Paying close attention during long work hours or intense bouts of studying is a challenge — which is why countless tools have been popping up to “train your brain” just like you would train your body in the gym. After using brain scans to test advertising and see how people paid attention to different stimuli, Jake Stauch and his team noticed positive feedback from parents using the technology to improve their children’s attention span issues.
Stauch founded NeuroPlus, a training program that pairs a proprietary, responsive headset with video games designed to help improve focus, calmness and self-control in children and adults.
“We built a couple prototypes, and realized that this was a more meaningful opportunity, and something we really wanted to explore,” says Stauch, who previously worked as a researcher studying attention processes at the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.
The small headset measures brain activity and movements, including muscle movements, and integrates with one of three video games provided by NeuroPlus. The electroencephalogram (EEG) headset measures your brain activity, with a sensor on top of the head to help reduce noise and avoid cheating the system for more accurate reports.
“The headset also has an accelerometer, which tracks muscle movements. So our game both asks users to focus and pay attention, which we measure through the brain waves,” says Stauch. “It also asks users to sit very still, which we measure through the accelerometer data. Our game requires users to sit still, relax, and focus.”
Following prototypes and feedback from families, the NeuroPlus team made sure they had the evidence to back up their claims. In 2016, a group of researchers from Duke and Stanford performed an independent study that showed that children ages 8-13 that used the NeuroPlus headset over 10 weeks for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week, saw improvements in attention and self-control.
“We’re in a space that has a lot of pseudoscience and it was very important for us to be an evidence-first company,” says Stauch. “They conducted an independent, randomized controlled trial in which 60 children with ADHD were randomized, participating in either using NeuroPlus or continuing their traditional treatments.”
The kids that used NeuroPlus were shown to have improved their attention span nearly four times more than those using traditional methods.
After an initial assessment to calibrate, the three video games use different imagery to help users learn over time how to focus.
For example, Axon, the first game in the series, directs you to fly a dragon through a landscape. The more you focus, the faster the dragon flies. The second game, Conduit, has you riding a motorcycle through tunnels. The more you focus, the brighter the tunnel gets so you can avoid potential obstacles and reach the finish line.
“That’s the fundamental idea here, is that we get better at things that we practice,” says Stauch. “We’re not treating ADHD, we’re helping all individuals improve their ability to pay attention. The problem with attention skills is that those are hard skills to practice and we don’t necessarily know how. So we give people feedback on how well they’re doing those things in their video game interface, which makes it easy and fun for them to practice those skills.”
So far, the North Carolina-based startup, which calls Google for Entrepreneurs tech hub American Underground home, has raised $1.2M to scale. But Stauch and his team want to put the headset in as many hands as possible — they’ve recently gone with a less-traditional route to expand: Kickstarter.
“The Kickstarter campaign is a way for us to get pre-orders and help fund our first production run,” says Stauch. “We raised money to develop the headset, get everything ready for manufacturing, and build all the software in the games. We’re offering a lot of our early supporters a way to get the headset and the program for 50 percent off.”
The initial upfront fee of $199 gets you the headset and setup; the customer then pays a subscription of $30 per month for access to games and other resources.
Right now, they’re less than $3,000 away from funding their Kickstarter campaign, with 9 days to go. Stauch says though he enjoys being in the Southeast for the good quality of life and talent pool, the lack of capital in the area still presents a challenge.
“One of the big challenges is access to capital. Difficult for startups, especially startups targeting consumers, and startups that don’t have a very quick path to profitability,” says Stauch. “It’s difficult to get the capital necessary to get the products to market, and to scale rapidly so that they can capture a large market segment. So having easier access to venture capital would definitely be a boom to the area.”