Indy startup puts spotlight on concussion detection technology

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Two recent Purdue University graduates have a heady solution for a serious and growing problem.

Kurtis Sluss and Michael Heims in late 2015 founded Brightlamp—now headquartered in downtown Indianapolis—and this year went to market with an app that simply and accurately diagnoses a concussion with nothing more than a cell phone.

Brightlamp, which has six full-time employees working out of its office at 200 S. Meridian St., has raised $290,000 in pre-seed funding and is aiming to raise another $600,000 in seed funding this year. It has already caught the attention of institutional investors including Elevate Ventures, which uses state funding to support startups.

Sluss, who graduated in 2016 with degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry, began working on identifying biomarkers as an undergraduate at Purdue.

“Because I’m an engineer, I was looking for a problem that needed solving,” Sluss said. “And the issue of concussions was blowing up.”

The company’s first product, an app called Reflex, is simple to use, Brightlamp officials said. 

For $40 a month or $400 a year, the Reflex app can be downloaded on a cell phone. A cell phone’s camera and flash are used to measure pupil response and gather information and create data output needed to diagnose a concussion. 

“It’s the only diagnostic solution on the App Store that measures a biomarker that doesn’t require additional hardware,” Sluss said. “Customers love the accessibility of [Reflex] and they love how simple it is.” A biomarker is a measurable symptom of a disease or condition. 

Right now, Reflex outputs data that must be deciphered by a doctor, athletic trainer or other trained medical professional. Brightlamp also helps educate people on biomarkers.

“Our goal within the next two years is to develop a product that can diagnose concussions [without interpretations from medical professionals] and can be used by soccer moms and football dads,” Sluss said. 

Sluss and his team also are working on wider applications of the technology and hope to have multiple apps that can be used to help detect and diagnose glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorders and basic intoxication.

While using Reflex is relatively simple, developing it was not. The app took three years to develop.

“This is not a trivial problem,” Sluss explained. “The software we developed is rather complex. We went through several iterations.”

A couple of months after Sluss started the company, he called on his old friend—Heims—who he had met in 2014 while both were working as resident assistants at a Purdue dormitory. 

Heims majored in business and finance and previously worked as a financial analyst for Eli Lilly and Co.

Heims isn’t the only one with business experience. In addition to researching biomarkers, Sluss worked several internships with startups in college. “I was able to see first-hand what it takes to build a company from the ground up,” he said.

Last year, the duo was accepted into an accelerator in Cincinnati, where they met Ramya Rao, a computer scientist with a master’s degree from Indiana University.

“Ramya is a developer and coder who is passionate about this,” Sluss said. “We hit a home run when we found her. She specializes in machine learning and computer vision.”

Sluss thinks the building blocks are in place for Brightlamp to take off.

The company has marketed itself to date through digital media, attending various conferences and trade shows and by giving talks in front of targeted audiences.

Though Brightlamp is starting small—there are currently about 100 people who have downloaded the app with a goal of having 600 paid users this year—the company’s founders think the potential is huge. 

“There are 25,000 athletic trainers and more than 10,000 sports medicine doctors in the U.S.,” Sluss explained. “Just with our base product, we think there’s a potential for $100 million in [annual] revenue.”

If Brightlamp is successful in developing an app that can be used by non-medical professionals, that potential, Sluss said, “increases exponentially.”
 

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