EEG’s are great for diagnosing all sorts of conditions, including head injuries and seizures. But they’re hard to administer and thus don’t get used as often as they should. Elena Fraser and Duncan Kabinu, work with EncephaloDynamics a company that has developed a cap that makes EEG’s much easier to use. A born adventurer, Elena grew up one of four girls with a single mom. Duncan, a notable in Gainesville’s start-up scene, is no stranger to challenges.
Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade, the podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them. We'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Richard Miles: 0:39
All right. This morning we're going to be talking about brainwaves. I'm Richard Miles from Radio Cade and I have with me today, two guests, Elena Fraser and Duncan Kabinu welcome, Elena and Duncan.
Duncan Kabinu: 0:49
Elena Fraser: 0:49
Richard Miles: 0:50
Before we talk about your individual backgrounds and how you came to this project, Elena, I was wondering if you could just for our listeners, explain to me sort of the core technology, the core idea behind this invention in as simple terms as possible. I say this is for the listeners, but it's really just for me because I have a hard time understanding really technical stuff. So what exactly are we talking about? What is the core technology behind your business model?
Elena Fraser: 1:13
Sure. Okay we've invented a cap that acquires brainwave patterns to find problems that are related to electrical activity in the brain. The procedure itself is called an electroencephalogram or EEG, and through an EEG, doctors can look for abnormal patterns that indicate specific seizures or different brain problems. So what our product does is it simplified this procedure that has used kind of an antiquated technology for decades and we've simplified it so that a 20 minute - 25 minute procedure now only takes a matter of minutes because what happens when a patient has a brain injury, it's important to be able to do an EEG quickly because time loss equals brain loss and if you can make that happen, you can make that diagnosis happen faster and you can also bring about better outcomes for the patient.
Richard Miles: 2:08
So an EEG essentially measures brainwaves and doctors know what sort of normal brain waves look like. So when they see an abnormal pattern in the brain waves they know that something may be up like a seizure or concussion. Is that more or less accurate?
Elena Fraser: 2:23
Richard Miles: 2:24
All right, good. Good. I think I understand. Duncan, how did you jump into this project and what stage was the project when you jumped into it and what is your job?
Duncan Kabinu: 2:33
Sure, so I was introduced to a couple other inventors in this project by a local entrepreneur who knew my background as a person that loves to tinker with stuff and build stuff, and so they asked me to come in and help with prototyping this product and so I met Dr. Sackalleres and Scott Bearden, who both, at the time, had a semblance of what they were trying to put together and I was there to basically come up with a fresh idea fresh set of eyes look into this and see how I could make it work. The challenge was being able to create the EEG cap that could essentially be put on a person's head without having to shave their head because typical EEG setups usually require shavings a person's head so you can get as close to the scalp as possible so that the ability to create a cap that essentially could get through any hair without having to shave a person's head. That was a challenge on its own and how to make it easy enough for anybody if I had to package this and mail it to you, to your house to be able to put it on yourself in about two to three minutes.
Richard Miles: 3:36
Okay. So I think I get the technology, I understand how this is easier than what's currently available. So before we talk about the potential applications, the additional applications, and sort of where you are in terms of market, I wanted to ask both of you separately, you know, you've chosen a field, the sort of startup field, which to put it mildly is a bit risky in terms of startups. A lot of them fail probably I'd say most of them fail and so you're not in safe industries like insurance for instance. And I can say that because my daughter's in the insurance so... She's got a great job and it's very secure. And then I've got a son in the military also not about to go out of business. Both of you were drawn individually to a sector, an area that's actually fairly risky in terms of career. So Elena, were you a risk taker when you're a child? What did your parents do? What sort of inspired you to end up in a profession in which you're taking ideas that may not make it and you're trying to help them succeed?
Elena Fraser: 4:33
Well, I'll tell you, I grew up in a small town in the midwest and as you can imagine, adventure and that type of thing doesn't happen a lot in a small town in the Midwest. So I was always looking for that adventure. I was fighting every stream and running down and planning little expeditions out into the countryside. Anything to kind of get you out of that boring midwest atmosphere. So when I started talking with our good friend Richard Allen about getting involved in different startups, to me that's an adventure because you don't know what's going to happen next and it kind of takes you outside of that comfort zone that you have. I worked at the University of Florida myself for 17 years and I loved every minute, but this is so much more exciting because you really get to take something that is particularly, like with this product, something that's very purposeful and take it from this idea stage and moving into something that can be commercialized and that can really help people.
Richard Miles: 5:30
And Elena you said you were one of four girls, right?
