Every week, we highlight one women founder. This week, Faviola Brugger Dadis, founder of NeuroReality, is put in the spotlight.
Cognitive aspects of our brain are the functions that, among other things, allow us to think, to have a memory, to pay attention and much more. All those daily activities often are taken for granted until they’re disrupted, commonly due to brain injury.
The latter can happen to anyone who may have suffered from a stroke, got in a car accident, had a concussion, or has a brain tumor. So, when suffering from a brain injury those cognitive areas get impacted, presenting consequences not only on your physical well-being but on your cognitive skills as well. “Imagine it like a roadblock: our brain and its functions are very specific. If you get this “roadblock” in a area, then traffic can’t flow through, and we need to take a detour. It’s the same with your brain. Based on the cooperation of networks in our brain you are consequently going to have problems with functions in that area.”
Too often, the treatment proposed is: acceptance of your new reality. This has led to overloaded hospitals and care systems. Additional to that a $400 billion bill every year for both direct but mostly in indirect care costs, because people aren’t able to return to their “normal” lives anymore. For Faviola Brugger Dadis, neuroscientist and founder of NeuroReality, this was motivation to make some reflection and to create a unique software. Created to restore and rehabilitate your cognitive skills.
About Faviola Brugger Dadis
Her story is one of those made of many obstacles along the way, with some sidewalks, but still shows her being tenacious. Entrepreneurship is not about who is the smartest person, but the one that has the most tenacity to stick in there. Faviola Brugger Dadis was born in California, to a German mother and an Egyptian father. After living in different countries, she is the definition of what we would call a citizen of the world.
Faviola didn’t always have it easy. She got diagnosed with autism and a rare neurological disorder. Which made it quite challenging for her in the realm of entrepreneurship, but at the same time allowed her to have a unique perspective on the world. Her studies in neurosciences started back in the US, where she was working as a research assistant in two different labs. She financed her studies, by modeling internationally for over 15 years. Joining fashion weeks all over the globe, from New York to Tokyo, while continuing to study remotely. Rather impressive, right?
“What I really learned during these experiences, was how to conduct myself within different cultures. How do brands get presented in different cultures and how do we look at things depending on the different perspectives? So I was picking up how these trends were working. All of these different ideas of how to implement entrepreneurship” explains Faviola.
Before rejoining her true essence, which was to become a scientist, she worked as director for a marketing and pr firm, while living in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Here she transitioned brands from the North American and European markets into the Asian ones. “Again, a completely different lifestyle, but it sorts of add to my final entrepreneur journey, even when it disconnects, it all connects in the end,” she says
Rethinking her path
But things started to change when unexpectedly her father passed away. Which brought her to stop, reflect and let her question her future. Scrolling through old journals, she acknowledged how she always wanted to become a doctor or a neuroscientist. So, she decided she wanted to go the Ph.D. way, starting with a research master’s, done in conjunction with the Vrije Universiteit and the University of Oxford. Where she eventually focused on stroke survivors. After the research master, came the Ph.D. at Oxford. During the same time, Brexit happened, which became an obstacle in her way. Letting the hope for a UK grant fade away. Depressed and heartbroken about the failure of her Ph.D., she was forced to return to the Netherlands.
”At that point, I was going through some really tough times personally, because I had exhausted all of my savings on paying for my university and expected that I was going to have this grant to continue my life for the next four years that all of a sudden got pulled out from under me. So there was a period of time where I was living in my car and a small closet at a friend’s place and it was a really challenging period in my life.” Until one day, a friend asked, “if you could choose with whom would you go on a lunch?” Without hesitating, Faviola replied Erik Scherder, a scientist and public figure of Dutch TV. Her friend reached out to him via e-mail, figuring out lunch for her. Without great expectations, Faviola went to lunch and came out with a Ph.D. position offer.
From the PhD to a startup
Instead of the typical Ph.D. track, she went for a rather atypical way. Deciding to put a product on the market for a larger use, and finance so her Ph.D. through her startup. “While working with my patients, their biggest complaints were that they didn’t get enough rehabilitation, the physical complaints were dealt with but not the cognitive ones. Patients, for example, that didn’t feel comfortable calculating their money anymore, tallying up important daily activities, such as crossing the street, driving.”
To her question “what are you doing instead?” many replied they were gaming. That’s where the idea of NeuroReality came up, a mixture of VR, gaming, and telehealth support. Starting in 2017, many in the field thought it was a crazy idea. However, the pandemic made the field more open-minded toward her idea.
”During COVID, when all of a sudden we weren’t able to give procedures at the hospital in the same way, the telehealth idea with virtual reality was not so crazy anymore. People then started to think okay we’re going to need digital health tools to be able to move forward and where we are now.“
Cognitive disfunctions goes largely unaddressed.
The game NeuroReality produces, Koji’s Quest, is VR-based software package. That immerses you into a virtual “gaming” reality, targeting, training, and monitoring what your capacities in each cognitive domain are. You’re welcomed by your virtual companion, Koji. “While being immersed in this reality, a clinician can monitor remotely what the patient is doing. So then the patient will go and play the game, which is specifically intended to rehabilitate a particular aspect of something that they lost”
A reward system is also part of the game. So like any game, patients can collect gems and utilize those to make the world more personalized. “I was a 80s/90s kid. I was inspired by games that withstood the test of time, like Super Mario and Pokémon. One of our games is based on Tetris, you’d be surprised how difficult it can be for a patient with brain injury to visually imagine and fit together those Tetris blocks.” The whole idea is to get patients engaged in a fun way, while still retraining lost cognitive skills, with the clinicians at the back end monitoring the patients’ development.
The future of NeuroReality
Today, NeuroReality raised more than 1 million in investment. Their software is continuously validated in clinical trials at numerous research universities, hospitals, and institutes. Koji’s Quest is available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, the United States, and Australia.
After being the CEO of her company, Faviola recently decided to leave the growth aspect to someone else. She is now the CINO of her company and focusing on the innovation aspect. Her company is 70% women driven, with a diverse team of neuroscientists, researchers, programmers and business developers from all over the world.
The next step? Making Koji more AI-based and enhancing the Virtual reality environment. Faviola also wants to make care more patient-centric, and allow individuals to be independent again. “I believe there will be more and more AI and technologically based tools used in hospitals. I see a way forward, regardless of whether certain “dogmatic” people like it or not” she concludes.
Want to read more about amazing woman founders? Click here to read our other Founder of the Week blogs.