Built by a team of neuroscientists, entrepreneurs and technologists, Cortechs use brainwave sensing hardware and software to produce an overall package aimed at helping children with ADHD. In an age of over prescription, Cortechs look to provide a non-medication alternative to help children with this condition.
We spoke with Aine Behan to find out more about the company she created, their journey to this point and what the future holds for this innovative company.
Q1 Hi Aine. Can you tell me about Cortechs and what it is you do?
At Cortechs, we use brainwave-sensing technology to create reliable and fun games that improve the brain activity of a child dealing with ADHD, so they become more healthy, more focused and more relaxed.
7% of children worldwide have AHDH and the biggest challenge the child is faced with is trying to stay focused on a task. The current solution to treat ADHD is to prescribe medication commonly known as Ritalin. It acts as a stimulant and has unfavourable and unknown side effects for the developing brain so parents are looking for an alternative to this pill-popping culture. Our team, with its collective expertise in this area, suggest a different approach to this problem.
Neurofeedback, a technique using brainwaves can rival such medication to improve the debilitating symptoms of attention and relaxation in ADHD and Cortechs believe that Using games is a cool and engaging way to deliver this solution.
Q2 Can you explain what hardware is needed and give us an overview of the technology used?
Our product consists of a brainwave sensing headset and our games are currently mobile app builds with the first one being released for Android tablets. We are currently using a Neurosky headset but will add other headsets as they become available. This area is completely new and not many commercial EEG headsets are available, particularly at a price that people would pay for. Most are research grade and not durable or built for consumer consumption!
The way the headset works is that it sits on your head with a sensor on an arm sitting against the skin on your forehead and it takes real time readings of your brainwaves (which are electrical signals). These signals are amplified in the headset then processed and translated in real time into a reading which is sent via bluetooth from the headset to our apps on your tablet.
Brainwaves can detect how focused or relaxed you are at any one time and we use this information to help you become more focused and relaxed by interpreting it using algorithms at the backend of the game. At the backend of the game we can measure and monitor from these signals how focused and relaxed you are and reward you with visual cues within the game the longer you are able to keep your attention. This could be unlocking powers or new levels within a game that you cannot get unless you stay focused.
Watch this space for how these powers of focus and relaxation will work for ‘Zip and the Misty Mountain’ which we will released later this week.
Q3 We can see a multitude of uses for your product. Which areas are you focussing on initially and what areas do you plan on expanding to next?
We see that the area that would benefit from this most is the ADHD market specifically children between the ages of 8-14 that would benefit from an alternative but scientifically backed way to improve their focus.
We have been chatting to many gamer kids and adults about what we do at Cortechs and getting valuable feedback about what people do and don’t like and we have carried out a lot of demos with the CoderDojo communities in Cork and Dublin too and the kids (all our target age group) have loved our product and engaged with the game concepts and using their focus and relaxation to control parameters within a game. This is hugely rewarding to see and also shows the positive engagement and feedback we are getting when you see these guys eager to buy our products.
The platform that we are developing would be a focus for all platforms but the games or front end that we are beginning with are games for children that involve rewarding kids for sustained attention within the game and creating healthy gaming that is fun and engaging for the child (7-14 year old to begin with).
We will expand this out to options for adults in 2015 and onto platforms other than Android in the New Year as well as headsets other than the Neurosky headset which is the one we currently use. We will add Muse from Interaxon onto our platform too.
Q4 What stage is the game developement at now and what are the next steps?
Actually it is almost complete for our early levels. We will launch an early access model of our first game called ‘Zip and the Misty Mountain’ next week to a closed set of customers and it will be publicly launched in January on our website and the Google Play Store in 2015.
Q5 How many people are working at Cortechs and what’s the makeup of the team?
Currently 2 full time and 2 part-time and we hope to expand that as funding lands in the new year. We have both guys and gals with a mixture of neuroscience, game development, programming, business development, financials and analytics, product design and hardware design on the team.
Q6 When we first spoke, you had just started the BOI accelerator programme. Can you tell us about that experience and what benefits it has brought for you?
Its been intense but brought a lot of focus and momentum to generating a clear vision and testing our product market fit by getting our first sales. We pivoted in the direction of our first route to market back in September and yet here we are now with a first game developed and almost built and our first customers so we have progressed hugely. So focus and an environment to maintain that focus is how I’d sum up the programme.
Q7 What has been your greatest challenge so far?
For me, it’s having enough time to do everything to keep the momentum going. Things move so fast and you are a bootstrapped team with minimum resources and a lot of decision making. So being an expert at everything in the early days of a startup is a necessity yet it is undoubtedly challenging.
Q8 Can you tell me a bit about your own background and what the inspiration was to start Cortechs?
So I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Neuroscience from UCC and a PhD in Neuropathology from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. As a former Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland research lecturer and Neuromuscular Module Coordinator, I have 10 years’ postdoctoral experience in researching the impacts of stressors in many mood disorders and neurodegenerative disorders and this is evident by my research publications in psychiatry, proteomics and neurodegeneration.
I did some consultancy in recent years and started getting more interested and involved in how prototypes from science made it to the people that most needed it, aka into the consumers hands, and found there were many pieces of tech and science that had not yet fully made that commercial leap. One of them was EEG (electroencephalogram) or brainwave sensing technology and this is where the interest started.
I made a big decision to give it a go and become an entrepreneur when I got offered a place on the EI New Frontiers Programme in Blanchardstown IT. I had to commit full time so I thought its now or never and I bit the bullet and have been plugging away at it since!
Q9 What’s next for Cortechs?
We’ve had a lot of achievements for a startup over the first 14 months so I will mention them here:
– EI client/ feasibility study recipient (Nov ’14)
– Cortechs currently in BOI Accelerator Programme (Sept ’14)
– I spoke to the Women’s Innovation Forum at SAP Tech Ed, Berlin about female entrepreneurs on behalf of European Centre for Women in Tech (Sept ’14, Berlin)
– I was the only Irish finalist for Girlsintech Lady Pitch night (Sept ’14) from 178 applicants across Europe, coming second place & won most innovative pitch at the event!
– BBC Grand Challenge winner for connected technology app, TVX ’14
– I was Dublin Business Chambers female entrepreneur & Fingal CEB pitching winner, 2013.
However, once we get our game launched with more sales, we can build the team to develop a suite of games for children, new games for adults to focus and develop the backend of the platform to refine the algorithms and science that dictate how focused we are to build more reliable feedback into our games and in a way that the child and the parent/carer are getting the information they value about their child’s focus and relaxation. We are also working towards being investor ready in 2015 to really accelerate and grow the business, the team and our offerings to a global audience as the demand is most definitely there!
Q10 What’s the best way for people to get in contact and find out more?
Our website is www.cortechs.ie but please do follow us on Twitter, Facebook or drop me a mail at [email protected]. We will be releasing more information in the next week about the launch of the early access model of our first new game ‘Zip and the Misty Mountain’ and how to buy. Information about this will be provided on all all the platforms listed above.
If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with me on [email protected]