Eric and Alex Dolan are building a startup for their mother.
Their mother, who came to Toronto as a child seeking refuge from the war in Croatia, worked as a dental hygienist when the Dolans were growing up. The repetitive motions that her job required led to her slipping disks in her back and her neck when Eric was ten. Five years later, she broke her back. She also has epilepsy.
“My mom’s kinda the one — God bless her — she’s probably the strongest person I’ve ever met,” Eric said. “Even if she’s having pain, she’ll go right through it.”
What the Dolans realized as they got older and their mom lived with these chronic conditions was that there was no easy way to track her seizures or other relevant episodes. (It’s even harder on those who live alone, Eric said, since sometimes you’ll wake up “in a haze” and not know how many seizures you had.) That meant she was constantly in the dark about her condition — and her doctors were, too.
So Eric, 23, and Alex, 26, decided to build an answer: a smartwatch that could track seizures and alert family of when they happened. It would help those with epilepsy (and their doctors) better understand their condition and hopefully make it easier to live with.
It’s called Neutun and the company is in DreamIt Health’s current class in Philadelphia. The team is currently focused on epilepsy but hopes to expand to other chronic conditions.
The brothers (Eric’s background is in data science and Alex’s is in healthcare) are hackathon junkies — they built the prototype at last year’s Hack the North, a major Canadian hackathon held at the University of Waterloo. The Dolans won Best Pebble Hack that year, and this year, too. (Waterloo, home of the once-prosperous BlackBerry, is increasingly becoming a hub for wearable tech.)
— Pebble Developers (@PebbleDev) September 20, 2015
They met their CTO, Wes Wilson, through a hackathon — he had a whole page of his resume devoted to hackathons he had won, Eric said.
Coming to Philadelphia was intentional, Eric said.
Two state-of-the-art epilepsy centers — the ones at Penn and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — are within walking distance of Neutun’s office at DreamIt Ventures’ space at 3401 Market St.
DreamIt Health partners Penn Medicine and Independence Blue Cross have also been instrumental in helping Neutun figure out how they can enter another health system, Eric said, since the brothers’ experience is in the Canadian market.
But it’s not clear that Eric will stay after DreamIt Health ends.
The corridor from Waterloo to Toronto is a “hotbed of wearables,” Eric said.
Companies like Pebble and First Round Capital-backed Thalmic Labs came out of Waterloo, and there are organizations in Toronto that want them to come back, he said.
For now, he’ll keep working with his mother in mind — this is the kind of stuff young technologists should be working on, he said, not social media apps, or what he calls the “me too” products that he often sees developers building at hackathons.
“The greatest minds of my generation are building music and photo apps and optimizing ads so people will click on them,” he said. “I think that’s a waste. That’s an atrocious waste.”
“Technologists,” he said, “should have the courage to go out and build something cool that also matters.”
Watch the Neutun prototype demo from Hack the North last year: