Though most early-stage tech companies are obsessed with landing equity investment, Christopher Friesen and Tony Ingram have just had the type of week that lessens the pressure to raise capital.
On Saturday, the co-founders of Halifax-based startup Axem, which is developing a wearable product that allows athletes to monitor their mental activity, won the $15,000 second prize at Canada’s Business Model Competition. On Sunday night, Propel ICT announced that they were accepted into the regional accelerator’s Launch program.
And on Monday, the company was awarded a $50,000 Early Stage Commercialization Fund grant by Innovacorp.
After all that, the pair of Dalhousie University students pursuing doctorates in neuroscience are more worried about developing the product and bringing it to market than raising money in the short term.
“Well, we got $65,000 in the last week and that will help for a while,” said Friesen, adding that the team can now use the money it has received to tap funds from other government programs. “We’re thinking that we can work for the next 12 months with no private investment. . . . We’re hoping to get as far as possible without investment.”
The story of Axem began last fall when Friesen and Ingram entered Dal’s Starting Lean program with the goal of helping athletes with their mental conditioning. They envisaged a system that would use infrared light to track the blood flow in the brain while athletes train. The system would let athletes know whether they’re training with the proper mental focus.
“What athletes get out of it is the ability to track their mental processes,” said Ingram, who is a licensed physiotherapist. “That’s what’s missing from the market right now. They can track their heart rate or whatever. But there’s nothing mental.”
The pair won the $3,000 first prize at Starting Lean’s pitching competition just before the holidays, and is continuing to build out the company. There are now four PhD candidates working on the project.
What they’ve conceived is a product that looks like high-performance headphones, which athletes can wear and listen to music on while they train. The headphones conduct a brain scan throughout the training, and send the readings to a smartphone app. If the athletes lose focus, the volume on the music decreases, and rises again only when they concentrate properly.
Axem is already gaining the attention of professional teams and elite organizations, and has received letters of support from the Australian Winter Olympics team and the director of fitness for the Winnipeg Jets.
In the coming months, Axem will go through the Propel accelerator in Halifax and will work on building a prototype of the product. In doing so, the team has a few advantages, including the money it has in the bank. All members of the team are PhD students on scholarship — that means the company doesn’t have to pay salaries and has access to great equipment to build out the products. What’s more, Axem is building a sports product rather than medical device, so regulatory approval is not a big issue.
All of this means the company believes it has the means to produce a prototype that elite athletes can test and give feedback on.
Said Friesen: “Twelve months from now we would like to be out with our prototype, working with athletes and teams.”