Better rehab in virtual reality
NeuroVirt is turning research into a full-stack product for stroke patients
Today we’re profiling a London startup with an ambitious take on healthcare in virtual reality.
But first, thanks to everyone who has been in touch with startups we should profile. There’s plenty for me to sift through! As I wrote last week, the sweet spot for PreSeed Now is deep tech and B2B tech companies that are past the ‘tinkering’ stage, but who haven't yet raised their first proper round of funding. The exciting bit for any investor who wants to spot the next big thing, in other words. Please keep the tips coming.
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💷 Now raising
Before we get to today’s main feature, here’s another interesting startup that has crossed my radar this week:
Bypass has a compelling offering for ecommerce brands and stores: making it simple for them to start a subscription loyalty programme in minutes. Similar to how the Klarna button you often see at checkouts these days is used to speed up purchases, the Bypass button can easily turn one-time customers into an ongoing relationship and monthly revenue.
The startup’s two Manchester-based co-founders bring to Bypass their previous experience running a D2C subscription business and an ecommerce software startup. They’ve built the initial product, are building a customer base, and are currently raising a pre-seed round. As with all startups mentioned in PreSeed Now, you can drop me a line if you’d like an introduction.
NeuroVirt brings full-stack VR treatment to physical rehab
The latest wave of hype around virtual reality (and, dare I say it, the metaverse) is largely focused on its potential in gaming, entertainment, and the workplace. But there's a significant opportunity for VR in the healthcare market, too.
London-based NeuroVirt is one of a number of startups exploring VR’s potential to help with patients’ rehabilitation. But the competition tends to focus on offering hardware or therapeutic games. Instead, NeuroVirt is taking a full-stack approach where it will provide hardware, software, progress monitoring, and the potential for tight integration with each individual’s broader healthcare.
NeuroVirt has developed a handheld accessory for VR headsets that works alongside specially-developed games to help stroke survivors regain upper limb movement. The device acts as an interface for the games, providing haptic feedback (vibrations) to the user’s hand and measuring their level of movement impairment to help healthcare professionals measure the patient’s improvement over time.
The first three games NeuroVirt has developed task players with shooting (to develop grip strength), catching shapes as they move towards the player (to improve hand extension), and moving a ball around a tilting maze (to aid wrist motion).
Stroke patients are often not of the demographic you’d expect to throw themselves into VR gaming, but co-founder Eve Gregoriou says the immersive nature of the games makes them feel less like a video game session and more like a fun, accessible exercise.
“I've been consulting clinicians from the get-go,” says Gregoriou. “I think that it’s really important to work with people that have hands-on experience with the end user. And so we gather all of this information, we brainstorm, we create, and then we test and we get feedback both from stroke survivors and from clinicians themselves.
“This kind of loop that we're creating, of research, testing, and redesigning is what is making our games both engaging and scientifically valid.”
Grounded in research
The startup’s work builds on a growing body of academic research showing how virtual reality can aid rehabilitation in patients who have suffered strokes and other physically-impairing conditions (some of it touched on in this report).
NeuroVirt’s story began with Gregoriou’s PhD research into clinical and movement neuroscience at University College London. “My department works closely with stroke survivors, using brain stimulation techniques in order to make rehabilitation more efficient… I've come to realise the struggles of stroke survivors and their rehabilitation journey, and as well as what kind of services are provided by the NHS.”
Gregoriou developed a proof-of-concept prototype demonstrating how VR could be used for wrist training. Struck with an entrepreneurial spark, Gregoriou took her nascent ideas for a business in this space to the Conception X accelerator, which exists to help scientific researchers build their own companies.
After bringing in Carolina Bell, who had experience in business and finance, as co-founder, the pair recruited Hank Moon and Kevin Agnes to lead on the hardware and software development respectively.
The route to market
As it prepares to go to market, NeuroVirt has conducted usability trials in partnership with Hobbs Rehabilitation, a healthcare provider in the South of England. These trials look to ensure the games don’t cause dizziness and nausea, a common problem with VR.
Gregoriou says none of the people they’ve tested their games with have suffered like this. “[Whether or not VR gives you nausea] depends what kind of games you play. If… you're put on a roller coaster, of course you're going to get dizzy from that, because you're not actually moving in real life.
“The games that we are creating, you’re in a sitting position. You're not moving, you're not on a roller coaster, you're not in a car. Everything you do is in a static position and that actually takes away from you feeling queasy or dizzy.”
Gregoriou says that of the 30 stroke survivors they have tested the product on so far, 90% say they would like to use NeuroVirt for their rehabilitation at home. “Stroke survivors really love our games and rated them 6/7 on average for ‘very fun and engaging’. Clinicians have said that our games are the most engaging rehab games they have seen which is ultimately important for people to adhere to their therapy.”
Following these trials, NeuroVirt plans to create an MVP of its full-stack service, including the games, a refined hardware peripheral, and a yet-to-be-developed mobile app for clinicians. The app will report data on patients’ progress and allow professionals to prescribe specific therapy.
“It will work the same way therapy sessions work, whereby you go to your clinician and they tell you ‘go home and do these exercises’. But instead… the exercises and the goals that stroke survivors will have in VR will be updated [in the mobile app], and they'll have goal-oriented therapy.”
NeuroVirt is currently focusing on stroke survivors but Gregoriou says the startup plans to move “pretty quickly” onto other forms of physiotherapy. “Stroke survivors have the most complicated upper limb impairments, so if we manage to address stroke survivors and we manage to make our A.I.-based games adapt to their ability, then our games will be adapting to anybody's ability. We're talking about dealing with circumstances where there's tone and plasticity in the hands and how we correct for that.”
NeuroVirt is currently raising pre-seed investment. While the UK will be its first market, the startup is already eyeing other markets such as Switzerland to target following later funding rounds.
That’s all for now
Want an introduction to a startup mentioned in this newsletter? Feel free to drop me a line any time: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PreSeed Now will be back on Thursday with a profile of another compelling startup.