Head of Science & Engineering
Science & InnovationView profile
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success this far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Guillem: My name is Guillem Singla, it’s a Catalan name. I’m Catalan-Spanish. I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Neurofenix. In terms of what the business does, our goal is to help patients who have had a stroke, brain injury, spinal injury, and other neurological or physical impairments to recover. That’s our goal. We want them to recover, and for them to get their life back. All these conditions I’ve mentioned are devastating for the people who suffer them. Most of these conditions mean they cannot move their body as they used to, they cannot think, they cannot speak, they cannot control their emotions. There is a lot of impact on their lives. Our mission is to do our best with the latest in technology, and support and maximize their recovery.
Guillem: We’ve launched our first product, the NeuroBall, alongside our digital therapy platform. We’re creating a cloud digital therapy platform that then has a lot of equipment that connects directly into the software.
For instance, our first product is training the fingers, the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. The patient places their hand inside the NeuroBall, which connects to a tablet with a set of activities to start training. For example, we have ‘Space Shooters’.
Using this, they can start training their wrist or their grasp and that is then translated into controlling activities. It could be that they are just counting the repetitions, but through that they could be controlling a spaceship, jumping obstacles, and the key is for them to do 100s and 100s of those repetitions; which we know will then lead to that recovery.
The problem now is if I tell you to do 500 of these repetitions every day at home, you might do it for a few weeks, but the chances that you will do them over the period that’s required is very low. So we make it more fun and we track your progress.
We’re also the first product of this kind to have a live leader board, so patients from different places can see how much others are training and from that, they want to be at the top of the leaderboard.
So we’re really changing rehabilitation as we know it, because we don’t want this lonely experience at home, trying to do your reps that your therapist told you to do, and finding it difficult to follow. We really want to change that, and we have the technology to make that happen.
Guillem: It started with a family member of mine having a stroke. Seeing the experience that he went through – it’s horrible. Whoever knows a stroke survivor, or someone that has a traumatic brain injury, or someone who has suffered a spinal injury – they’ll know what I’m talking about. The person that he used to be disappeared, and now it was a new person. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t walk.
The therapists do what they can with the limited time they have, but it’s expensive and uses limited resources. He went home and we managed to get some private therapy and that was amazing. If you give a patient the input, they can make significant progress.
This is where I thought, “Ok now what? You have your whole life with this disability, how am I going to help you recover?”
And this was in creating equipment and a solution that was easy to use for the hospital, but that you could also take home. This created a bridge to home and a bridge to engagement at home. That’s where the idea came from.
My Co-Founder Dimitris’ grandfather had a stroke, and he fully understood what I was talking about when we met at Imperial College. We both studied masters in Biomedical Engineering there and started working together after the masters. We joined ‘Entrepreneur First’ which is a start-up accelerator in London. They were really supportive to help us grow the business.
On day one we were both volunteers in a stroke charity called Different Strokes. So every week Dimitris and I were volunteering Saturday morning to the stroke support group, helping them with daily exercises, we were part of the yoga classes, and I didn’t like tea at that time… but after every single Saturday serving tea to stroke survivors in this support group, and drinking tea – I now love it! And importantly, they were the ones telling us, “this is how the NeuroBall should be”.
Guillem: There are hundreds of challenges in this regard. I think one of them is ‘focus’. There are always so many things you could be doing in a specific day. We could be improving our website, we could improve our brochures, we could call more leads, we could do a new campaign – it’s insane. You could always do more and more.
For a while at the beginning, I was doing a lot of everything. My Co-Founder and colleagues were the same. We were moving forward, but the main challenge was, “How can we get everyone in the company to be focused on just a few things?” Get that done very well and very quickly, because if we join together we will move forward must faster.
I have this in my head all the time. If you’re all pulling in different directions, you’ll move slowly. But if you have two or three things to focus on, the whole company is moving in the same direction. We’re really focused now and it’s been transformative for us. I think it kills start-ups if you’re trying to do too many things at the same time.
Guillem: In healthcare, there’s a specific focus on making sure that you have the user of your product and all the other stakeholders – therapists, family members – at the centre. You need to satisfy all parties. You have these complexities, and for us, in terms of how the product fits, it’s been to involve them all constantly.
Let’s say a developer does a feature, the first question I’m going to ask is, “How many people have you talked to? How many survivors and therapists have you talked to about this feature?” That’s number one question for me. And that’s our obsession.
This combination of user focus and customer focus, while developing the minimum and validating it, even without writing a single line of code. These two things are what drives us and makes us special.
Guillem: Independent use. Independent use has been the key. For many products you can assume it’s a healthy person that can understand that if you place an ‘X’ in a screen, they will press the ‘X’ because they understand what it will mean. Many things you can assume people will understand.
When you’re dealing with patients that have some cognitive impairment you cannot assume that a normal app will work. You need to understand how your user thinks.
It’s making it so you can set up in 30 seconds to a minute. Because therapists just don’t have the time, so they should be able to deliver the therapy with the NeuroBall in less than a minute. Therapists often have too many patients, they are overwhelmed, and if the NeuroBall took 20 minutes to set up, and the session is 40 minutes, that’s half of the session gone. Independent use as well as speed to set up have been the two main issues to address. I always say the best set up for our users is ‘no set up’.
Guillem: For us, it’s mainly been making sure we find the right investor.
I pitched to perhaps thousands of investors. We had a slick presentation, clear story, and clear outcomes that we had achieved. We kept our story clear and made sure to be fully prepared – which can take months honestly.
While preparation is key, don’t wait too long before approaching investors, because you will learn a lot by having conversations with them. It’s a compromise on preparation versus talking to investors. Focusing on those investors that you really want on board is also really important. I spent many hours looking for the few investors that would make a difference. They had invested in healthcare and digital therapy – and so I was very conscious why I wanted them, and why they wanted me.
Because it’s a two-way thing in investment. In the end, there’s no magic trick. You need to put in the time and preparation. If they say no, understand why. I had a list of why investors passed, and from there I updated my documents to make things more clear. And I continuously improved based on that.
Prepare, keep clear, rehearse – these are the pillars. But above all – there’s no secret sauce. Just keep going.
Thank you for your time!