The second-annual PARADOXOS festival brings together disparate start-ups that would not connect under normal circumstances, and last night’s Build-A-Party was no exception. Its theme was “What are you building?” and answers came through show-and-tell by real estate developers, artists, musicians, hoteliers and entrepreneurs.
The event is being held at locations throughout downtown Durham, and is built on the exchange of community-inspired ideas.
Tatiana Birgisson, founder of Mati Energy and a speaker at Paradoxos, has a lot to say about the power of grassroots influence.
“The community is so supportive,” she says of her rise from dorm-room tea brewer to Whole Foods distributor. Two years ago, Birgisson was a Duke student living with the burden of post-traumatic stress disorder, and was simply looking for a way to be productive.
“I slept all the time,” says Birgisson. “I needed energy, but I was putting tons of sugar in my coffee. It wasn’t healthy.”
Birgisson started brewing jasmine tea in her dorm, and her friends started drinking it as well. As she began experimenting with different leaves and additives, the demand for her product grew. Finally, Birgisson started brewing larger batches, and differentiated her brand by carbonating it and storing it in beer kegs.
Shoeboxed, a digital data solutions company in Durham, was the first business to buy Mati. Birgisson remembers thinking, “Wow, somebody is willing to pay for this.”
It was a small shift with a big impact. Instead of pursuing a high-paying internship, Birgisson developed her business with the help of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, tailoring her focus on helping other people increase energy levels. She then pitched her healthy energy drink alternative to Whole Foods in August 2013. By January 2014, Mati cans were on shelves of seven regional Whole Foods stores.
The best part? “When I was depressed, my ambitions disappeared,” Birgisson recalls. “But having the vision to help others brought my ambition and personal motivation back.” Birgisson continues to tweak the Mati manufacturing process to yield maximum herbal benefits. And her distribution keeps growing: Mati is now delivered to 3,000 offices in the Carolinas.
Jake Strauch, another speaker at Paradoxos, also has some insight about the link between mood disorders and motivation. Instead of tea leaves, he believes in the power of neuro-feedback therapy. Strauch’s newest NeuroSpire product, called Neuro+, is a video game, which translates the player’s brain waves into motions on the screen. Certain disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are characterized by a particular ratio of brain waves; Neuro+ forces the player to reverse this pattern. The player wears a headset, which connects to a computer, and the animated glider in the game rises or falls according to the brain waves emitted.
“It’s like a treadmill for your brain,” Strauch says. He explains how this concept is basically taking a proven method and making it accessible to people. Neuro-feedback has been proven effective for mood disorders in clinical trials, but patients have traditionally had to drive far away or pay hundreds of dollars for the therapy. With Neuro+, it is “just you and a computer,” Strauch says. He sees it as something schools and clinicians can readily use to help people suffering with mood disorders, without the serious side effects of medication.
With help from a winning Summer 2013 NC IDEA grant and profits from Paypal, Kia, Visa and marketing research agency customers of his headsets, Strauch aims to continue development and increase his product’s availability. Strauch also hopes to make the technology available open-source, so software developers can tweak the video game to make it more appealing to users.
Even with things looking up, he admits there were bumps in the road. “There were scary times,” he says. “But when things got desperate, there were always miracle moments.”
Paradoxos runs through Sunday, April 13th. For more information, visit the Paradoxos festival website: http://www.paradoxos.co/.