quarterback just a bit harder to turn their checklight red, wouldn’t it? ), there continues to be new entrants that are showing promise as point product solutions to detection and/or prevention that could be useful across multiple industry segments (primarily military, industrial and sports).
In the brain injury/concussion management space, we’ve covered a number of the major players, many of whom are located in and around Seattle. For example, X2 Biosystems, offers both the X-Patch and the X-Guard aimed at concussion detection. After multiple rounds of funding and successive iterations on its hardware, the Company has also been focusing heavily on a lower price-point product and its concussion management software, giving it the potential to develop a broad platform that spans much of the functional areas of the market–detection, prevention and treatment– in a manner that could mitigate the product risk attendant to many of these complex pieces of sensors/hardware.
Like X2, i1 Biometrics, a company just outside of Seattle also focuses on impact detection and monitoring. The Company has developed an innovative Impact Intelligence System which delivers real time understanding of a collision’s impact on the brain, relying on data collected from its proprietary mouth guards.
While X2 and i1 Biometrics have focused on impact detection, analysis, and management, VICIS, which was spun out of technology developed at the University of Washington, has focused on trauma prevention. The Company has developed an innovative helmet to cushion the blows from impact. Rounding out the Seattle quartet, is Skulcrate, a Company that has, like VICIS, developed sports headgear targeted initially at the youth market, that has been tested and proven to reduce and redirect the energy from head impact, rather than focusing on detection and management of concussion incidents..
The latest entrant in the field isn’t from Seattle though. Co-founded by former MIT wrestler Ben Harvatine, Jolt is a wearable sensor that allows parents and coaches to examine head trauma causing impact, in real time, much like the approach taken by i1 Biometrics, albeit in a different form factor. It was inspired by Ben’s personal story in which he suffered a concussion during wrestling practice but unknowing of the impact, continued to practice until it was too late. This led him to develop an avoidable post-concussion syndrome for months afterwards causing memory loss, fatigue, and severe headaches.
Jolt is a strong, flexible aftermarket clip that can be mounted to any athletic equipment such as a helmet, a headband or goggles. A full charge lasts over two weeks, and the clip is waterproof. Bluetooth allows the hardware to be connected to a mobile application that alerts coaches and parents as soon as a potentially dangerous impact is made to an athlete’s head that can then prompt an appropriate response.
Whether Jolt can crack the code to develop into a significant standalone company is quite another question, a question we believe many in the space are now contemplating as cracking that code implies solving significant hardware / form factor challenges, distribution challenges and significant software challenges).
We believe that a significant company is going to emerge that justifies the large amount of capital that is going into the space. We also believe that the correct approach will combine both hardware and software solutions that can not only be successful at detecting and preventing trauma, but also presenting enough data points so that we can move beyond the state of the art for detection (based on analysis of cognitive, physical, emotional, sleep, etc) to a better understanding of the biochemical markers of concussive and pre-concussive conditions. In other words, we believe that the key to success in this space, the big win, will be bringing together the most relevant data points, through software and hardware, and applying data science to the problem of detection and prevention. And of course, applying that knowledge in the realm of health care delivery would be the holy grail!