Elena Fraser: 5:33
Yeah, so I was one of four girls growing up to a single mother and she instilled in all of us, this attitude of getting it done and really when you're working with a startup, you have to get it done. You can't let personalities get in the way. You can't let situations get in the way. You've got to figure out a way to make everything work. And I think as far as inspiration is concerned, my mother really inspired me to be that kind of a person that really looks around every corner, looks outside of the box and tries to figure out a solution to a problem.
Richard Miles: 6:03
And Duncan, how about you, were you sort of kid your mom just said "Duncan get the hell out of the house" or...
Duncan Kabinu: 6:08
Actually, that's true. My parents, um, being old school and all, there was no video games and all that stuff. It was pretty much first thing in the morning was get out the house and stay out the house as long as possible. "You're thirsty, there's a hose out back", that kind of thing, right? Um, but I was a kid that... I wouldn't say we were poor or anything, but I didn't get a lot of toys for one thing, like if I got a toy, I play with that toy, like until it was completely worn out. And the tinkering part comes from me... like my dad buys me this train toy set and I think after the first week, the first thing I did was tear the whole thing apart, took it completely apart and then figure out how to put it back together completely. Always the, the extra screws. I'm like, "Oh gosh." And so...
Richard Miles: 6:53
That was the last Christmas gift you ever got.
Duncan Kabinu: 6:54
And so I started taking down the stereo systems. Exactly. And so I guess I was always a tinkerer, like even with video games, I mean, uh, computers, uh, I do a lot of computer programing. But even with video games I'd watch my friends play. But when I played, I was more intrigued by how the game worked more than how to win at the game and I was more intrigued by like, "How does this work?" You know, I got to figure this out. And so I tinkered a lot in terms of a startup businesses, what I like about them is the fact that they're based around anything that's around disruption and changing status quo and going to the next level because I believe this is after listening to Ray Kurzweil, who for me is like the most phenomenal inventor ever. He shows this trajectory with pretty much everything out there that reaches a peak. And when it peaks, what happens? He says, "You have a paradigm shift." That's disruption basically. And so looking at this EEG thing the idea was, I believe it's 80 years of the same technology that has never been disrupted it's like, why is that? You know, it's like, it's got to get better. Now mind you, I used to work for state of Florida where nothing gets disrupted. So it drove me nuts and it's like, oh my God...
Richard Miles: 8:08
The taxpayers wallet gets disrupted, right?
Duncan Kabinu: 8:09
Exactly. And so for me, getting out into a startup community was awesome. What's interesting is I found that I'm more attracted to chaos only because I can see order coming in it. It's like I can see beyond the current chaos. And that's what's exciting about it. It's like, oh my gosh, we were like creating something amazing that's going to change people's lives for that matter. And so that is the fascination for me behind startups and I try and get involved with as many as possible.
Richard Miles: 8:37
So let me ask about your formal education, your academic training. Elena, do you have a background in business or engineering or how were you trained?
Elena Fraser: 8:44
Yeah, I do have a background in business. I actually took to get an MBA rather late in life about seven years ago. I went back to school and got an executive MBA from Northwestern and it's funny why I did it was that I felt like in order to keep the startups that I was working with moving forward, I needed to have more information and be able to work at a higher level than I was working. So went back to school, got my MBA and it's really been helpful and in some ways it's been interesting because there are some things that an MBA will never teach you when you work with a startup. They never prepare you for the fact that not only are you going to be the chief operating officer, but you're going to be the director of IT and you're going to be the chief bottle washer and some days you're going to be the model for, uh, an EEG cap going on your head. And that's the thing that I think when it goes back to background too, that, if you feel the ability that you can put your ego aside and you can do it all at the beginning, you can really make a go of it. It's one of those things. You've got to be able to let go of the ego, do everything from soup to nuts. And then you can make something really fly.
Richard Miles: 9:56
I remember when Phoebe and I were first starting the Cade Museum and we had a meeting and somebody said, well, just have your IT people contact us. And I was like, dude, I am my IT people. So I'm still going to be contacting you. Elena, what about your undergraduate degree? What did you study first in college?
Elena Fraser: 10:09
I studied Finance.
Richard Miles: 10:10
Finance, okay. Alright. Dunkin. How about you?
Duncan Kabinu: 10:13
Computer Engineering and talking about IT, right? It's pretty much like Elena said, what you learn in college and applying it to real life or most times there's a disconnect. It's like when you get into the real world, it's like, oh my gosh, this... nobody told me about this. Nobody prepared me for this. And so not to plug but will plug Gainesville Dev Academy, which is a software bootcamp. Hands on the purpose behind them, which is something I started with was to actually help connect what you didn't learn when you were doing Computer Engineering or Computer Science to what really happens in the real world so that your a lot more ready for your job. But everything Elena talked about with the bottle washer and everything else, I don't know whether it's for everybody. It's like a certain type of people that thrive for that and if you're into having a very super structured way of doing things that probably would never be in your wheelhouse of things to do. It's like I don't know what's going on at any moment because you really have to have this ability to manage a million things all at the same time and make it work somehow. That's not something you learn in college. I mean you do learn time management. I'm not knocking college. That's a huge plus that you get out of college is how to figure out and create lists and manage that kind of stuff in life. I found that those lists end up getting thrown out after the first five minutes and like "Well nevermind that. Just start all over."
