The last few years seem to have been extra stressful for much of our society, students have been particularly affected. Many are overloaded adapting to changing learning environments and seek alternative ways to cope with the stress. That’s where Cortava Neurotechnology is developing a drug-free technology and app to address memory issues and improve performance centered around a technology called transcranial electrotherapy stimulation. It’s been used in the medical field for over 40 years by doctors to help patients improve memory and focus.
The Oregon State University team is comprised of Sean Bullock, team founder, mechanical engineer, and product design lead; Benjamin Green, an electrical engineering student focused on electrical hardware design, and Escher Wright-Dykhouse, a computer science major who writes code that runs the platforms and apps. They are taking this technology and putting it into a convenient product that anyone can use with a current focus on college students.
Cortava Neurotechnology’s technology is unique, as they developed both a physical prototype, smaller than the market competitors, and a working app designed to make the technology more accessible. Wright-Dykhouse noted the app is also interesting because while this technology is historically used in medical devices, its goal is to bring it to a mainstream audience.
“As many people know, stress levels are at an all-time high due to rising competition and expectations. Thirty years ago, it was completely fine to just have a degree, but today employers expect students to be leaders, have all kinds of extracurriculars, job experience, and a high GPA,” Bullock explained. “Students are looking for ways to improve their performance and our product will be able to provide this. Students will be able to get their work done faster and perform better on exams and classwork.”
Bullock shared that the germ of the idea came when he was watching an episode of Shark Tank and a start-up was pitching their idea using this technology to help with brain focus. (No “sharks” bit.) While he thought the technology sounded exciting, the product was too bulky and unusable. He brought Green and Wright-Dykhouse on board to fix these issues and eventually, the product will be wearable.
According to a recent study, Americans' happiness is at an all-time low leading to unfulfillment and lower performance at work. However, said Bullock, “if individuals are happier and performing better and doing more as communities and as a world, society will be able to progress faster and do more and just be better than we ever were before.”
Therefore, the team is focused on helping improve productivity and fulfillment through their technology while making it more accessible. “Ultimately our goal is to make this technology as widespread as possible and have it become as commonplace as the iPhone,” said Bullock.
Wright-Dykhouse is focused on fine-tuning the software for the user. In terms of the mobile app, using sensors or data to make the experience more fine-tuned. They’re confident they’ll be able to do this once more people use the technology.
This goes hand-in-hand with the hardware development, noted Green. “We’re planning at some point adding more sensors to the platform and also other features like wireless charging — things to make it more streamlined and integrated into one package.”
When asked about what they have learned about themselves and what it is like to be an innovator, they all smiled and said, “So much!” and, “It’s been exciting!” For example, Green explained developing the hardware has been difficult. This is the first time he’s developed his own hardware without experienced engineers. “It’s been daunting at times.”
“On the one hand while it’s all so very new, we’re learning as we go and we’re bootstrapping as much as we can,” explained Bollock. “The fact of the matter is at the end of the day we are doing it; we’re making it happen.” He continued, “We’re learning that with enough grit, perseverance, and persistence, we’ve been able to go from nothing but an idea to a fully functional product.”
Wright-Dykhouse added this hasn’t been done before. “There’s no perfect way to accomplish what we’re trying to do. It’s been interesting to experiment with different things knowing that’s part of the process. You don’t always get that opportunity. Especially with InventOR, having the opportunity to experiment has been great.”
Having resources through InventOR is something you don’t get on your own,” said Wright-Dykhouse, “Once you’re part of the InventOR community you are for life. We’ve been given a great foundation and that’s a great opportunity.”
Bullock built on Wright-Dykhouse’s sentiments and said he’s really appreciated the network of young entrepreneurs that he’s been exposed to. “It’s been really, really fantastic getting to meet a broader network of people from all around the state,” said Bullock, “who are young people like me and my team who are interested in innovation, going above and beyond, and pushing the boundaries.”
They all agreed it’s been really fantastic to network with professionals, faculty, and students and bounce ideas off each other.”
Bullock said he has really grown both as a person and an inventor through InventOR. “Early on there was a lot of push back with my idea. I didn’t know how to explain it very effectively. I knew there was something there and I just needed to figure out how to present it.” He said he was able to take the criticism and grow from it and improve his project and presentation.
Green said this process has been a great way for him to gain more knowledge about the design process and apply skills he’s learned through internships and coursework.
Wright-Dykhouse agreed. “It’s been a great experience for me in terms of self-learning and also working on a team. Especially as someone who comes from software, it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to connect that with hardware and explore another world that I haven’t been too familiar with. I’ve learned I really enjoy that.”
The team is focused forward and with each day they’re getting closer to seeing something that people could actually use and really benefit from.