Neurology research is one of those rare topics that immediately fascinates people outside the field. Any technology that makes healing brain ailments easier is a relief for people of all ages who fear what the future might bring for their health. But it’s also fascinating to see what new developments could do not just to protect our brains, but also augment them.
The new Tel Aviv accelerator Brainnovations will foster the very companies that will lead that development. It’s the brainchild of Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), a local non-profit that former President Shimon Peres launched in 2011. IBT is dedicated to “making Israel a leader in the international market” for braintech and has hosted two conferences and several industry meetups since 2013. But those events were only the beginning, according to Dr. Yael Fuchs Shlomai, Program Manager at Brainnovations.
“It’s been obvious to IBT this entire time that we’d want to help new projects emerge,” Fuchs Shlomai told Geektime. “We got a donation about a year ago specifically for this, but it took some time to build the community and the knowledge hub we have today.”
That donation came from Ohad Shaked, one of the principal owners of 888. They’ve lined up an esteemed team of industry insiders to guide the newly conceived companies, including Johnson & Johnson VP of Innovation Dr. Jeff Nye, FuturX CEO Dr. Einat Zisman, Insightech’s VP of Neuro Eyal Zadicario and ElMindA CEO Ronen Gadot, among others. Firms Katzenell Dimant Frank and Reinhold Cohn are offering legal and intellectual property services.
“The mentors and speakers are doing this completely pro bono and some of them are dedicating quite a lot of time.”
Unprecedented program, hip ole’ campus
The program will be hosted at Google Israel’s Campus Tel Aviv in the Electra Building, now an established center for tech in Silicon Wadi. The accelerator is still wondering if, perhaps ahead of launching a full-fledged incubator down the road, it would need to dedicate its own space for programs. For now, they see the campus as a comfortable place where entrepreneurs could interact with others and “feel part of the team.”
Brainnovations will be the first accelerator dedicated only to brain-focused companies in Israel and surprisingly, it’s one of the first neuro-centered incubators or accelerators globally. Other notable ones include the accelerator Neurolaunch, which blasted off last year in Atlanta with 11 companies, and Singapore-based Sinapse, a full-fledged incubator for neurotechnology.
It seems they tapped a nerve: Brainnovations received 50 applications, including several from abroad, which is a lot for what Fuchs Shlomai calls a “narrow vertical.” Only 30 teams got interviews and only eight made it into the program. The eight participating groups specialize in three main sub-fields: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and digital health. Though only Israeli teams made the cut, the program is tailored to go international with all the sessions in English.
“The industry and community is very supportive of this program,” says Fuchs Shlomai, emphasizing the scarcity of these industry-specific programs. “Everything is from the life sciences perspective and braintech, with special attention to different requirements of related fields, regulatory processes and reimbursement processes.”
As Fuchs Shlomai puts it, each team is developing medical solutions and they’re mostly in the idea stage. One team is working on rehabilitation programs, another “neuroprosthetics,” others brain-machine interface (BMI) and treatments for Alzheimer’s and ALS. Since life sciences solutions go through much longer periods of development before hitting the shelves, there might have been questions in the past about the feasibility of this sort of program.
Fuchs Shlomai says IBT is attracted to the idea of an incubator, but isn’t laying out plans for that or garnering the financial support for such an endeavor just yet. For now, they want to get the ball rolling for teams who need a conduit to get their schematics from synapse to nerve in a very critical window.
“For a life sciences program, four months is a very short period of time for early-stage companies,” she notes.
The IBT and Brainnovations team is led by IBT founder and Director Dr. Rafi Gidron, Executive Director Miri Polachek and Brainnovations Program Manager Dr. Yael Fuchs Shlomai.