Richard Miles: 11:33
So talking about a plan. Let's get back to the EEG and as you both said, EEGs had been around awhile, so the core technology is not new, but you have an application of that core technology that makes it faster, simpler, puts it in more hands of a wider brand of practitioners. Walk me through how is that going to change the world as we know it, the fact that let's say you were a big success. Who is going to be able to get EEGs or administer EEGs that does not already have access to them now?
Elena Fraser: 12:04
Today, there are a few studies that have been out talking about EEG technology and how underused it is. About 20 million people in the US annually need to have an EEG, but only 3 million people in the US actually get an EEG and that's because of again, talking about the difficulty of getting an EEG done, but also there's a critical shortage of EEG technicians. So what we did when we designed the EEG now was to design it so that any healthcare professional would be able to use our product. That you wouldn't have to have an EEG tech there to use it. So that would help bring forth more demand in that product. People in the ICU and in the operating room are really calling for a product like this. And again, even our local VA, there's one EEG tech right now. And considering that we've got the brain institute right next door, when you have access to maybe one or two EEG techs and that's your bread and butter, that's kind of a difficult thing to see. So getting this product out in the market, of course it's going to make EEGs available to more people over time, but also there's a real breadth to this market. There are a lot of people doing experiments right now with that computer brain interface. They're using it now for video games where you put on a headset and you can actually derive the video game with your brainwaves. So using a device like ours that has so many different channels for use in the brain, you'll be able to make that interface work a lot more efficiently. Also, it's kind of interesting. They're using EEGs in advertising right now. Somebody is looking at an advertisement and they're looking at what points of the brain we're actually lighting up and are they the right places that need to be lighting up. So there's kind of an interesting breadth into that area. But also, I think one of the biggest places we want to go into, again, is into emergency medicine Can you imagine that somebody on a battlefield has a head injury. Put the cap on, that information gets sent to a neurologist, so the minute that soldier gets to their hospital, they're going to know what's wrong and they're going to be able to treat them. Another place that's a good market for us too is on the sports side lines. Concussions and head injuries with football players has been such a big part of the public conversation lately and again, if you can on the sideline, somebody gets a hard ding on that football field and you can put our cap right on them right there on the sideline. Send that information out to a neurologist. You can know has this person got a concussion. You're going to have that information so that you're not sending a concussed football player back out onto the field. And we know for short term that's really important, but also more and more concussions over time, that can affect somebody for the rest of their life. So this could be a big deal for the sports industry.
Richard Miles: 14:57
So how far away are we from a future in which say a mom at home could use this on a kid who fell off the swing set in the backyard or anyone in the general public and then they hook up the, uh, presumably a device to their smartphone... is that years off? Are we right around the corner from that?
Elena Fraser: 15:14
I think we're a few years off from that. The cap technology itself is really, like I said, pretty easy to use and someone could use it right away, but it's that transitionary, the cell phone design. There are some small handheld devices and one area that we would like to go into in the near future would be into telemedicine where someone could be at a rural facility where they might have a small handheld device that can be transmitted to a neurologist in a big city. So that's something we are looking at now. I would see that happening sometime in the next few years, but then moving it beyond to the next level is going to take a little bit more technology, a few more algorithms. One thing we'd like to see is if you did have it on a cell phone, wouldn't it be great for that parent to be able to put it on them and say this is a knower, they've got a concussion or they don't. And so bringing it down to that algorithm is going to take some time and some production.
Richard Miles: 16:07
So Duncan, you've worked with a lot of companies that have been in a similar situation before and that the core technology is good, it's worked, but yet it needs to break into a broader market. Describe for us what are the pitfalls or what does a company like this need to make it to the next level and what are the things that you are watching out for as potential danger areas. And then after you tell me, sell me some stock, right?
Duncan Kabinu: 16:32
I wish I knew the recipe to all this. Yeah, it's actually so unpredictable even though you do a lot of research before you get into anything, but clearly I have noticed a lot in the market, especially from Silicone Valley standpoint. You'll have people that have a great product but no business model or a great business model and no product and they essentially always fail and so it's trying to find that balance. I mean that's actually a lot more complicated than it seems because I know from talking like we mentioned Richard Allen, some of the things that I've learned from him is that when you're looking at the market cap and trying to figure out what portion of that, you know, is it worth going into that market if it's all about money and all this other stuff, so maybe there's two sides to building a business. Are you doing it philanthropically because you're trying to solve a problem? Hopefully, yes. Everything that we do is to solve a problem, but at the same time you got to be sustainable and make money and so how do you make money out of it. And so I find a lot of companies that struggle with those, especially from the sales standpoint, that's where most end up failing because they don't have a great sales strategy from what I've seen. And that typically requires a whole bunch of work creating channel partners and getting involved with different organizations to help promote you because you can't do it by yourself by no means. And just the ability to understand how to scale yourself. That's so critical because that's what will make or break you. And most people, honestly, I believe with great ideas, don't fail because it was a bad idea, but they fail because it ran out of money. And so if you can raise tons of money to keep you going for awhile until you break the market, you probably will be successful. But that's typically what I've seen in every... pretty much, almost every startup.
Richard Miles: 18:13
Elena, as you've gone around talking about this idea, who has been the easiest group to convince and who has been the hardest group to convince in terms of the potential of the technology?
Elena Fraser: 18:23
At this point, we haven't really gotten a lot of pushback from people that we consider our core audience. The one thing you have to realize is that EEG now was invented by a neurologist and an EEG tech. So they were trying to solve a problem that they were having and it's a classic problem across the field. So when you talk to other neurologist about it, they're like, "When can I get it? Can we do a study?" You're talking two EEG techs, they're like, "This would save so much time. We'd be able to do so many more procedures if this was something we had." So far we've really been talking to our friends. But on the other hand, that's who we're selling to. We're really fortunate. We've got Dr. Chris Sackalleres as one of the inventors because he is so well known in the neurology community. We put together an advisory board of absolutely... people that are tops in the neurology field that are going to help us negotiate different problems and areas that we need to go through. But when you've got somebody like Dr. Sackalleres on your team and he's the group that you're going to sell to, you're in a pretty good position.
Richard Miles: 19:26
What about pushback or skepticism? Are there any sort of entrenched interests? Is Big EEG out there about ready to shut you down because you're gonna totally disrupt their market, or are you taking the bread out of somebody else's mouth in terms of an industry? Or is this simply an idea that just needs to get a little bit more exposure and currency?
Elena Fraser: 19:43
I think it's an idea that just needs a little bit more exposure and no, actually we won't be taking bread out of anyone's mouth. The reason being is that if we could do more procedures than all those wonderful EEG companies out there that are...
Richard Miles: 19:56
They'll be making more money.
Elena Fraser: 19:57
They'll be making more money.
Richard Miles: 19:59
So you're actually expanding their market, not limiting it.
Elena Fraser: 20:02
Duncan Kabinu: 20:03
Yeah, just wanted to add from earlier that my understanding was usually between the hours of midnight and 6:00 in the morning you typically do not have a technician that does EEG. So if you are in a car accident and you have some brain injury, it's not going to be diagnosed until the following day, which is not a good thing. And most people that end up in a car accident you don't even know you have brain damage or it may be not significant, but it becomes significant as you get older and so it's important to have every single incident diagnosis as soon as possible and so having a cap that's readily available, that means a paramedic... slap it on you and get that information adopted immediately and somebody can tell you what's going on.
Elena Fraser: 20:45
Yeah, Duncan you brought up a really good point there because one of the things about a concussion is that after about 15 minutes, a concussion can actually start to not show up on an EEG anymore. The brainwaves start to level out again after about 15 minutes. So if you're doing a regular EEG on somebody, even if you're a right there on the scene, you would never capture it because it's just too far away in time. So if you can capture it right then and there, EMS gets on the scene, they do it, they can capture that concussion right away.
Richard Miles: 21:19
Elena and Duncan, if people want more information about this technology, where do they go? Is there a website?
Elena Fraser: 21:23
There is a website. It's EEG-now.com
Richard Miles: 21:28
EEG-now.com. Okay. So if they want to send their check in for a million dollars...
Elena Fraser: 21:33
Duncan Kabinu: 21:34
She'll just give you a cell phone number. You can call her directly for that.
Richard Miles: 21:38
Yeah, you'll be on call for that, okay. Well Elena, Duncan, thank you very much for joining me this morning. It's been a fascinating discussion and I wish you all well and hope to have you back on the show after you've made it big and you're in Silicon Valley dispensing wisdom and everything else. So...
Duncan Kabinu: 21:53
Thanks for having us.
Richard Miles: 21:53
Thanks for joining.
Elena Fraser: 21:54
Thank you so much.
Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support. Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and inventor interviews. Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme. Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song featuring violinist Jacob Lawson. And special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.