Back when I first profiled Neuro+ for ExitEvent
in July, I remember thinking it was incredibly refreshing to see a startup treating kids with ADHD in such a nuanced way—through gaming, so kids can train their attention by piloting their own dragons.
And since September, the venture-backed Windows and Mac desktop application
has been available to the public for $499 per year, a price including the neuroheadset which measures performance in the dragon-themed game by recording brain waves.
The young startup’s team has a lot to celebrate. About 100 families are already using the product and mobile versions of the desktop application will launch for iOS and Android before the end of the year.
Neuro+ has also recently gained momentum, winning Challenge Cup Durham
, a local competition for the global social impact startup contest hosted by Washington D.C. accelerator 1776. The team competed against 18 entrepreneurs from around the region and took home $50,000 last week. Neuro+ also will advance to the regional New York City competition in March 2016, where it could get a chance to move on to a world competition in D.C. next May.
Neuro+’s innovative approach to rethinking the way children are treated for ADHD is perhaps what made the startup stand out among its competitors, since using medication as treatment for ADHD is a growing concern for American families.
According to the Centers for Disease Control
, about 11 percent (6.4 million) children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011 and that rate is only increasing. A CDC study conducted from 2009 to 2010 says about half of preschoolers with ADHD were taking medication for the disorder and about one in four were treated only with medication. Fewer than one in three children received medication and behavioral therapy as treatments, which is recommended for children older than six years old.
These issues are close to home for us in North Carolina. 81 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD in the state took medication in the past week, according to a CDC report
, ranking NC 10th highest state for medicating ADHD kids. The national average was 74 percent.
, Neuro+’s CEO and founder, considered all of this when he came up with the idea for the software. But before inventing Neuro+, Stauch founded NeuroSpire
as a student at Duke University. It's an affordable software for researchers to measure the brain activity of study participants through electroencephalograms (EEGs), devices that detect electrical activity in the brain through flat metal disks that attach to the scalp. The software makes it easier for rookie scientists to gather data and insights on how media affects the consumer's brain.
To his surprise, Stauch consistently found that his business customers were often more interested in the implications of their technology for ADHD. Many of the executives the team worked with had sons, daughters, nieces and nephews with ADHD and thought the system for measuring attention to advertisements could help them somehow.
“We started working on Neuro+ because people told us they wanted it and we had the tools and know-how to make it happen,” says Stauch.
Neuro+ works like a regular game for kids, complete with a storyline and opportunities to advance to new levels and their brain activity is recorded through an EEG headset to track attention performance.
Through creating the game, the team quickly developed a passion for the work they were doing as they learned about the struggles people with attention difficulties face, says Stauch.
The software has proven to be successful in both clinical and research settings.
A psychologist located in Durham, Dr. Robyn Claar, has had her patients try out Neuro+.
“I really like the product because I think Jake has done a great job of incorporating feedback from kids who had ADHD to make it as interesting and effective as possible,” she says. “It's a great way for kids to get an understanding of things that are happening in their bodies and then use that information when they see it on the computer screen so they can make adjustments.”
Stauch and the Neuro+ team celebrate another victory—research that has backed up Neuro+’s effectiveness.
Dr. Jennie Byrne of Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill, conducted a pilot study alongside Stauch in the summer of 2014, looking at 12 patients with adult ADHD and having them use Neuro+ two times a week for eight weeks. Then they looked at their ADHD symptoms, both by self-report and by a computer test of attention.
Dr. Byrne says the results showed that about half the people felt like the program helped their attention and focus. The other half didn't think it helped much subjectively, but there were other results to suggest they improved like a decrease in need for medication or an improved attention score on the computer test.
“I believe that the system will be a good non-medication treatment option for patients with ADHD who desire to improve their attention and focus,” says Dr. Byrne.
Back when I interviewed Stauch in July, he said something that immediately struck me. He compared his company's mission to something whitewater rafting instructors tell rafters right before their journey into the water: “Be a part of your own rescue.”
“We're proud to have built a product that can have such a positive impact on people's lives,” adds Stauch.