Autism therapy has reached a new frontier. D.C. startup Floreo just closed on $2.1 million in seed funding to further development of its virtual reality. The Friendship Heights–based company was founded in March 2016 by husband-and-wife team Vijay Ravindran and Vibha Sazawal, who were inspired two years ago by their autistic son’s reaction to VR.
“The goal that we have for the company, our next stage, is to build a body of evidence that our therapy is effective, and as a parallel to that develop new therapy lessons and then work with professional organizations, special education schools and therapy companies – and then offer a version of Floreo directly to the consumer by next fall,” Ravindran told Technical.ly DC.
Ravindran and his wife have self-funded the company until now, and the new funds will be devoted to a staff expansion. That means the company is looking for a virtual reality and mobile app developers.
We are hiring! Looking for 3 talented software engineers in Washington DC. Check out our careers page for more info https://t.co/zRsadmdIdX
— Floreo (@FloreoTech) October 16, 2017
The company is currently testing two therapy pilot studies to improve nonverbal communication skills and interaction with police officers for autistic teens and adults.
One in every 68 children in the U.S. has autism, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
“We think VR is a powerful medium because it allows for a lot of customization. The content is cartoony and fun, made to be engaging,” Ravindran said. “The virtual reality headset, when the child puts it on, they are able to focus on the VR screen. All the distractions are taken away. It’s common when we show this to parents how they remark that their child is paying attention.”
Ravindran is a former chief digital officer at the Washington Post, and Sazawal is a former researcher and lecturer on children’s educational programming at the University of Maryland. The company has partnered with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Entria Autism Services and Celebrate the Children to conduct research.
“We feel really excited how we can help lots of families,” Ravindran said. “We’re working hard, and we’re not going to offer this to families until we know that this works and we have a body of work that represents that.”