The Boston area has become a hotbed for companies testing new ways to merge software with fields like healthcare, rehabilitation, and education. One of the more interesting areas of activity is assessing and treating brain health and cognitive disorders.
Those elements have come together in a startup called Constant Therapy, which today announced it raised a $2 million Series A funding round led by Golden Seeds. Other investors in the round include Kapor Capital, Launchpad Venture Group, Pond Capital, and Community Health Network of Connecticut. The three-year-old company has raised a total of about $2.8 million to date.
It’s not a lot of money, but the company has an intriguing model to prove out. Constant Therapy is trying to “digitize and amplify” the exercises that speech-language pathologists and brain-rehab clinicians give their patients, says CEO Keith Cooper. The company does this through a mobile app—currently available on iPads and Android devices—that lets patients do exercises at home and track their own progress, all for $20 a month. (The app is free for clinicians to use.)
Traditionally, these exercises are done in a clinician’s office and involve cues like flash cards, workbooks, or verbal interactions. Constant Therapy’s app works with audio, visual, and written materials that can be personalized (see screenshot above). It provides “a new delivery mechanism that’s more engaging, more voluminous, and able to track data and improvements over time,” Cooper says. “Clinicians get a clear picture of how the patient is doing.”
Patients range from children with speech and language impairments to people with traumatic brain injuries from car accidents, say, to elderly folks who have suffered strokes. “We want to be a standard of care for people who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury,” Cooper says.
A clinical trial is also underway in the VA Boston Healthcare System to test the software in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, Cooper says. Another potential application is in epilepsy treatments, he says; those experiments are currently in research at Northwestern University.
Constant Therapy was started in 2013 by Motorola veteran Veera Anantha and his co-founders (including Boston University professor Swathi Kiran). Anantha’s idea, as he told me the following year, was to take the effort he had put into wireless devices and cloud-based computing and apply it to making more of a difference in people’s lives. He said he lamented “the amount of technology and intelligence we were putting into selling more stuff to more people” in his previous jobs.
Anantha’s team zeroed in on the emerging science of neural plasticity—how the brain can rewire itself and improve its performance with practice. They found an existing market in brain rehab, and licensed a library of “science-based tasks” from Boston University to build into an app, which they started testing with clinicians (see dashboard below).
Cooper joined as CEO about a year ago after getting introduced to the company by Vinit Nijhawan, the former managing director of BU’s Office of Technology Development (and an Xconomist). Cooper also serves as chairman of SiteSpect, a Boston-based Web tech firm, and he’s been a senior executive with other companies from Carbonite to Connotate.
Constant Therapy now plans to finish up its clinical tests, release its app for the iPhone, and expand its therapy content and categories before pursuing a bigger funding round, Cooper says.
The 10-person company may have growing pains in its future. Its challenges will include dealing with the healthcare industry’s slow pace of change, as Cooper points out (and he’s relatively new to the sector), and navigating issues around providers and insurance reimbursement.
Some related companies in the local health IT sector include Akili Interactive Labs in assessing and treating brain disorders with a game interface; Neumitra in tracking stress and brain health; Tal Medical in depression treatment; American Well in virtual doctor visits; VocaliD in synthetic voices; and MedRhythms and The Sync Project in music-related therapies.
Cooper sees most of these efforts as complementary or tangential to his company. He emphasizes that Constant Therapy stands out by not “trying to invent a whole new approach.” Rather, he says, “We’re going to take what everyone knows works and amplify it.”