Original article from BetaKit written by Jessica Galang
After hosting a pitch challenge that saw five Next 36 companies pitch to Mastercard executives and business leaders, the financial giant has announced the startup that will have a chance to receive mentorship from Mastercard president Brian Lang.
In the end, the startup that best captured the attention of the room was Vancouver-based Awake Labs, a company developing a wearable band specifically made for people with autism to track anxiety and help their caregivers prevent meltdowns.
“I’m continuously surprised at how prevalent autism is; at every single competition we do, there are people that come up to us after and say, my nephew could use this, or I want to find out more for my sister who is a psychologist,” said Andrea Palmer, CEO of Awake Labs. “There’s always connections when we do a competition like this and raise awareness, and that’s why we keep doing this.”
Named Reveal, Awake Labs’ wearable measures and track physiological symptoms, and then notifies caregivers about these physiological changes and address it with the appropriate reaction. What separates the wearable from consumer products like Fitbit is that Awake Labs is developing the band to be extra comfortable, as many people with autism have high sensitivity to wearing anything on their skin — and many trackers aren’t made to withstand the behaviour that comes with autism.
“The main bit we’re developing is software, and we’re looking for hardware partners — and there are a lot of companies in the wearable space that are building this type of hardware. And if we can build it into a more durable form in wearables, and our design has been based around durability, waterproofing, and different features with the band itself.”
To accomplish this, Awake Labs is working with 78 families in BC on a study split into two parts: determining the design of the application and the band, and focusing on how to apply physiological data for anxiety measurement. The company also wants to ship its first units for this year, so Awake Labs is prioritizing finding partners for testing and finding health care facilities willing to complete studies with the Reveal band. The company is already working with classrooms in the Netherlands through a partner (Novilo Opleidingen BV), and already counts Autism Society of BC, Pacific Autism Family Centre & Inform Every Autism, Lake Ridge Community Support Services, and Bikers for Autism as partners. It’s also participating in a collaboration with the Machine Learning and Assistive Technology Lab at Chapman University to study anxiety phenotypes.
Palmer said that meeting with Lang will be especially helpful as the company looks to ship its first units this year — and, interestingly, provide additional perspective on their business as Lang once worked with the Autism Society of B.C. “He has a lot of domain knowledge in what we’re doing and is also leading Mastercard right now, so there’s a lot of knowledge and connections in that way. I’m also excited to hear how Mastercard is innovating in that space in order to make it more accessible and safer for people to shop online.”