Read about the other SoarTriangle mentees for 2015-2016, and past mentees, here.
Cindy Parlow Cone is a soccer legend, known as one of the best headers in the game. Her career is one many soccer enthusiasts aspire to—she is a four-time honored All-American, two-time winner of the Hermann Trophy, and winner of two Olympic Gold Medals. Yet, Cone’s career hasn’t been without injury and pain, the unanticipated consequences of a world-class athletic career.
Today, Cone experiences headaches, fatigue and moments of imbalance that are caused by post-concussion syndrome, a condition that led to her retirement in 2006 after nine years of professional play. She suffered two diagnosed concussions during her career. But her symptoms come from a lifetime of sports-related head trauma, often undetected by herself and others.
And that’s the huge problem she’s trying to solve with a new wearable device startup called ImVere. ‘Im’ means “impact” and ‘vere’ means “true”, representing the Chapel Hill company’s mission to provide accurate, true head impact data for athletes.
ImVere has an innovative device that accurately and reliably detects head impact and rotation. The device is being tested by some groups, but is not currently available to the public. That's because a significant amount of funding is needed to bring the device to market, investment Cone hopes to receive after a year of mentorship and networking provided by the local SoarTriangle program for female founders.
Although Cone is famous for heading the ball, she is far from an outlier with her symptoms. According to a study conducted by McGill University, more than 60% of college-level soccer players report symptoms of concussion during a single season. Only 12.6% of those soccer-related symptoms are a result of head-to-soccer ball activity. Head to player, ground, post, wall, etc. also account for the head trauma reported. Those events happen so frequently in a game that it’s almost impossible to know of head injury.
“When you watch youth or professional sports it is hard to detect who should undergo further concussion testing,” Cone says. That became more apparent years later when she worked as director of coaching for the Triangle United Soccer Association and then as head coach in 2013 for the women's professional soccer team in Oregon, the Portland Thorns.
It was during her time as a coach that she was approached with an opportunity to influence preventative care in sports. The father of one of her players asked her to review a device he had been working on with a team of engineers. He was persistent, she says. But for good reason.
“Once I met with the inventors, I immediately saw how the device could transform sports,” she says.
Previously designed for military use, ImVere will manipulate the device for use during athletics. While similar technology is available, like devices by Brain Sentry or Head Case Company that attach to a player's helmet to measure helmet movement or X2 Biosystems' impact sensing skin patches, ImVere's device is designed to specifically measure skull movement and impact to the skull.
Cone hasn't yet revealed what the device will look like or how it will be worn. But an early prototype has been tested on cadaver heads.
“It is important to use cadavers so that we can make sure we are getting readings directly from the skull, rather than the skin,” she says.
When I asked Cone if she was present for the cadaver testing, she said, with a laugh, “No… no, I wasn’t.”
From Player, to Coach, to CEO
While the engineers on her team work to perfect the device’s accuracy, Cone has taken on another challenge—building a business around the device she believes can revolutionize preventive care for athletes.
She’s leading a new type of team to do it. Alongside her husband John Cone, a kinesiologist managing the physiology side of the business, and a group of the engineers and other specialists, she has stepped into a new role as CEO of ImVere, LLC. It is a position that does not yet feel as comfortable to her as playing forward, but she’s hopeful.
“I am a first-time CEO. I have spent my entire life in sports, so for me this is a whole new world,” she says. Yet, she recognizes that leading teams is her strength.
She’ll supplement that with help from SoarTriangle.
“ImVere is developing a great product and the team has the technical expertise,” says John Austin, a SoarTriangle core team member and mentor. “Teamwork and leadership are crucial to the success of a startup and Cindy has been able to polish those attributes with her soccer background. What's missing is the experience of a startup business—and the Soar program can help accelerate that aspect of ImVere's development as a company and Cindy's development as a CEO.”
Cone estimates that ImVere will need to raise the ambitious amount of $2.3 million to bring the device to market. But all funding goals will be clarified through the SoarTriangle mentorship program.
“The reason I got into coaching was to impact the lives of young girls and be a positive role model,” Cone says. She reiterates that she will always have coaching as a part of her life, but the potential for ImVere to improve athletics at large is exciting.
No doubt, her new role as entrepreneur will encourage women of all ages to pursue their dreams on and off the field.