Health tech / Startups

From flower delivery to headaches: UrbanStems’ cofounders started a venture to help migraine sufferers

UrbanStems cofounders Ajay Kori and Jeff Sheely started Allay Lamp to bring relief from a green light device into the darkness for people struggling with migraines.

The Allay lamp, created by UrbanStems cofounder Ajay Kori.

After the success of downtown D.C.’s UrbanStems, which just completed a $20 million Series C raise in May, cofounder Ajay Kori said he wanted to explore a solution to a problem that he’s been around his entire life: migraines.

“Part of our challenge is these people that have migraines, they’re debilitated and there’s no cure,” Kori said. “So the number one remedy still to this day if you have a migraine is to go into a dark room and shut off all the lights, and essentially end their day.”

Although he mostly stepped away from UrbanStems in 2019, Kori teamed up with fellow company cofounder Jeff Sheely and Hubble Contacts alum Mark Severs to develop Allay Lamp, a green light lamp designed to help people with chronic migraines. Based on research from Harvard neurologist Rami Burstein, who is also a cofounder, the system helps relieve migraine pain by 60%, according to Allay. The company, which launched in 2019, is backed by both Kori and Sheely, and also raised a round of under $1 million ahead of its launch.

Kori said his father is a fairly prominent migraine researcher, so he’s been around the migraine market and solutions for his entire life.

“Even the best medications are at most about 50% effective for people who have migraines,” Kori said. “So it’s always fascinated me that you have this thing that 40 million Americans have that is completely debilitating when it comes on, and has no cure.”

Kori said that bodies have different reactions to different types of light, like how blue light inhibits melatonin production and keeps us awake at night (yes, this is the part where you remember to turn on night light mode on your laptop or phone). Green light, in particular, calms the brain. That means it’s perfect for migraine sufferers, because the condition is brought on by overactive brains.

Kori said Allay Lamp has additional benefits, like calming anxiety and helping people fall asleep, but the effects are most pronounced for people with migraines. He said the system, which only produces a certain type of green light as opposed to what might be found in any old green lightbulb, is effective for about 90% of people with migraines.

“By calming your brain, you’re actually making the intensity of the headache go down…” Kori said. “The effect is most pronounced in people who have migraines because their brain is over-reactive. So when you calm it, it has a huge effect.”

The initial goals of Allay were to create a cost-effective consumer product, bringing it down from the original $50,000 cost of the Harvard device. Kori and his cofounders partnered with an engineer who worked on the International Space Station to get the price down to $150. The company made under $1 million in revenue in 2020, although it projects $5 million to $10 million in 2021.

Kori said Allay doesn’t have any plans to fundraise in the near future, although it will be growing the team in the next 18 months or so.

“We have to convince people that not only will a spectrum of light make an enormous difference in their life and it’s not too good to be true and backed by multiple institutions including Harvard,” Kori said. “There’s a lot of education around that and there’s a lot to overcome.”

Companies: UrbanStems

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